1. Jul 2023 | Nature

Hokkaido Trivia – Urban Brown Bears in Hokkaido

photo credit (c)Hokkaido Newspaper

Living in eastern Hokkaido, it’s been a habitual custom to carry a “bear bell” when we go outing to the mountains.  A bear bell, for those who aren’t familiar with, is a bell that we ring along during hiking to protect ourselves from the wild bears.  The brass bell gives out a long lingering sound that tells the bears that humans are nearby. 

However, we never really had to rely on these bells unless we were going deep into the forest.  Not until this year….

This year, especially, the brown bears are showing up not only in the woods but also in the cities such as Sapporo – a large urban city of 2 million population.  Here are the numbers of the brown bears that appeared in Sapporo (*FY2022 vs FY2023) You can see how much the number is increasing.

**FY2022 162 vs FY2023 (~June 28) 103

It’s true that cities and towns in Hokkaido are surrounded by mountains and woods where the brown bears can habitat.  But till recent years, these bears knew how to keep distance with humans.  There could be many reasons for this change: humans may no longer be a terror to the brown bears (we no longer hunt them as we did before), the bears know we have “food” from the garbage that are left around, deforestation made it difficult for the brown bears to find food in nature, etc.  And of course, this year spring came earlier than usual and consequently made the hibernating period shorter.   

Various actions are taken by the prefectural and Sapporo City including the revival of “early spring bear hunting” to control the total number of brown bears especially near the residential areas.

It’s really hard for us to have to kill these wild animals that have done no harm but only entered our habitation.  As a tourist visiting Hokkaido, what can we do?  Never stop to take pictures of them – keep distance from the brown bears.  Never leave food or even garbage that smells food around – bring back all your food and garbage.  That’s all you need to do.  And you can save the life of wild animals such as the tbrown bears.

*Japanese fiscal year starts in April and ends in March the following year
**rf. Sapporo City website