Japanese elders are being left behind to face bear attacks

A brown bear holds a fish in its mouth while standing on a cliff of rocks and a baby bear crouches next to him
An Ussuri brown bear and a cub eat salmon after catching it from the beach of Sea of Okhotsk near the town of Rausu on Saturday, September 28, 2019, in Hokkaido, Japan.Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images
  • Japan is seeing an increase in bear attacks among residents.

  • One reason could be the fact that old people are being left behind in rural areas.

  • Climate change is another contributing factor, experts said.

An extreme surge in Japanese bear attacks in the island nation's northern Akita prefecture could be partly attributed to elderly people being left behind in the rural region, CNN reported.

In 2023, the country's Ministry of Environment reported a record-breaking number: 212 people faced attacks from brown and Asiatic bears in the country, and six of these attacks resulted in deaths, the country's broadcaster, NHK, reported. Additionally, residents reported an increased number of sightings in urban areas.

The hardest hit region is Akita, a north-east rural prefecture surrounded by forests and mountains, where the Ministry of Environment said a third of the bear attacks have occurred.

So why are the bears attacking there so frequently? Experts told CNN that it could be a result of Japan's aging population. Nearly one-third of the country's population is over the age of 65.

Per CNN, the increasing elderly population, coupled with the fact that younger people are moving away from the countryside, means that there are fewer capable hands to tend the land. Tsutomu Mano, a senior research fellow at the Hokkaido Research Organization told the outlet that "abandonment of cultivated land and overgrowth along riversides" can attract bears.

There are numbers to indicate that elderly populations are also facing the brunt of these bear attacks — in October, 61 of the 71 bear attacks reported included people over the age of 60, CNN reported, citing NHK statistics.

Mano also told CNN climate change is likely affecting the bear's food supply of beech nuts and acorns, making it more necessary for them to scavenge new areas — including human settlements — for food.

The country is looking for solutions to curb the bear attacks. In Akita, bounties are being put on bears and encouraging local hunters to kill them. The city of Takikawa previously installed motion-sensing wolves that create a loud noise when triggered by a bear.

Read the original article on Business Insider