Hokkaido is now threatened by brown bears.
October is the month when people go hiking and mushroom hunting in the mountains. This is the time of year when brown bears hoard their food before hibernation, and this is also the time when damage increases. In fact, Hokkaido has designated the period up to October 31 as a “special autumn brown bear watching period” and urges caution.
However, it is no exaggeration to say that this year is the worst ever for damage to humans and livestock. The most striking cases are the damage to cattle in the eastern towns of Akkeshi and Shibecha. In this area, there has been an increase in damage caused by huge male animals weighing over 300 kilograms. The animal is code-named “OSO18” after the name of the place where it was first discovered, Shimo-Osotsubetsu, Shibecha Town, and its 18 cm long footprints. The Shibecha Town Office’s Agriculture and Forestry Division’s Consumer Affairs Section reveals the actual damage.
“In Shibecha Town alone, 15 animals have been damaged. The damage caused by OSO18 was first confirmed in July of 2019, and 48 cows were killed in three years. It is quite rare for brown bears to attack cattle, and until now they have only rarely eaten cattle that had been injured for some reason.
“OSO18 is not only huge. After attacking cows, they often do not eat them at all, or if they do eat them, they only eat part of the meat on their backs, suggesting that they are more likely to attack cows to play with them than to feed them. They are also very cautious and do not appear in public except at night. They are also very cautious and do not appear in public except at night, and once they have attacked a place, they do not appear again. Mr. Masahiro Sakurai, the manager of a ranch in the town of Atsugishi, who suffered damage in August this year, said.
“The backbone of a cow weighing nearly 200 kilograms was broken. I wondered what kind of power it had. I haven’t heard of a bear attacking a cow in 50 years. As a countermeasure, we have hunters patrolling the area, and we are also installing electric fences and box traps. We have also returned about 200 bears that were under the management of the town ranch to their respective farmers, and about 700 bears are no longer grazing, but are being raised in cattle sheds.
The financial burden is not insignificant. At the town-owned ranch, seven cows were damaged. The total loss is 2.5 to 3 million yen. In addition, the cost of investing in equipment such as electric fences will exceed 20 million yen at least. Still, this does not cover everything. For the 700 cows that cannot be grazed, we have to buy grass to feed them, which costs about 10 million yen. Farmers also have to spend more money and effort because they can’t leave their cows at the town ranch, and if they do, they won’t have enough time to do it and will have to shift the time of artificial insemination of their cows. It may also affect the growth of the cattle, so the total amount of damage will be sky-high.
Meanwhile, the damage to people is also serious. On June 18, a male brown bear, about 1.6 meters long and weighing 150 kilograms, suddenly appeared in a quiet residential area in Higashi Ward, Sapporo, and attacked four citizens. 105 police officers, 39 vehicles, and three helicopters were dispatched to the scene, and the bear was exterminated after nine hours of flight. The bears were exterminated.
Brown bears pose a threat to Hokkaido. But why is the damage increasing? Professor Yoshikazu Sato of the Department of Environmental Symbiosis at Dairy-Gakuen University, who has been studying brown bears for more than 30 years, suggests another possibility.
“I think there are two major factors behind the increase in brown bear damage. In 1990, Hokkaido stopped the ‘spring bear extermination system’. In 1990, Hokkaido stopped the “spring bear extermination system,” which started around 1966 and lifted the hunting ban only during a certain period in early spring. In the 1980s, however, the ban was abolished because of the danger of bear extinction in some areas. Since then, the population has been on the rise.
The second reason is that the separation between the living areas of animals and humans has become blurred. This is a problem in urban areas such as Sapporo, where while efforts are being made to create a lush green city, the continuity of green space from the forest to the city is becoming thicker and thicker. The trees grow as thickly into the city as they do deep into the forest, and animals are able to hide themselves there. Rabbits, foxes, and deer came out to feed there, and eventually bears came. We need to rethink the way we build our towns.
Are there any measures to stop the damage?
“This is the first time in 30 years that bears have been seen in an urban area like Sapporo’s Higashi Ward. As a countermeasure, we need to properly manage the land again by installing electric fences, although it will take time. It is also essential to pass on the skills of the aging hunters and train their successors. Individuals should always be prepared for the possibility of bears by carrying pepper extract spray. However, there is no such thing as a safeguard, so the best thing to do is to be extremely careful not to encounter a bear.
It is hoped that the situation will be resolved as soon as possible to prevent further damage.