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Life in the park

Because of the diversity of vegetation within Shei-Pa National Park and the different climates and forest types produced by the range of elevations, from under 1,000 to over 3,000 meters above sea level, and because most of the park's area has not suffered much from human disturbance or destruction, the park provides animals with an abundant food supply, protection and suitable habitats. Thus, the area is rich in animal life and is home to many different species. Surveys have shown that there are at least:

Species of Mammals 58
Birds 154
Reptiles 39
Amphibians 16
Fish 17
Butterflies 170

Taiwan Wild Boar (Sus scrofa taivanus) Taiwan Wild Boar (Sus scrofa taivanus)
Formosan Reeve's Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi micrurus) Formosan Reeve's Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi micrurus)

Moreover, Taiwan has been separated from the Eurasian Plat for so long that many of the species and subspecies inhabiting the island are endemic, unique to Taiwan.

26 of these endemic species live in Shei-Pa National Park, some of them very rare, for instance the Formosan Black Bear (Selenarctos tibetanus formosanus), the Formosan Macaque (Macaca cyclopsis), the Formosan Landlocked Salmon (Oncorhynchus masou formosanus), the Mikado Pheasant (Syrmaticus mikado), and the Swinhoe's Pheasant (Lophura swinhoii).

Formosan White-faced Flying Squirrel (Petaurista alborufus lena). Formosan White-faced Flying Squirrel (Petaurista alborufus lena).

* The Formosan Black Bear (Selenarctos thibetanus formosanus) is Taiwan's largest mammal: its body is 120-150 cm long, and it may reach a weight of 200 kg. It was formerly much hunted, and with its environment disturbed by humans, it became very scarce, until it was found only in the higher mountain forests. Since it became a legally protected animal, its numbers have apparently increased, for there are more frequent records of mountain travelers having seen it or its traces, even at altitudes below 1,000 meters. It is black all over except for the large V of creamy white hair on its chest. It is practically omnivorous, strong but not fierce, and does not usually attack humans except in self defense or in the breeding season-note that the bear cubs are taken care of by their mother for several years before they can live independently.

Formosan Rock-Monkey, endemic to Taiwan, is a protected species. Formosan Rock-Monkey, endemic to Taiwan, is a protected species.

* There is only one kind of monkey in Taiwan, Formosan Rock-Monkey or Formosan Macaque (Macaca cyclopsis). This is an endemic species, found in Taiwan only. Though it is a protected animal, it is not so scarce as the bear, and groups of macaques live in many forest areas around Taiwan, including the slopes of Shei-Pa National Park. A group of monkeys shows a high degree of social organization. Mostly they remain in trees, but sometimes they move about on the ground. Their diet consists of fruits, tender leaves, insects, and arthropods.

* One of the most interesting Taiwan's rare animal species is Formosan Landlocked Salmon (Oncorhynchus masu formosanum), a relict from glacial times. Salmon species are basically marine migratory, that is: mating, egg-laying, hatching and the first stages of young fish life take place in cool rivers and lakes, then the fish drift down to the sea, where they live till they are mature, when they make their way back to their original inland home to reproduce. There are, however, in some places landlocked populations of salmon which, probably owing to geological and climatic changes after the last Ice Age, can no longer return to the ocean and have adapted to inland life. Surprisingly enough, there is a colony of landlocked salmon in subtropical Taiwan, in the cold upper reaches of the Dajia River, inside Shei-Pa National Park. Over-fishing and especially agricultural activity spoiling the natural environment of the fish led to a marked decline in their numbers. Until in 1990 it was estimated that only 300 were left, surviving in a few kilometers of the Cijiawan Creek of the upper Dajia River. The existence of these salmon is of great interest to scientists, and Shei-Pa National Park is carrying out a program of research and conservation which includes improving the habitat, breeding work, routine management and environmental education.

Adult salmon Adult salmon
Parr Parr

Among the 154 species of birds found in Shei-Pa National Park, the most interesting may be the Mikado Pheasant (Syrmaticus mikado) and the Swinhoe's Pheasant (Lophura swinhoii). Both are endemic to Taiwan, and both are timid birds, shy of humans and harassed by human activity; because of this and because they were much hunted, they became very scarce, and in 1994 both were placed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. It is thought that today there cannot be more than 40,000 Swinhoe's Pheasants and just a few thousand Mikado Pheasants.

