Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Bear scare

Here's hoping that history doesn't repeat itself on Japan's most northerly island

Local residents of remote Rishiri Island found footprints on May 30 of a suspected brown bear on their shoreline, reports the Mainichi Shinbun. As a result, adds NHK, participants in a round-the-island race had to run their course festooned with bear-bells.

The brown bear "captured" on Rishiri in May 1912
(Photo courtesy of Rishiri town's board of education
and Mainichi Shinbun)
It's unlikely, though, that the bear - judging from its paw-print, a young male - was seeking out runners to eat. Instead, it was probably searching for a mate, this being the breeding season for brown bears.

To patrons of this blog, Rishiri is of interest as the island-peak that heads up the list of Fukada Kyūya's One Hundred Mountains of Japan. Hyakumeizan readers will already know that bears - or at least some of them - are capable of swimming the twenty or so kilometres between the Hokkaidō mainland and Rishiri, since the book tells us:

The island is too far from the mainland to harbour vipers or other snakes. Nor are there bears, unusually for a mountain of Hokkaidō. A brush fire at Teshio on the opposite shore did once prompt a bear to swim over the strait and take up temporary residence, but it has left no trace. Perhaps it swam back to the mainland.

The Mainichi article puts the kibosh on the latter speculation. In fact, says the newspaper, the bear that swam to Rishiri in May 1912 was "captured", as confirmed by the above photo provided by the island's educational authority. Alas, though, even that wording garnishes the truth. For - as Project Hyakumeizan can confirm from a personal inspection of the island's history book - the Meiji-era bear ended up being peppered full of shot by local hunters.

Let's hope that, this time, the lovelorn bear really can swim back to the mainland. Or, at the very least, travel back first-class on the ferry after being suitably tranquillised.

Related story

The last bear?

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