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

Bear Mountain Butterflies

Our travel arrangements throughout our trip in Japan went without a hitch; although daringly we decided to hire a rental car in two areas – Takayama in Honshu and Asahikawa, Hokkaido. It gave us flexibility and the English GPS system worked like a charm. We did a bit of exploring off the main tourist route, ventured off to a little of the back country. One unintentional destination though, which our ‘efficient’ GPS delivered us to was somewhat surprising; we had entered the code for the Sahoro Bear sanctuary, instead we were directed up a disused mountain road, with thick overgrown vegetation. As the road diminished in the encroaching vegetation we were committed until we could find a place to turn back. As we approached a wider section, our GPS system (a female voice, who we had christened Jane) announced in modulated and confident tone, that we had arrived at our destination. Just then I spotted (quite excitedly) an aggregation of butterflies, so stepped out of the cool car into a muggy, searing heat with camera in hand to document this interesting scene…..
Butterfly aggregation
The last time i’d spotted this phenomena of swarming butterflies was at the Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape (SA); so alarm bells should have been ringing …
Take a closer look dear Readers –Bear poo provides an enriched meal for butterfly.

Second part installment tomorrow: the brown bears of Hokkaido are related to the North American Grizzlies.

Japan: Nature Reflected

During our recent visit to Tokyo, leaden skies and oppressive heat were the order of the day. Sightseeing slowed to snail’s pace, and our trek around the Imperial Palace grounds and the East Garden was decidedly laborious. The majestic garden setting was all manicured perfection, following the prescribed Japanese tradition of form and shape. I found the atmosphere oddly disconcerting as there were no songbirds, only the raucous cawing of crows and the shrill shriek of cicadas. It was a relief to find refuge in the close by Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT)not only as it was cool, but to dodge a heavy rain shower as well. The collection of artwork is an interesting mix, a combination of both Japanese and Western styles. On leaving we happened upon an exquisite sculpture displayed in the grounds, set on a patch of verdant green grass. It’s rich colours reflected, refracted the surrounding light. Sculpture Unfortunately I wasn’t able to discover who the artist was, or the title of the work; but for me as our trip unfolded it came to symbolize the essence of the unfettered wildness of the mountains of Mt Daisetsuzan. The alpine beauty of those mountains in the clouds and their dynamic geothermal nature have an aura of raw power.
The following photos are taken in the Asahidake area (Hokkaido), and hopefully portray some of that region’s attraction ….

The Snow Monkey Macaques


Dear Readers, for the next few weeks you’ll notice a change in location and subjects as I head off on a magical mystery tour. The adventure starts in Japan, and here are some shots of the magnificent Japanese macaques – those famous “Snow Monkeys”. Although the summer temperatures here are in the upper 20’s C, they appear to relish being in the water (which is regulated to a cooler temperature). What a delight it’s been to watch their antics around the pool. I was surprised at their ability to swim and dive below the water holding their breath. If you’re interested in seeing them via Live-cam with a view of the pool, go to – http://www.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp There are about 160 members in this particular troop. Visitors are warned not to display food, or to feed the creatures. Although they are habituated to humans, they display no interest in these inquisitive primates and get on with their daily routine without being bothered by the close proximity.