Taiwan Yuhina ( Yuhina brunneiceps ) Taiwan Yuhina (Yuhina brunneiceps)

* The Mikado Pheasant lives in the mountain forests between 1,800 meters and 3,200 meters high. It is a big bird: the male's body is about 97 cm long and the female's 55 cm. The male has blue-black shining feathers, with a white band across the wings, red skin round the eyes, and a splendid tail that may be up to 60 cm long, tail feathers dark in color with white cross bands. The female is olive-brown in color, with yellow speckles and a shorter, plainer tail. The male's magnificent tail feathers, quiet and dignified nature, and discreet guardian -like behavior all make it look like a real emperor of the forest. That is why its name mikado means the Japanese emperor.

Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata) Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata)
Mikado Pheasant (Syrmaticus mikado) Mikado Pheasant (Syrmaticus mikado)

* The Swinhoe's Pheasant is found at lower altitudes, up to 2,300 meters. It is a smaller bird. The male's body may be 79 cm long and that of the female 55 cm. The male's feathers are mostly a shining dark blue, but it has a white crown, a white stripe down its back and two white feathers in the center of its otherwise dark colored tail. The female is reddish brown. The male's tail is 34-42 cm long, the female's 20-25 cm. These pheasants are shy and nervous, difficult to study or photograph, but observers have noted the courtship dance of the male Swinhoe's Pheasant, and the lordly way he leads his family of 2-3 females around in the breeding season. Swinhoe was an English naturalist who caught one of these pheasants at Danshuei in 1862, admired its elegant beauty, and sent it back to England where, as recorded, it settled down well to its new life.

Shei-Pa National Park's complex terrain is home to a wide range of plant species. Surveys have shown that 1,976 species of vascular plant grow within the park, 183 of them rare or very rare. The range of altitude in the park is from 760 meters above sea level in the valley of the Da-an River to 3,886 meters at the summit of Syue Mountian. The differences in altitude and temperature cause a diversity of microclimates, which range through warm-temperate, temperate and cool-temperate to cold-temperate and subarctic. As a result, there are many different types of forest cover, falling into the zones described briefly below:

Caudate-leaved Chinkapin (Castanopsis carlesii) Caudate-leaved Chinkapin (Castanopsis carlesii)
Chinese Cork Oak (Quercus variabilis) Chinese Cork Oak (Quercus variabilis)

Machilus-Castanopsis Zone

This zone in Taiwan occurs at altitudes between 500 and 1,500 meters, where the climate is warm-temperate. The forest is of montane evergreen broad-leaved type, trees of Fagaceae family with Castanopsis species dominant. In the lower layer of trees Machilus species, of the Lauraceae family, are dominant.

Quercus Zone

This zone is found at altitudes from 1,500 to 2,500 meters, climate equivalent to that of temperate regions, with montane coniferous forest. Two subzones can be distinguished: the Quercus upper zone at 2,000 meters to 2,500 meters, the Quercus lower zone, below 2,000 meters. In the upper zone, the forest type is mixed coniferous broad-leaved, the trees belong to the Fagaceae family with Arishan Oak (Cyclobalanopsis stenophylloides) dominant. In the Quercus lower zone, the principal species are Cyclobalanopsis spp. and Pasania spp. of the Fagaceae family, and Litsea spp. of the Lauraceae family. The Quercus zone is just at the level of the cloud and mist belt on the Taiwan mountains; because of this a type of forest cover occurs in which Taiwan Red Cypress (Chamaecyparis formosensis) is dominant, or the cypress grows in community with various other trees, coniferous and broad-leaved, forming mixed coniferous forest. In areas where landslides or forest fires have disturbed the original tree cover a kind of forest may be seen in which Taiwan Red Pine (Pinus taiwanensis) and Formosan Alder (Alnus formosana) are the principal species.

Tsuga-Picea Zone

The name refers to mountain areas between 2,500 meters and 3,100 meters in height, where the climate is similar to that of cool-temperate regions, producing montane coniferous forest. In this zone Chinese Hemlock (Tsuga chinensis) and Taiwan Spruce (Picea morrisonicola) are the principal dominant species: the Tsuga is usually found on the south-facing slopes or along their crest, while the Picea prefers the damp and shady northern slopes and the valleys of creeks flowing southwards.

