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5.4 Distribution and status in Japan

5.4.2 Hunting, culling and poaching

The hunting of bears falls into three categories: legal hunting (as game); culling (as pests or as threats to human safety); and illegal hunting (poaching). Since the post-war period, the percentage of bears killed as game animals has gradually decreased, while the percentage of bears killed as pests (culled, or control-killed) has steadily increased. In some prefectures, the figure for control-kills comprises up to 80 per cent of the total annual harvest.51 This is a direct consequence of increased human-bear conflict.

The bear is considered a game species under the Wildlife Protection and Hunting Law (1918) (see Chapter Six), and therefore subject to the same regulations as any other game species.52 However, there is either an outright ban or restrictions on the hunting of bears in four regions where its populations are endangered: the Kii Peninsula, Western Chūgoku, Shikoku, and Kyūshū (where the bear is considered extinct).53 The official hunting season runs from November 15th to February 14th. Hunters must obtain a hunting license and register with the prefecture in which he/she intends to hunt. The responsibility for monitoring compliance with these and other hunting regulations is largely assigned to volunteers called chōjū hogoiin (wildlife conservators), the majority of whom are selected from local hunting associations (ryōyūkai ), a system which has obvious potential for conflict of interest.54

In contrast to recreational hunting, control-killing may be carried out at any time of the year, even in regions where hunting is prohibited or restricted, provided there is a report of pestilence or risk to human safety, and provided approval is forthcoming from the prefectural authority. The criteria for the approval of control-kills are vague, and they are granted almost automatically, with little or no verification that claims of pestilence are valid, or that the bear that is subsequently trapped is the individual responsible for the pestilence.55 Box traps (metal cages with vertically sliding ‘gates’) and increasingly, drum traps (traps constructed from two steel drums connected end to end, with ‘gates’ at each end) are used all year round to trap bears near timber plantations and other crops where they are known to cause damage.56 Bears caught in traps are usually shot, rather than being re-released (relocated) in the forest, as they tend to become aggressive, and are deemed a threat to human safety. Bear cull numbers are not managed according to biological data on the species and though some prefectures have now set maximum annual harvest limits, this is not based on robust scientific data— indeed, few prefectures have even ascertained population statistics with any certainty.57 In any case, any maximum harvest limits are targets only, and there are no penalties if they are exceeded.

As previous discussion has indicated, diminishing and fragmented habitats, and fluctuations in annual food supply have increased human-bear encounters in Japan.58 When human-bear encounters or bear pestilence occurs, culling is the most common method of dealing with the conflict.59 By means of comparison, in the United States, in fourteen of the 42 states inhabited by black bears, the killing of black bears is prohibited outright, even in cases of nuisance activity (although the right of landowners to protect their lives or livestock is recognised).60 In states where culling of nuisance bears is permitted, non-lethal measures such as aversive conditioning and relocation are generally employed in the first instances of nuisance activity, followed by control killing measures only when nuisance activity (by the specific individual in question, identified through tagging) persists.61 In Japan, alternative measures such as aversive conditioning (the use of negative conditioning to instil in the bear an association between human-occupied spaces and negative events), relocation (relocating the individual to an area where it is less likely to be the cause of further pestilence or conflict situations) or preventative measures such as the installation of electric fences, are not commonly used, due to their cost and a lack of available expertise necessary to install and maintain them.62 Nevertheless, these methods and measures are beginning to be more widely adopted, often in regions where the involvement of non-government organisations (NGOs) is high (for example, Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture), or where local populations have reached an extremely low level (for instance, Hyōgo Prefecture). Alternative methods of pestilence prevention have also been trialed in some places: for example, some villages in western Japan have experimented with the use of grazing cattle to keep grass and undergrowth down to increase visibility and thereby make satoyama less attractive to bears.63

As noted in the previous chapter, bears are not protected in national parks either: where a bear appearance in a national park is deemed a threat to human safety or as having the potential to deter visitors, the bear is trapped and culled.64

Bears often sustain injuries in traps, especially when left overnight or for a period of days. For instance, bears damage or break off teeth or claws, or crush jaw bones in their attempts to escape from traps.65 Injuries are particularly serious when box traps are used, as the bear will often claw or bite at bars repeatedly in their attempts to escape.66 These injuries are likely to cause considerable pain and suffering for the bear, but they also make it more difficult for released bears to survive in the wild, increasing the risk that they will ‘re-offend’. Bears are also mistakenly caught in snare traps set for wild boar, particularly in western Japan, where wild boar are considered a serious agricultural pest. As these traps are often not adequately monitored, bears can be left trapped for days, leading to serious injury such as lost limbs. In a survey conducted in western Chūgoku over the period from 1990 through to 1998, bears had been caught in 64 snare traps intended for wild boar. Of these, three bears had lost limbs. In one case, one of these bears had managed to escape, leaving behind its paw in the snare.67 Such injuries have the potential to make bears more dangerous and more likely to engage in ‘nuisance activity’ in their search for food. One example of such a case occurred in 2004, when a bear was found eating persimmons in a tree in a village in Nagano Prefecture. The bear had lost one paw, possibly as an injury from a trap. It was later shot. (This case is discussed further in Chapter Seven.)

Additionally, anecdotal evidence indicates that bears may become more dangerous when injured by gunfire. In September 2006, a hunter was attacked by a bear which he had shot. The bear had fallen to the ground from the tree to which it had escaped, and thinking the bear was fatally injured, the hunter approached it, at which point he was attacked.68 Sometimes incidents have even more serious consequences: in 1988, three people were killed in quick succession in a bear attack in Yamagata Prefecture. Afterwards, an autopsy was performed on the bear thought to be responsible and an injury in its skull discovered, probably caused by a bullet.69 There is no way of knowing whether this injury caused the bear to become unusually aggressive, but it cannot be discounted as a cause.

There is also thought to be a significant level of poaching in Japan, particularly in periods when bear- gall is supposed to be at its best.70 Poaching (hunting outside the designated time-frame, region, or using prohibited methods) is of course illegal, but official monitoring is minimal or non-existent.71 Poachers generally use traps, rather than hunting bears with guns.72 One hunter interviewed suggested that this is because poaching using traps is harder to detect—it is much easier to deny knowledge of a trap left somewhere in the forest than to claim innocence when observed holding a gun, or game, out

of season or without a license.73 In any case, due to lack of resourcing, authorities rarely detect or enforce penalties for such activity, so there is little deterrent.74

Poaching is mainly driven by the demand for bear gall. Bear gall is a lucrative product, attracting strong demand both nationally and internationally. While international trade in bear parts is prohibited under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), it is still known to occur, and the sale of bear parts within Japan (provided the source is domestic) remains legal. In fact, it appears that CITES may have contributed to making gall more valuable—according to a survey of retailers of bear gall (namely, traditional medicine shops) conducted in 1997, the price of bear gall had increased in the years since the CITES treaty was ratified.75 The survey, which involved 174 traditional medicine shops in Tokyo and Osaka, found that 58 of these sold bear gall. Prices ranged from 1,600 to 10,500 yen per gram, averaging around 7,000 yen.76 Today, according to one practising hunter, a hunter can earn about 400,000 yen for a gall-bladder taken from a 100 kilogram bear.77 Given how lucrative bear gall is, it is natural that there is a temptation among some hunters to hunt bears illegally, particularly as the chances of being caught and prosecuted are very slim.