Protecting both humans and bears using research-based methods
Asiatic black bears are shy and rely mainly on plants for food, so they pose less of a risk than some carnivorous animals. However there remain cases where harm is caused, such as through accidental encounters, agricultural and forestry damage. Additionally, the mental toll on people (such as anxiety or stress) is a factor which needs to be considered.
Many regions attempt to combat such harm by killing bears. However this is not necessarily effective; the targeted bear may be different to the one which caused harm. Furthermore, reducing the bear population may have unprecedented effects on other wildlife or natural resources in the future.
Picchio uses research-based methods to ensure a safe distance between humans and bears is maintained. At the same time, we continue to search for new and improved methods of co-existence. By doing this we can protect people and prevent the extinction of bears.
Individual Bear Management
Range and behaviour patterns vary from bear to bear. Some individuals are shier and are rarely witnessed, while others wander towards residential areas often. Picchio was commissioned by the Karuizawa Town Office to conduct the attachment of radio collars to bears. By keeping regular track of their locations via the collars, we are able identify bears which pose a risk in advance and carry out appropriate countermeasures to prevent them from coming into conflict with humans.
1. Attachment of the Radio-collar
Bears are either “miscaptured” in snare traps set by hunters (originally intended for deer and boar), or caught inside one of our specially designed drum traps. First we tranquilise the bear so we can remove them from the trap safely. Once this is done we attach radio collars in order to keep track of their location in future. We also take measurements of height, weight, and samples of hair for DNA analysis.
2. Hard Release
We release the bear farther away from inhabited areas in order to reduce conflict. As the trap is opened and the animal escapes, we use various tools to make noise and intimidate the bear. This is done so that the bear associates human sounds with danger, thereby discouraging it from returning to inhabited areas. Intimidation methods include calling in loud voices, rubber bullets, firework sounds, and specially trained bear dogs which bark and herd bears away into the forest.
3. Behavioural Tracking
Using a tracking device tuned to the bears’ radio collars, we conduct nightly location checks. Bears which come close to the town are chased away, and other measures taken if necessary.
4. Chasing Off
Bears which come too close to inhabited areas are chased away with the aid of bear dogs. At the command of our dog handlers, the bear dogs bark loudly and chase bears away from township areas without harming them. This is vital for preventing bears from coming into too close contact with humans or getting accustomed to them.
Comprehensive Management Methods
To achieve co-existence, we need an environment which can support it. Picchio has taken various measures to remove or restrict sources which may attract bears to town, allowing locals to live with peace of mind. Additionally, we conduct educational activities for youth who we believe will be responsible for the future, and also for anyone with an interest in bear management. Co-existence cannot be achieved solely by current bear experts.
Bear-proof trash can
Karuizawa was once a frequent witness to “garbage bears”. In order to prevent these bears from coming to feed on garbage in town, we developed a bear-proof trash can. This trash can has been introduced into garbage collection points in Karuizawa and Hokkaido since 2003. Garbage-related damage in Karuizawa, which exceeded 100 cases per year in 1999, fell to 0 in 2009 and has remained in the single digit range to date.
Electric fence rental
Electric fences can protect farmland which bears attempt to access. Picchio lends these fences to individuals who are considering their purchase so that they can realise the effectiveness of this prevention method. Karuizawa Town also provides subsidies for electric fence purchases.
Witness reports and on-site verification
When a bear is witnessed in Karuizawa, the information is sent to us either directly or through the Town Office or police. We visit the site to check for sources that attract bears (e.g. beehives, compost, nuts etc.), and assess ways to prevent damage.
Bear Witness signboards
Whenever a sighting is reported, we install signboards with the date, time of the sighting and safety instructions at the site. Since leaving signs in the same place for a long time may result in a tendency for them to be ignored by the public, we make sure to keep them up to date and remove them after 2 weeks.
Bears dislike open areas, preferring to hide among bushes where may be stumbled upon suddenly and surprised, resulting in an attack. In order to prevent such accidents, we work with locals keep the bushes around elementary schools trimmed.
Release of miscaptured bears
Sometimes non-target animals are caught in snare traps intended for deer or wild boar. We call this a “miscapture”, and one of our jobs is to help free bears which have been miscaptured throughout Nagano Prefecture.
Educational activities at elementary schools
Picchio conducts special classes at all elementary schools in Karuizawa. We teach children about bear prevention methods as well as discussing co-existence with bears and other wild animals.
We provide internships for those wishing to learn about bear management in the hope that this will foster the next generation of conservationists. Our students come not only from various places in Japan, but from across the world.
What do bears eat? When do they hibernate? When do they have cubs? Knowing bears’ habits is essential to co-existing with them.
Fruit and Nut Yield Survey
Lower amounts of food may mean a higher chance of bears wandering into residential areas to search for other food sources. For this reason, we conduct surveys every year assessing the amount of food available. In summer, we count the fruit of giant dogwood and Japanese bird cherry. In autumn, the nuts of chestnut and oak trees.
Cameras are placed in front of caves or holes where mother bears are hibernating. We use these to monitor pregnancies and cubs.
By analysing bear faeces we can interpret the bears’ diets. For example, in spring they eat various kinds of plants; in summer, fruits, and in autumn acorns and chestnuts. In spring and summer, they may also eat ants, bees and honey.
What our methods have achieved
Through these comprehensive management methods, we have made a big difference in reducing human-bear conflict.
The number of bear damages significantly decreased after comprehensive measures were taken.
Public garbage dump damages occurred frequently in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now, thanks to the development and installation of Bear Proof Dumpsters, these cases have almost completely disappeared.
Through thorough individual bear management at each zone, we have successfully reduced damage particularly in Zone Ⅳ (Commercial, Residential Area) where human-related accidents are a concern.