Japan will use AI to find out what bears do in the woods

Because nobody wants a big surprise

Japan's Toyama Prefecture is launching an AI bear monitoring system, following a recent string of encounters with the wildlife.

The pilot, which was announced on Monday and is slated to begin in a few months, monitors live feeds from various security cameras to identify areas where bears have moved too close to human habitat and may present a risk, according to local media. The AI will come into play to categorize moving entities – either as bears or other objects.

The cameras used in the pilot will come from both utility companies and existing government surveillance and disaster management efforts. The government cameras are installed at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism's River and National Highway Office as well as prefectural facilities.

If successful, other prefectures could also adopt the AI-enabled system using government, private and commercial cameras.

Another pilot is already in the works in Iwate Prefecture, where 30 cameras are installed along rivers connecting mountains and Hanamaki city – where Ussuri brown bears are commonly sighted. When a bear is detected, the monitoring center receives a notice, which is then distributed to residents.

Humans crossing paths with Asiatic black bears or Ussuri brown bears has become a growing problem in Japan – potentially because of the animal's dwindling food resources worsened or caused by extreme weather. Japan's declining and ageing population may also be a contributor, as villages produce less commotion to scare away bears when there are fewer people – particularly noisy children – in them. Citizens in rural areas are reported to have taken to wearing bells when out and about.

For the year ending in March 2023, there were 198 bear attacks on humans across 19 prefectures in Japan, resulting in six deaths. The numbers mark a record high since tracking began in 2016.

The government began formulating its bear countermeasure plan in February, but its use of AI to ward off bears dates further back.

In 2022, a bear invasion control system was installed in a national park on the hilly west side of Nagaoka City. That cloud-based monitoring system [PDF] includes an AI analysis function and sensor cameras that send capture images by email to appropriate personnel, who could respond by closing the park. AI was able to properly detect a bear in 86 percent of color photographs and 44 percent of those in black and white.

Unfortunately, the system did often misidentify medium sized mammals – like racoons, dogs and badgers – as bears. On the bright side, labor costs incurred by the park were reduced by 20 percent. It's hoped recent AI improvements have made the tech more reliable – or at least smarter than the average bear. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like