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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #255: October 12, 2004

5 Elderly People Injured in Bear Attacks in Japan

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"5 Elderly People Injured in Bear Attacks in Japan"
(Xinhua) China View


Record-breaking levels and numbers of typhoon strikes have left its scar in an unexpected manner. By destroying the foodstuff normally available in the mountains, it forced bears to roam villages and suburban towns

There are two kinds of bears living in Japan. They are commonly called brown bear ("higuma" in Japanese) and black bear ("tsuki-no-wa-guma").

The brown bear's academic name "ursus arctos yesoensis" (meaning "bear of bears from Yeso", where "Yeso (Ezo)" is an old name for Hokkaido, the northernmost island in Japan) is a close relative to what the Americans call the grizzly. They are large and powerful, often reaching the standing height of 2 meters and weigh 400 kilograms. There are believed to be 2,000 to 2,500 living in the mountains of Hokkaido, which is very few considering the size of the area but not considered to be in danger of extinction so long as no adversary conditions by the humans are created.

The brown bear is often referred also to as Asian black bear, having the academic name "ursus thibetanus" (which means "bear from Tibet"). It is significantly smaller than the brown bear, at around 1 meter and 70 kilograms, and lives in Honshu (the main island) and other islands except the cold Hokkaido.

As with most of other kinds of bears, they are both omnivorous, meaning they eat all kinds of food, including meat and plants - much like human beings. They are not known to attack people. Rather, their behaviors clearly indicate they try to avoid running into human beings. The only times when they are known to attack people are when they feel their cubs are in danger, or to gain their own time to get away, or from genuine panic.

The fact that both human beings and bears are omnivorous and similar in size means they share the same habitat environment, which makes it necessary for them to either peacefully share, or fight for, the same type of food. Indeed, people and bears do live peacefully under normal circumstances. People live in relatively flat cultivated area and bears live in the forest in the mountains. As bears usually avoid humans, people rarely run into bears - in fact every trekkers' manual recommends letting your existence known, by bells and whistles so the bear could avoid you, and advises not to panic when you run into one as it only cause panic on the bear's side.

This year, things seem a little different. People living in various parts of Japan have reported engagements with bears. Crops have sometimes been the targets of bears in the past, but they were not considered as serious threats to the safety of the people. Many people living in the regions for long time said they had never recognized such imminent signs of, and then the real, bears roaming so close to their homes.

Most of the bears found wandering into villages and towns have been shot and killed. Some have been captured and released in the mountains.

Those shot bears had no ill intentions toward human society. They had no plans to attack people and get in trouble. All they wanted to do is to eat apples and persimmons and other nuts and fruits, as were actually observed, to accumulate enough fat to survive in hibernation through winter. (There was one case where a bear apparently attacked a chicken in a poultry house, which was commented as very rare and the bear must have been very hungry by experts, as bears usually tend to avoid the hassle of attacking other animals and birds.) Capturing the bears - with all the risks and the cost associated with the operation - and releasing them in the mountains would not solve the problem, as the issue is total volume of food which has become scarce, and not a behavior of a single bear. For the time being, the only practical solution is to execute the bears that wander into human territory. It is truly sad and unfortunate.

Would the environmental and animal protection activists oppose to shooting the bears under such circumstances? They are welcome to capture and take home the bears if they wish.

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