Hokkaido, Japan – Nestled beside the Sanroku Gondola Station in Shikotsu-Toya National Park is a small bear farm. This bear farm is home to several of Hokkaido’s famed Ussuri brown bears (Ursus arctos lasiotus).
Text by Jordan Tan
Photos by Gerald Tan
These bears are classified as a subspecies of the Brown Bear and are commonly found in northeastern China, the Korean peninsula, Hokkaido, and Kunashiri Island, among others. They are known to be one of the largest bear species, nearing Kodiak brown bears in size.
Walking through the entrance of the farm, the first thing you’ll notice is that the bear farm is medium in size. Don’t expect to see a Jurassic park-sized location nor a zoo-sized farm. You will also notice that there are several viewing bays and various vending machines scattered throughout the area. These vending machines aren’t your everyday vending machines that give out drinks or snacks.
Well, they do, but they’re snacks for bears. One of the highlights of a visit to the bear farm is the opportunity given to guests to feed the bears. After paying 100 yen for a pack of bear snacks, approach the viewing bay and you will be able to feed the bears who are at the bottom of the bay. In each bay, an average of 5-6 bears can be seen.
One of the nice things about this chance to feed bears is to see how they ask for food. It is rather an adorable sight to see. The hungry bears raise either their left or right hands signaling their need for food. The people then have the option to feed them. To feed the bear, simply throw the food in the direction of a chosen bear, and it will try its best to catch it with its mouth.
A funny thing happens when they don’t catch the food and it just lands on the floor, some of them wait for another person to throw at them until they successfully catch it!
This appeared in Animal Scene’s October 2015 issue.