KUSHIRO, HOKKAIDO – A wildlife conservation group in Shiretoko, Hokkaido, has launched a campaign to improve the behavior of tourists and photographers near the Iwaobetsu River in Shari, near Abashiri, as they swarm the area to get a closer look at its brown bears.
The Shiretoko Nature Foundation, a nonprofit organization involved in wildlife conservation on the Shiretoko Peninsula, has started distributing flyers urging visitors to refrain from entering the river bed and to be careful while photographing the wild animals.
Exciting the bears by photographing them may increase the risk of an accident, foundation officials said.
“Even if only some of the visitors lack manners, they may cause danger to other tourists or local residents,” said Yasushi Masuda, secretary-general of the group.
According to the foundation, since the end of August, two brown bears have been seen at different times during the day and night near the Iwaobetsu River, which flows through Shiretoko National Park.
Shiretoko was added to the list of UNESCO Natural World Heritage sites in 2005.
On public holidays, the area’s roads are often clogged with vehicles as many tourists visit the area and park their cars on the side of the road after stopping to photograph bears at close range, the officials said.
They added that many tourists take pictures from only a few meters away from the animals and sometimes even surround the bears.
The foundation urges tourists to stop photographing the bears and return to their cars immediately if the animals start to move.
In September, a visitor tried to lure the bears closer by placing 15 salmon in an area inhabited by them, the foundation said, noting that such behavior is strictly prohibited.