Even in January, bears have continued to appear near residential areas in the normally snowy regions of Tohoku, Hokuriku and elsewhere.
Bears usually hibernate from around December to April, but experts say warm winters and record low snow levels are causing bears to wake up and go out to search for food. Local governments are calling on residents to be vigilant, as bear sightings may continue to increase.
A resident of a prefectural housing complex in Mitsuke, Niigata prefecture, called the police emergency number 110 on the morning of January 21 to say that a bear was crouching on the stairs of the complex. A bear about 1m long was found on the landing between the fourth and fifth floors. The animal eventually died after being shot three times with a tranquilizer gun.
The housing complex is close to a kindergarten and school. There is no snow cover in the area this year.
According to the Niigata prefectural government, there have been at least three other sightings in the prefecture this month.
In Yamagata prefecture, there have also been three sightings this month, including one at a parking lot in Yamagata city. According to the Yamagata prefectural government, records going back to 2007 show only one other bear sighting in the prefecture in January 2013.
The Yamagata city government has put up banners near where the sightings occurred to call on residents to be on alert. “With so little snow, I thought bears might appear,” a city government official in charge said. “Normally, we don’t put up these banners in January.”
Solitary bears have been sighted this month in Toyama, Kurobe and Kamiichi in Toyama prefecture; in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Bandai and Kaneyama in Fukushima prefecture; and in Kanazawa.
Hiromi Taguchi, a professor at Tohoku University of Art and Design in Yamagata who has studied the ecology of bears, said hibernating bears apparently leave their dens because they cannot sleep due to warm winter temperatures.
An official at Nei no Sato, an outdoor nature museum in Toyama, said, “With no snow cover, it’s easy [for bears] to gather astringent persimmons and acorns that have fallen to the ground.”
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (JAPAN)/ANN