There has been a significant increase in bear attacks in Japan due to their difficulty in finding food.

Japanese experts have issued a warning about the increasing frequency of bear attacks, citing the animals’ struggle to find sustenance in their native environment.

According to media reports, bears have been responsible for 158 injuries and two fatalities since April, matching the previous record set in 2020. The majority of these incidents took place in the northern region of Honshu, Japan’s largest island, as reported by the environment ministry.

The increase in incidents has been attributed by experts to a combination of plentiful acorn and beechnut crops last year, leading to larger bear cubs, and a lack of these dietary staples this year. As a result, more animals are being forced to enter populated areas in search of food before their hibernation period begins in early December.

Previously, interactions with bears typically only occurred when individuals entered the forest to gather wild plants or when hikers were caught off guard. However, the merging of boundaries between the bears’ natural habitats and abandoned villages has resulted in increased encounters with humans in urban areas.

Kyodo news agency reported that 15 out of the 47 prefectures in Japan experienced attacks during the six-month period from April to September. The highest number of attacks was reported in Akita, located in the northern region of Honshu, followed by Iwate and Fukushima.

Iwate officials reported that over half of the attacks this year took place in or near residential areas. They also noted that one-fifth of the victims had been taking precautions, such as carrying bells intended to frighten the animals, at the time of the attack.

In the beginning of this month, a bear assaulted six individuals in a city location of Akita within a 24-hour period. The victims included an elderly woman and a schoolgirl who was waiting for a bus. Three of the attacks took place in a residential area near commercial establishments, residences, and a medical facility.

A man, aged 66, in the region has been seriously hurt after encountering a bear in his garage. This prefecture has reported 52 incidents this year, which is over eight times the number from last year.

The man recounted to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper that he and the bear made eye contact. He believed he had no chance and quickly ran away. However, the bear caught up to him and knocked him down. The man described the bear’s growls and how it bit him on the head, leaving him unable to defend himself.

The increase in assaults was deemed “unusual” by the ministry of environment, and the environment minister, Shintaro Ito, encouraged individuals to appropriately discard household food waste, which may attract these creatures, and ensure that doors are closed. Farmers were cautioned against leaving fallen fruit on the ground.

A male individual was discovered killed by a bear in Iwate, marking the first deadly bear attack in the region in over ten years. In Hokkaido, the northernmost main island of Japan, authorities found the decapitated head of a fisherman who was suspected to have been attacked by a bear.

Takuya Tasso, the governor of Iwate, stated that relying on positive outcomes is no longer viable. He advised against placing excessive trust in past instances where individuals encountered bears without harm, emphasizing the need for increased alertness.

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NHK, Japan’s national broadcasting station, recently aired a show providing guidance on how to handle a bear encounter. The key recommendations were to carry bear repellent spray and to avoid making eye contact or attempting to flee. Stores are seeing an increase in purchases of items specifically designed to deter bears, such as bells, whistles, and portable radios.

This year, there have been nearly 15,000 reported sightings of bears in Japan, which is a significant rise of over 4,000 compared to last year. A few of these sightings occurred on the Izu peninsula, where wild bears had not been seen in a century until 2021. Recently, a bear was spotted near a campsite near Tokyo, causing the temporary closure of the site.

Environmentalists are urging for increased efforts to guarantee a sufficient amount of acorns and other food sources. Proposed measures include creating protected feeding zones to discourage animals from entering human-inhabited regions, as well as stashing acorn reserves in elevated areas.

The bear population in Japan is on the rise. According to a recent report by Yomiuri, there are approximately 44,000 black bears – a significant increase from the 15,000 estimated by the environment ministry’s biodiversity centre in 2012. This number does not include the estimated 11,700 Ussuri brown bears in Hokkaido, whose population has more than doubled since 1990.

In recent events, memories of Japan’s most fatal bear attacks have resurfaced. These attacks, known as the Sankebetsu incident, occurred in 1915 on Hokkaido and resulted in the death of seven villagers and injuries to three others. The culprit was a massive 2.7-metre (8ft 10in), 340kg (750lb) brown bear, which has since been immortalized in various forms of media. A hunter eventually located and killed the bear.


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