Wan­der­ing bears

In­trud­ing bears in Ja­panese towns prove too much to han­dle.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT - By Hiro­masa Takeda and TakaHiro ko­mazaki

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.