Nestled within the serene Karuizawa region of Japan's Nagano Prefecture, the Picchio Wildlife Research Centre is pioneering a fresh approach to bear conservation that seeks to reshape our relationship with the natural world. This innovative centre fosters a harmonious coexistence between humans and bears, specifically the Asiatic black bear.
Karuizawa's proximity to the bustling metropolis of Tokyo led to an uptick in tourism and inevitable contact with bears. Its repercussions were evident by the late 1990s, prompting Picchio, in cooperation with the town of Karuizawa, to launch a long-term project. This initiative aimed to mitigate bear-human conflict, save bears' lives, and maintain a balance in the local bear population.
Managing bear safety and bear-human relationships
(Photo from: Picchio Wildlife Research Centre)
Through extensive research into bear behaviour, Picchio has crafted comprehensive techniques that promote harmony between humans and bears. One of its key strategies is individual bear management. Through this, they maintain that bears, like humans, are unique, with age, sex, upbringing, and habitat preferences all influencing behaviour. Picchio tracks individual bears using radio collars, yielding invaluable insights that enable them to devise measures to avoid potential conflict situations.
Another crucial aspect of Picchio's bear-human management system is its conflict countermeasures. Measures range from erecting electric fences around crop fields to installing bear-proof dumpsters to deter bears from straying into human habitats. The centre also responds promptly to bear sightings and alerts, using this data to inform the public about bear activity. Education is a significant part of Picchio's conservation efforts. Raising awareness about bear behaviour and promoting peaceful coexistence through regular lectures and demonstrations for residents, schools, and park rangers across Japan is of utmost priority.
Bear conservation is not without its challenges. For example, Asiatic black bears can inadvertently become victims of wire snare traps intended for deer population control. Picchio employs trained experts to tranquilise and safely relocate the bear back to the mountains.