Japan’s depopulation and lack of food is causing Asian black bears to attack people

NEWS AND COMMENT: This is a reversal of the usual human-animal conflict caused by an expansion of human population and new settlements on the home ranges of wild animals which bring them into conflict.

In this instance, there’s been a surge in sightings and attacks by Asiatic black bears in the north of Japan.

The first reason for this rapid increase in bear-human conflict is due to a lack of food in the mountain forests where they live. Three quarters of the bear population in Japan live in forested mountains living off insects and a harvest of chestnuts, mountain grapes and kiwi fruits.

But there’s been a hot summer with a long drought followed by intense rain which has dramatically reduced the bear’s food supply.

They come down from the mountains to unkempt fields and orchards because of depopulation in the countryside where the human communities are shrinking in size.

With fewer people around to scare them away they move into those areas when the fields are unkept encouraging the bears to move further down to the edges of towns such as Takanosu where a 5-foot tall, 16 stone Asian black bear found themselves in a garage at the home of a 66-year-old confectioner, Keiji Minatoya.

When he opened the garage door the bear went for him. The advice is to back away slowly but he ran as fast as he could but the bear was too quick for him, caught up and attacked him. He was sure that he would die. His right ear was ripped off and his scalp was hanging loose. There was blood pouring down his face but he survived and received 30 stitches in hospital and is making a recovery although covered in scars.

He is the fifth person to be attacked on that particular morning in the middle of town which is 2 miles from the closest stretch of countryside.

Mami Kondo is a bear researcher employed by the Akita government to deal with the bear problem. She, herself, has shot dead 10 bears this year. Where she lives in the prefecture of Akita, 2,000 bears have been killed by people with rifles out of a total population of 4,400 bears in the area.

She said: “The number of incidents has been going up over the decade, but this year has been quite extraordinary. It’s not just bear sightings and bear attacks, but also physical damage. The bears eat crops and strip the bark of trees. It’s extreme – nobody saw this coming, not even me.”

The solution is to tidy up what is described as the marginal areas between towns and the mountains by keeping the fields in better condition and harvesting the fruit and installing electric fences.

This is a problem in reverse. As mentioned, normally people encroach upon the territories of wildlife causing conflict. In this instance humans are retreating which has allowed the bears to move forward and down into those areas abandoned by people and thence onwards into towns where there is dangerous conflict.

As an animal lover, it is sad to note that almost half the 4,400 bears have been shot dead by residents. I am sure that the animal advocates living in the Akita prefecture are equally disturbed. Ultimately it is down to how humans manage wildlife and nature. Only then can there be proper conservation. In this instance there’s been a breakdown and humans have resorted to the final solution: mass slaughter.

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Speciesism - 'them and us' | Cruelty - always shameful
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Post Category: Bears