Embracing The Wild: Bear Conservation at Picchio Wildlife Research Centre | CoolJapan

Picchio Wildlife Research Centre

(Photo from: Picchio Wildlife Research Centre)

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

What to do at Picchio Wildlife Research Centre

(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.

Bear dogs

Bear dogs

(Photo from: Picchio Wildlife Research Centre)

One distinctive feature of Picchio's approach is the Karelian bear dog, a Finnish dog breed traditionally used as a hunting dog to track down brown bears across wild terrain in Nordic countries. These bear dogs are essential in creating distance between bears and humans — their acute sense of smell allows them to track and detect bears in conditions mere humans cannot, and their loud barks are effective in driving bears away and discouraging them from returning to human areas and significantly reducing conflict incidents.

Education through research and study tours

Picchio Wildlife Research Centre Tours

(Photo from: Picchio Wildlife Research Centre)

Picchio's unwavering dedication to bear conservation extends beyond these efforts. The centre has made significant contributions to research on bear behaviour, publishing papers on diverse topics, including infanticide, foraging habits, home range and movement patterns, breeding ecology, and veterinary research. Moreover, the centre looks forward to embracing innovative technology like GPS collars and AI sensor cameras to enhance its monitoring and tracking capabilities.

Picchio offers an immersive experience for those keen on understanding bear conservation via their Asiatic Black Bear Conservation Study Tour, which includes lectures, field study tours, unique experiences like simulated capture and anaesthesia work of the bears, and radio telemetry surveys. Visitors will also have a chance to hang out with the brave, hardworking bear dogs.

Besides this tour, Picchio in Karuizawa provides other animal-watching tours, including those featuring the Japanese serow and flying squirrel, nature walking tours, and even stargazing experiences.

The inspiring work at the Picchio Wildlife Research Centre emphasises the potential for peaceful coexistence between humans and wildlife. Picchio aspires to inspire not only Japan but also other countries to spread their message and share their methods.