At the end of May, the body of a 61-year-old woman was found just off a national highway near the town of Semboku, in a mountainous area of Akita Prefecture. She had died from exsanguination, and from the condition of her corpse, which bore bite marks on her head, arms, shoulders and other parts of her upper body, it appeared she had been attacked by a bear. It was not that she had neglected precautions; she had worn not one, but two bells of the type people rely on to ward off the animals -- to no avail apparently.
Meanwhile, in parts of Kanto and Kansai, bears have been spotted on the prowl in residential areas. What's to be done to prevent similar tragedies, asks Yukan Fuji (June 6).
The Semboku City assembly collects a modest 1,000 yen for permits that allow people to go into the woods to harvest bamboo shoots, but the person in charge of issuing the permits says he's been advising people not to go into the forest.
The suspect in this case is a tsuchinowa-guma, referred to as "Ursus thibetanus" or the Asian black bear, which inhabits parts of Honshu and Shikoku islands. Males reach about 1.5 meters in length and can weigh between 60 to 100 kilograms. They are said to be capable of running as fast as 50 kilometers per hour and are equipped with sharp claws to enable climbing.
Another bear made the news in May after a man suspected of armed robbery with aggravated assault in Tochigi Prefecture fled into the mountains. The police pursued the felon who was cornered by the bear, which they shot in order to arrest the suspect. A ramen restaurant just off a national road in Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture reported a bear was banging against its door. And last year, villages in Hyogo Prefecture also reported an increase in cases of bear nuisances, leading local governments to drop hunting restrictions.
"In old times, the so-called satoyama areas, tracks of land combining flat areas next to hills, were maintained by farmers, and these served as a kind of buffer zone," explains Minoru Miyashita, an authority on animal behavior, and currently director of the Tokiwa Zoo in Ube City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. "Presently such crops as bamboo shoots and so on, which bears like to eat, are just left to grow on their own. Almost all the places where people were attacked by bears were previously these kinds of satoyama."
Another problem is that Japan's hunting population is aging and in decline.
"Bears are scared off by the sounds of gunfire, and they're sensitive to odors of gunpowder or things that don't occur in nature," Miyashita continues. "As their encounters with these things that have repelled them in the past are disappearing, this may be leading more encounters between bears and humans."
In the view of some, use of repellents such as bells and radios may no longer work because the bears have changed.
"They're smart, they can learn," says a nature conservation official in Akita. "They have figured out that people carry edibles in their rucksacks and the bell signals that food is nearby. It's been said by some that once a bear attacks a human, it will do it again, so places where bear attacks have happened need to be particularly careful."
In terms of incidents involving bear attacks, this is the most dangerous time of year, warns Yukan Fuji, so caution is warranted.© Japan Today