Japanese black bear conservation

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > East Asia > Japan

Japanese black bear. Japan.
© WWF Japan / Bungo KANAZAWA

Summary

The Japanese (Asiatic) black bear is the largest mammal found on Japan’s 3 major islands - Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku. But habitat loss, hunting and road accidents have drastically reduced their numbers over the years. One population in Kyushu is already extinct and another in Shikoku is critically endangered with less than 20 remaining bears.

Without effective management to address the threats, Japan may lose this species in the future. WWF is working in close collaboration with local groups to set up conservation plans for the bear populations. Conservationists are pushing for bear protection that would improve their natural habitat and encourage them to return deeper into the mountains away from urban areas.

Background

The Japanese (Asiatic) black bear is the largest mammal of Japan’s 3 major islands (Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku). After World War II, a large portion of their habitat in the mountains was converted from indigenous deciduous or mixed forests to afforested coniferous forests for timber production. This course of action drastically reduced the availability of food, forcing the bears to come down to human residential or farm areas. Various public works such as dams and roads separate their habitats, which interferes with their movements and isolates them from neighboring populations.

Each year, a number of bears are still killed by commercial hunting and eradication programmes to protect local agriculture, forestry and human life. Geographically the black bears are separated into several distinct populations close to the sea. One population in Kyushu is already extinct and one in Shikoku is critically endangered with less than 20 remaining bears. The bears in the Western part of Honshu are isolated into few small sub-populations. Only numbers in the Eastern Honshu are considered healthy but they are also facing numerous problems, including hunting, city encroachment, construction of express roads, dams, golf and ski resorts.

Without effective management to address the threats, Japan may lose this species in the future. The black bear is one of the key indigenous species and its survival depends on the restoration of indigenous ecosystems. WWF Japan has supported surveys and land purchase for a national trust and established collaborations with individuals and organizations concerned with the conservation of the black bear.

Objectives

Shikoku

- Collect ecological information from a survey with local collaborators.

- Draw up a conservation plan based on the results of the survey.

- Increase public awareness of the importance of bear conservation and promote conservation with public support.

Nagano

- Reduce attacks to humans and agricultural losses (human-bear conflict).

- Maintain local bear populations.

- Promote coexistence with humans as an ultimate goal.

Solution

Shikoku

- Collect information on home range and seasonal change in habitats, food and behaviors from the telemetry survey in Mount Tsurugi.

- Identify individuals by photographs taken by camera traps.

- Study age and sex structures from captured bears.

- Evaluate environmental quality of identified habitats.

- Set out a conservation plan based on the information from the survey.

Nagano

- Ensure Nagano people, particularly elementary school pupils and junior high students, are aware of the present status of wildlife, in particular black bears (with municipal support).

- Reduce the present bear damages to agriculture by capturing bears which appear in farm or residential areas and releasing them in remote mountain areas.

- Conduct a public awareness campaign.

- Propose a centre to be engaged in research, education and implementation.

- Establish a system to protect isolated populations from extinction and maintain them.

- Propose measures to recover and maintain the isolated populations in the Kanto mountain range and in the Yatsugatake region.

- Propose a system to allow human-wildlife co-existence in forested or mountainous areas.

Achievement

Before March 2005 (preparatory phase)

- Questionnaire survey conducted on presence of Japanese black bears amongst local authorities.

- Information on the abnormally frequent sightings of black bears in human residential areas made public. Further progress was achieved at a workshop, symposium and public discussion panels organized by the Japan Bear Network.

By March 2006

- Status survey was begun in Shikoku in April 2005. Through the survey, WWF collected scientifically important information to form the basis of a conservation plan in the future. 3 black bears were caught and released with attached telemeters. In July 1 male was caught and released. In September a female and a male were caught and released within 10 km from the summit of Mount Tsurugi. The female was the first female ever caught for a survey. The survey provided information on the areas covered by the bears, particularly movement to wintering sites when the cold air mass hit the area in December.

- A discussion panel was held to create a model bear conservation region in Nagano.

By March 2007

- The telemetry survey done throughout a year revealed the territory of the bear in the Tokushima area. WWF presented the results at the annual conferences of the Mammalogical Society of Japan and the International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA).

- A telemetry survey was begun with a young bear newly caught in the Kochi area. This gained wide press coverage.

- WWF drafted a conservation policy in Shikoku that estimates the bear populations, selects and widens conservation areas and manages their habitats.

- WWF, as a member of the executive committee, helped IBA organize an international meeting in Karuizawa.

By March 2009

- The overall habitat for 5 individuals became clear in Tokushima Prefecture and a new expanded protected area was designed in order to lobby to the National Government.

- Genetic analysis revealed that this black bear population became isolated longer than those in Honshu Island and kept prototype morphology, which would provide important aspects for the evolution of Asian black bears.

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