Brown bear habitats move closer to residential areas of Sapporo
On March 31, two men who were conducting ecological research on brown bears were attacked by a bear that emerged from its hibernation den on Mt. Sankaku in Sapporo’s Nishi-ku. One man received a serious head injury while the other received serious injuries to his arm. Subsequent investigation by the City of Sapporo revealed that the brown bear that attacked them was raising two cubs. The den was only about 500 meters away from a residential area, in a place where hikers and other members of the public could easily have stumbled across it. The increasing bear population has highlighted the fact that the bears’ habitat is getting closer to human settlements, and experts warn that, “we need to fundamentally change the perception that bears hibernate deep in the mountains.”
“Pregnant female bears choose their hibernation dens very carefully. We had no idea that she was raising her cubs in a place so close to residential areas and mountain trails,” said Yamanaka Masami, former executive director of the Shiretoko Nature Foundation, failing to hide his surprise.
◼Hikers passed by at one time
The two men who were attacked are employees of a non-profit organization that was commissioned by the City of Sapporo to research bear ecology. At around 2:30 p.m. on March 31, one of the employees was poking around the hole with a stick to check for reactions, when the bear jumped out of the hole and bit him on the head. The bear also attacked the other employee, who was spraying bear repellent, and bit him on his right elbow and back.
On March 14, a hiker reported that a brown bear had a hibernating den on the mountain, and the City of Sapporo closed the trail. On the following day, March 15, City officials investigated the area, but found no traces of dens or bears. The hiker also provided a photo of the den, but the NPO to which the two victims belonged advised that it was unlikely to be a hibernation den. In response, the City reopened the trail on March 16, and members of the public were free to pass near the den.
Since the hiker who made the report was also present at the March 31 survey, they were able to find the den quickly, but they were not accompanied by hunters and did not anticipate the possibility of a bear attack. The person responsible for environmental symbiosis, in the City’s Environmental Bureau explained, “We thought the possibility of a bear being in the area was low. We should have been more careful in our decision-making. We were not fully aware of the situation.”
This time, two researchers who are familiar with bear ecology were the victims, but there are serious concerns that if a member of the public encounters a bear, it could lead to an even more serious accident. According to Mr. Yamanaka of the Shiretoko Nature Foundation, “It is difficult even for experts to judge whether or not there is a bear in the den. We urge people never to approach dens and hope that the local government will consider options, such as closing the area around the hole and conducting an investigation after the snow melts.”
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