Jack the Lizard Wonder World
Japanese Brown Bear


(April, 2014)

Higuma, Japanese brown bears are found only in Hokkaido, Japan, the population is about 2300. They usually stay in the forest and mountain area, but occasionally they are found in suburbs and even within cities. Those who come to human populated area are usually curious young bears, but they do not cause any troubles such as human injuries and fatalities so far. However, recent year in the mountain there are fatal incidents with bears. Although fatalities are quite low, people should be alert when they enter the bear country.

Last year a woman who was collecting edible plants called “sansai” in the mountain was attacked and lost her live. The body was covered with snow and partially eaten. This year same bear attacked two people at the site very close to last year incident was occurred. A man and a woman also went to get sansai into the mountain when the bear attacked. At first the bear assaulted her from behind. Although the bear appeared all the sudden he reacted fast and hit the bear face with a hatchet. Both of them were injured, but they survived.

Dr. Masaki Kadosaki, researcher of Higuma, explained about incidents.
“If the bear was same individual as last year one, the bear would be 4 year old. The size was estimated about 2m long, but bears from south Hokkaido are usually smaller than that of north and they don’t grow up that size, it is strange. Probably there was not much time since the bear had gotten out of his winter den when it attacked those people.”

The places around a stream in the mountain are used as the path or forage place by many species of wildlife.

Both encounters were occurred at the place close to mountain stream in which bears always forage for some vegetables such as meadow cabbages, and bog rhubarbs. The stream is also the path of wildlife in the mountain. Dr. Kadosaki has been doing field research in the mountain for over 40 years and he highly recommends a hatchet when people enter the bear country.

“A hatchet is the most effective tool for defense when a bear assaults you. Most of the people who survived bear attacks used a hatchet” said Dr.Kadosaki.

DNA analysis from blood left on the two sites shows same individual is responsible for both incidents. Intensive search for this bear was conducted from the ground and air by the helicopter, but it was not successful so far. Humans use about 30% of land in Hokkaido and the left is still covered with wild forest. Higuma bears, no black bears are found in Hokkaido, use 50% of land as the habitats and foraging place. Every year 600 to 800 bears get killed by hunters for both sports hunting and animal control. Hunters and the local office of the ministry of the Environment estimated that the population is increasing, about 6000 to 8000, so they think the number of killing is appropriate. However it is very difficult to distinguish which one is responsible for agricultural damage or the incidents involved humans.