Disused tunnels become ecological corridor after 25 years

The tunnel group with vein branching of Xiziwan tunnel was once the place where the Japanese army commanded the war and gave directions. It has an important strategic position. (Photo by CNA)

Kaohsiung, Feb. 15 (CNA) Three tunnels on an abandoned road in southern Taiwan that was once a key route in the transportation of camphor oil have become a tourist site, with various ecological resources that are worth a visit during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday that began Thursday.

One of the tunnels, situated on Eighteen Arhats Mountain (十八羅漢山) in Kaohsiung’s Liouguei District, is inhabited by hundreds of endemic Taiwan leaf-nosed bats, while another is occupied by Pacific swallows.

Without human disturbance, the animals have made the Liouguei Tunnels (六龜隧道) their home since the facility stopped being used in 1992, when the road running through them, built in 1936, was replaced by a modern road that bypasses the mountain.

Liouguei District is situated between the Pingtung Plain and the Central Mountain Range and its forests, located 800 meters above sea level, were perfect for camphor trees, according to Chang Yun-cheng (張運正), a local tour guide whose family has lived there for several generations.

During the Japanese colonial era from 1895 to 1945, Liouguei was known for its output of camphor oil, which was the raw material for not just insect repellent but also for smokeless powder used in the production of bullets and artillery shells, Chang said.

Camphor had high economic value, prompting the Japanese colonial government to construct a route running through Eighteen Arhats Mountain in the 1930s to facilitate the transport of camphor and logs.

The Japanese bored six tunnels with a total length of 792 meters for the route, Chang said, adding that the importance of the tunnels as an economic and strategic lifeline gradually faded after the Japanese withdrew from Taiwan in 1945 in the wake of their defeat in World War II.

In 1992, the road was replaced by Taiwan Provincial Highway 27A due to its inability to handle the heavy traffic of vehicles carrying tourists to scenic mountain and forest sites in Liouguei and its neighboring district of Meinong.

At the same time, Eighteen Arhats Mountain was designated as part of a nature reserve, leaving the tunnels to the wildlife.

The Forestry Bureau reopened three of the Liouguei Tunnels to tourists in September last year, and hired tour guides to take visitors on a tour of the ecological and cultural interest of the old tunnels.

Liouguei Tunnels has good ventilation, suitable temperature and humidity, which has the home of Taiwan leaf-nosed bat. (Photo by CNA)

(By Wang Shu-fen and Elizabeth Hsu)