Mami Kondo loves bears.
She is the first bear researcher to be hired by Akita Prefecture to resolve the problem of bears eating crops and livestock and, in some cases, attacking people.
“I want to create a future in which people co-exist with bears,” said Kondo.
Kondo, 36, often visits cities such as Kazuno and Odate, where the prefecture hosts lectures on how to cope with farm damage caused by bears. She tries to make proposals based on the situations local residents are facing.
“Keep your crops in check and don’t leave dead livestock as is,” she says in those lectures, with passion in her voice. “Bring your radio or bells so that you won’t face bears in the mountains.”
Born and raised in Tsu, Mie Prefecture, where there are few bears, Kondo used to adore large African animals such as lions and giraffes as a child.
When she went to Gifu University, where she studied to become a veterinarian, she joined an Asian black bears research group so she could be with wild animals. Along with other researchers, she would place tracking devices on bears to find out where they live and move around. At the same time, she was faced with local residents who despised bears because they would eat their crops.
She was intrigued by the fact that people have perspectives that are poles apart on such a familiar animal.
“On one hand, people love bears like in ‘Winnie the Pooh,’ but on the other, some see them as man-eating monsters,” said Kondo.
When she wrote her thesis on bears, she was fascinated by the fact that such a big animal still lives in Japan.
After she graduated from university in 2011, she went on to work at what is now the Hokkaido Research Organization based in Sapporo to study brown bears for the next nine years.
In the Tohoku region, there are many bears and reports of bears eating crops and livestock. But what had concerned Kondo was that there are no bear experts at local governments tasked with coping with the problem.
So when Kondo found out that Akita Prefecture was looking to hire a bear specialist, she jumped at the opportunity.
“I wanted to use my expertise to prevent any damage to human beings,” she said.
In Akita Prefecture, a bear attacked a calf in a barn in August. Normally, bears are timid so they don’t go into barns, suggesting that humans are lowering their guard against them.
“It has come to a point where there could be victims” attacked by bears any day, Kondo said.
Due to depopulation and changes in lifestyles, local residents are no longer taking proper care of the mountains, which some believe is causing bears to roam around places where they haven’t in the past.
But people in Akita have been living with bears for as long as they can remember.
“If each and every one properly understands bears, we can coexist,” said Kondo.
This section features topics and issues from the Tohoku region covered by the Kahoku Shimpo, the largest newspaper in Tohoku. The original article was published Oct. 12.