Japan is facing an alarming rise in dangerous bear attacks. In the past five years, reports of wild bear related injuries and deaths in Japan have more than doubled, with the most incidents clustered around northern rural areas. While a number of factors are likely to blame, both climate change and Japan’s aging population are playing a major role.
The warmer temperatures brought on by climate change have certainly contributed to the increasing number of bear encounters, as rising temperatures cause bears to move to higher elevations in search of cooler air. Bears which had migrated to Japan’s northern mountainous regions now have access to food and water in the lower regions, drawing them even more closely to areas of high human activity.
Experts hypothesize that the recent spike in bear attacks is also due to Japan’s aging population. As the elderly living in Japan’s more rural areas suffer from hearing and vision impairment, they are more likely to unknowingly encounter bears while out and about. Especially at night, many elderly locals have unknowingly stumbled into bear-inhabited areas — prompting bear attacks.
In addition, the recent surge of bear-related incidents may have been prompted by a decline in hunters and an increase in locals giving food scraps to potentially dangerous wildlife. In many areas of Japan, hunting has been a primary strategy for controlling the size and location of bear populations — and with a decrease in hunters, it’s plausible that bear population could be on the rise.
Furthermore, well-meaning locals are also to blame. A now-common but dangerous practice of feeding bears scraps and leftovers has resulted in a population of bears that are no longer fearful of humans and, in some cases, actively seek out human food.
With both climate change and an aging population continuing to shape Japan’s local environment, it is unlikely the country will be free from bear attacks unless preventative measures are taken. Animal experts recommend prey-proof garbage cans to prevent bears from accessing human sources of food, as well as hunting to ensure a manageable bear population nearby.
Though the number of bear encounters have risen dramatically in recent years, many locals take proactive measures to minimize their risk of a bear attack by carrying bells or speaking aloud when out and about. Most importantly, caution must be taken by both locals and visitors as the number of bear attacks in Japan records a historical high.