Taiwan Red Cypress (Chamaecyparis formosensis) Taiwan Red Cypress (Chamaecyparis formosensis)
Common Machilus (Machilus thunbergii) Common Machilus (Machilus thunbergii)
The fruit of Arishan Oak (Cyclobalanopsis stenophylloides) The fruit of Arishan Oak (Cyclobalanopsis stenophylloides)

Abies Zone

The name refers to mountain areas between 3,100 meters and 3,600 meters high, with the climate of cold-temperate regions, and vegetation of sub-alpine coniferous forest type. The forest in this zone is frequently a pure stand of Taiwan Fir, or called Kawakami Fir (Abies kawakami), which in Taiwan is a tree species of the forest line. The famous black forest of Syue Mountain is a pure Abies community, and the silver forest behind Sanlioujiou Cabin (369 Cabin) is the unusual scene left after an Abies forest was burned in a forest fire.

In this forest zone, there is another important tree species: Yushan Juniper (Juniperus squamata). This Juniper can be found at higher altitudes than any other tree in Taiwan and is a timberline species. When it is growing in places exposed to the wind, the wind pressure causes it to develop as a thicket of dwarf shrubs, as in the Syueshan Glacial Cirques; but in places sheltered from the wind it can become a large tree, for instance at Cuei Pond near Syue Mountain, or in the area below the Main Peak of Syue Mountain. The Juniper forest at Cuei Pond is particularly impressive: beautiful old trees reaching up into the heavens.

The Alpine krummholz in autumn forms a picturesque scenery in high mountains. The Alpine krummholz in autumn forms a picturesque scenery in high mountains.

Alpine Vegetation Zone

This means the zone above 3,600 meters, where the climate is that of subarctic regions, and the plants are those of an alpine vegetation zone. The vegetation is above the forest line; the wind is strong; the soil is thin; the scree is barren; moreover in winter the ground is covered with snow. A special effect of the wind's action is that the fragments of stone form scree slopes or level patches of scree. It is very difficult for plants to grow here; herb species survive best, and many form an Alpine herbs vegetation community.

In the lower sections of this zone, where the Alpine herbs community meets the forest line, geographical and climatic factors cause the trees to grow along the ground or in shrub form, forming Alpine Krummholz community. The principal members of this community are Yushan Juniper and Alpine Rhododendron.

Visitors to Shei-Pa National Park from some other countries may well be impressed and happy when they learn that within the park there is very little man-made woodland: all types of forest mentioned above are the natural pristine plant cover.

Taiwan Fir (Abies kawakamii) Taiwan Fir (Abies kawakamii)
The flower of Taiwan Sassafras. The flower of Taiwan Sassafras.

Plants found in Shei-Pa National Park that have points of particular interest include:

* Taiwan Sassafras (Sassafras randaiense): only three members of this genus still exist on the planet. The Taiwan Sassafras is unique to this island; the other two are distributed over North America and Mainland China. The sassafras has been around on the planet since the Pliocene epoch of the Tertiary period (between 1.8 million and 2 million years ago), and its distribution has been used by scientists to study the movement of continental plates. The timber of this tree has a beautiful grain and in Taiwan has been much sought after for the making of furniture. Excessive logging has brought the species to the edge of extinction, and this in turn has depleted the food supply of larvae of the Broad-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly (Agehana maraho). This rare butterfly is unique to Taiwan, and its larvae eat only the leaves of the Taiwan Sassafras. There are still forests of Taiwan Sassafras within Shei-Pa National Park, and in conserving this now rare tree, the park is also preventing a scarce and beautiful butterfly from becoming extinct.

* Syueshan Potentilla (Potentilla tugitakensis) is a rare alpine found in small numbers with restricted distribution at altitudes over 3,500 meters in the Nanhu Mountain, Syue Mountain and Dabajian Mountain areas.

* Devol's Balsamine (Impatiens devolii), which grows in the park close to Guanwu, is found nowhere else in the world . The plant is found in small numbers in only a small area. If not carefully protected, it is likely to go extinct.

Syueshan Potentilla Syueshan Potentilla

The main reasons why a species may be rare are: a restricted habitat, poor inherent adaptability, destruction of ecosystems or habitats, and excessive hunting or felling by humans. Habitat destruction is often caused by man, and thus human activity is a major reason for species' becoming rare. The loss of a species from an ecosystem does not simply mean its destruction alone, but sets off a whole chain reaction. The park is a treasure house of genetic material. Therefore, we must take care of our biological resources, for when we are protecting rare species, we are also protecting the future of the human race.