Intruding bears in Japanese towns prove too much to handle.
THE great number of appearances by wild bears in residential areas, sometimes attacking people and damaging farmers’ crops, has authorities in Japan trying desperately to find an effective solution to the problem.
There were 84 reports of bears hurting people or causing other damage between April and September, putting the current fiscal year on track to match the record for the most such reports, set in fiscal years 2004 and 2006.
Patrols have been organised and other precautions taken in areas frequented by bears, but local governments in those areas have been unable to come up with decisive measures to overcome the problem.
This is largely due to differences of opinion on why there have been so many appearances by wild bears in residential areas. Specialists say possible factors include a shortage of food in mountainous areas and a reduction in hunting.
Late last month, a black bear appeared in a park in a busy district of Uozu, Toyama Prefecture. Police officers and members of a local hunting association pursued it through a residential area near the park. The bear, estimated to be five years old, was finally shot dead after it ran into a house. As the gunshots rang out, local residents were in an uproar.
In Kudoyamacho, Wakayama Prefecture, on the same day, a bear escaped from an animal trap in a field.
Bear sightings are being reported almost every day, and as of Sept 31, 2,366 bears had been caught this fiscal year, most of which were later killed. Of the 84 people attacked by bears, four – two in Hokkaido, one in Fukushima Prefecture and one in Tottori Prefecture – were killed.
Bears are very active at this time of year as they seek food to sustain themselves through winter hibernation.
The city government of Uozu has issued an emergency warning about wild bears, and the town government of Iidemachi has advised resi- MANY experts have agreed that this year’s dearth of acorns – on which bears feed – explains why dozens of the animals have come out of forests and into towns and cities across Japan in recent months. These bears have wandered into human settlements this year to look for food before going into hibernation, they said.
“This year, oak trees didn’t grow enough buds due to unusually low temperatures in spring,” an official of the Nagano prefectural government’s wildlife problem section said.
“And then the scorching weather in summer made the acorns fall from the trees before they had grown to full size.”
A mature black bear usually weighs about 100kg. But a mature bear captured in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, on Oct 10 weighed only 45kg.
Kazuhiko Maita, head of the Institute for Asian Black Bear Research and Preservation, a nonprofit organisation based in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, believes a baby boom three years ago is partly to blame for the spate of bear sightings.
“In autumn 2007, acorns were plentiful and bears were healthy and gave birth to many cubs,” Maita said.
He said there was an abundance dents to refrain from going outdoors in the morning and evening, when bear sightings have been most common. The Iidemachi government has given all local primary and middle schools loud bells to drive away bears, and some primary schools have asked parents to transport their children to and from school by car.
The bears’ impact on farmers is also serious. Sakue Ono, 60, who cultivates apples in Numata, Gunma Prefecture, sets off flares every morning to scare away any bears that might be near his property. He also installed electric fences, but even that has failed to stop bears from intruding in his field.
“I’m afraid the bears might have learned how to get around the fences. For example, maybe they push a fence over by using their hip, so the thick fur protects it from electric shock,” he said.
It is not rare for bears to be caught and killed, but there are increasingly fewer hunters doing the job. According to Dainihon Ryoyu-kai, a national federation of hunting associations, its membership fell from 375,000 in 1980 to 119,000 in 2009, and members’ average age has risen.
On the other hand, some people are stressing for the need to protect bears as wildlife.
In Karuizawamachi, Nagano Prefecture, a non-profit organisation called Picchio tries to teach bears of the risks of approaching populated areas, without killing them. Bears that become caught in traps are harassed for a time by barking dogs and then released back to the wild, hopefully with a lesson learned.
A local government in Kyoto Prefecture has set up buffer zones between forests and residential communities by clearing undergrowth at the foot of mountains, where wild animals sometimes hide, so that people can easily spot them.
While many such trial-and-error efforts are continuing across the nation, none have been successful in totally preventing bears from approaching areas where humans live.
An official of the local government in Kyoto Prefecture said: “We’re dealing with wild animals. All we can do is try every possible option, one by one.” – Yomiuri Shimbun/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Displaced: These two brown bears gave local residents a scare when they appeared in the town centre of Shari in Hokkaido, Japan, on Oct 18. They were later shot by a local hunter.