Bear-human and animal conflict in Japan

In Japan there is a lack of professional park rangers financed by the government in order to help control the number of bears. This is compounded by the fact that the bears of Japan have acquired a taste for flesh – the flesh of animals and humans – because they are able to eat deer shot by hunters who leave the deer where they fell.

7-foot-tall brown bear
7-foot-tall brown bear. This is a fictional picture created by an artificial intelligence computer. It is free to use under an unconditional Creative Commons licence. You can click on it to see the original and then download that image by right clicking on it and following the menu.
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Bears are largely vegetarian and they eat insects as well. But having acquired a taste for flesh and also because of heavy rain followed by drought which reduced the population of insects and damaged the harvest of chestnuts, mountain grapes and kiwifruit, the bears have started to kill and eat cattle and humans and they putting companion animals in jeopardy.

The Times reports on some worrying incidents:

A black bear in rural Gunma prefecture, north of Tokyo, badly injured an elderly couple. The bear had entered their home in the middle of the night.

In May of this year, a 64-year-old man in Akita prefecture was killed by a bear while foraging in the mountains for bamboo shoots. The police arrived but had to retreat after they were mauled by the bear when trying to retrieve the body of the forager.

A local government officer in Akita said that “bears are everywhere”. And they are immune to being deterred by noise. They said that if you set off firecrackers next to them they ignore it.

Inreased number of attacks

219 people have been attacked in Japan in the 12 months to March in 198 incidents. This is the highest number of incidents since records began 17 years ago. Six people have been killed and in one instance a university student was eaten by a Ussuri brown bear

Oso18

Perhaps the most notorius man-eating bear in Japan was Oso18. He was named after an area called Osotsubetsu together with the numeral 18 which signified the width of his paws.

He was shot and killed last year by a hunter but prior to that he conducted a reign of terror over the local people. Over four years Oso18 attacked 66 cows near the towns of Shibecha and Akkeshi in eastern Hokkaido. 32 of the cows were killed. He appeared to have had a penchant for eating the innards of cattle. He would tear open their stomachs and eat the organs inside.

After he had been killed, he was found to be 2.2 m tall when standing on his hind legs and 1.2 m tall when on all fours. The Japanese barbecued him as a game restaurant in Tokyo and his carcass was also used in a miso stew in the Hokkaido city of Kushiro.

Here is some general background information on the rise in bear attacks in Japan:

There are a couple of reasons why Japan has seen a rise in bear attacks recently, particularly in 2023:

  • Habitat Shrinking: Japan’s rural areas are emptying out as people move to cities. This means forests are reclaiming abandoned land, which increases bear territory and brings them closer to human settlements.
  • Food Scarcity: In some cases, there have been food shortages for bears due to factors like dry summers. This makes them more likely to search for food in human areas, like orchards or even garbage bins.
  • More Encounters: With more overlap between bear habitat and human activity, there’s a greater chance encounters will happen.

The protection status of bears in Japan varies depending on the species and location:

  • Generally Protected: Both brown and black bears receive some level of protection in Japan. Hunting regulations are in place, requiring permits and designated hunting seasons. There are also specific prefectures where hunting certain bear species is entirely prohibited.
  • Exceptions: However, hunting of brown bears is allowed in Hokkaido, the island where they’re primarily found.
  • Endangered Subspecies: The situation is more critical for some subspecies. Black bear populations on Shikoku Island are critically endangered, with fewer than 30 individuals remaining. These specific bears are protected from hunting in all 17 prefectures where they might be found (though some populations might already be extinct).

Overall, there are protective measures for bears in Japan, but the level of protection varies depending on the specific species and location.

RELATED: Arctic polar bears are going hungry and losing weight thanks to climate change

Source: The Times newspaper. General information about bear-human conflict from various internet sources as found by Google Gemini.

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