Ezo Higuma: Bear Mountain

There we were on a deserted mountain road in thick vegetation examining a butterfly aggregation on Bear Mountain. Though i’m a city girl, i’ve spent enough time in wilderness areas to know about respecting bush lore. In a previous post on our adventures in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island i mentioned that ‘alarm bells’ should be ringing. I should have been registering that the butterflies were on a scat pile bigger than a cow-pat, and about the size of an elephant’s. As that fact dawned there was a rustling in the trees, and a shadowy shape took off beyond our peripheral vision. Could it have been a sika (deer) or was it one of the free roaming brown bears? I’d like to think it was the latter, and if the scat was anything to go by then it confirmed the size and diet. Nevertheless we beat a hasty retreat and returned to the car. We were to learn that the Ezo Higuma bears (Ursus arctos yeoensis) are on the red data list of endangered species and that their existence is in a precarious state. It appears that their numbers are unknown and the population may well be less than 1000. We wondered what kind of conditions we would find as we proceeded towards the Sahoro Bear Sanctuary. Tourism publicity rates it highly as a place of refuge for bears existing in their natural habitat.
The 'sanctuary' houses 30 male bears in 15 hectares of natural vegetation – a far cry from the cement cells and performing bears at Noribetsu. It appears to be a humane setting for the bears; there is space, cooling pools, dens in which to withdraw. The guides are informative, and proud to show off these incredibly powerful creatures. Yes they are free to roam and are well fed …. but why then the collars? Ah, they're training collars to keep them away from the fence. Eh? Yes if they get too close to the fence then they receive a slight electrical shock – just like dog training collars, they're harmless. Just then one of the bears leans up against the viewing glass, scratching at the neck collar where it chafes and has rubbed through the skin.
Are they neutered, I wonder? If not, how crazed it would drive the males should a free roaming female in estrus come visiting on the other side of that electrified fence.
Oh! we humans are a cruel lot.

Ezo Higuma,  the Japanese Brown Bear of Hokkaido.
Ezo Higuma, the Japanese Brown Bear of Hokkaido.

Cooling down in the heat of the day _ Sahoro Resort.
Cooling down in the heat of the day _ Sahoro Resort.

Visitors can get close up views of the bears from the viewing platforms or through the bus windows.
Visitors can get close up views of the bears from the viewing platforms or through the bus windows.

Bear Mt_02

4 thoughts on “Ezo Higuma: Bear Mountain

    1. Aren’t they most magnificent?! These fellas are big – the largest of the inland species. Watched one on it’s hind legs at a scratching post, and reckon it was a good 2m in height. The stats inform that they weigh around 600kg fully grown. The front paws have a spread of 14cm and those claws look 8cm long. I couldn’t find much information on this sub-species – but it appears that they are related to the American grizzly. From all accounts they have a tenuous future as they are over hunted – the term used is ‘harvested’…. what a grim euphemism.

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