Last June, Asiatic black bear KM-53, one of the bears released into Jiri Mountain in Namwon by the Ministry of Environment, was found in Sudo Mountain in Gimcheon. The Ministry of Environment re-captured and re-released it again into Jiri Mountain on July 6th insisting that the bears would remain in Jiri Mountain. Subsequently however, KM-53 was seen moving through Namwon, Hamyang, Geochang, and finally back to Sudo Mountain. The Ministry of Environment captured it again and had held it in captivity until recently, re-releasing it yet again in early September.
To justify its captivity, the Ministry of Environment had encouraged the public to believe that the Asiatic black bear was a dangerous animal. This is highly inappropriate for a ministry tasked with a wildlife restoration project. Moreover, it turns out that the project is concerned only with increasing the Asiatic black bear population to a minimum of 50 to insure a stable population, budgeting tens of billions of Won for this purpose, while neglecting to address management of the field environment. Additionally, they have not explained adequately why they captured the bear, and have only released an unsubstantiated clarification that they would distribute bear-repellent spray to the regional residents.
The repeated capturing and captivity due to the bears scattering from their initial release location shows exactly how incompetently this project has been managed so far. The Ministry of Environment have been covering up this mismanagement for the last 10 years, while praising themselves for a job well done.
In any species restoration project, it is a priority to secure a suitable habitat, and promulgate a positive public perception not only in the region where the habitat is located, but also in the population in general. The fact that KM-53 was able to walk more than 100kms back to Sudo Mountain illustrates the necessity of finding a new management solution that differs from the current one of uninformed top-down commands and confidential administrative practices.
The stated policy goal of the Asiatic black bear restoration project is firstly to insure the bears do not become extinct. Secondly, it aims to create a larger habitat by integrating surrounding habitats in Jiri Mountain. As the population, and concomitantly the bears range increases, public awareness, wildlife management and regional cooperation must be strengthened.
The current species restoration project plans must be completely reviewed. It requires an evaluation of the population’s viability within the designated habitat and a clear delineation of the bears’ ranges, a re-evaluation of the project management plans, and an objective assessment of the levels of regional cooperation. It is also the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment to listen to and meet the social needs of local people.
The National Park Conservation Network (NPCN), Greenkorea and CARE urge the Ministry of Environment to re-examine the entire Asiatic black bear restoration project, and strongly recommend the following course of action:
- Closely monitor KM-35 for at least 3 years.
- By the time the monitoring is finished, stop tourism in Sudo Mountain.
- Stop the current practice of capture and release, re-evaluate population viability and prepare a habitat stabilization plan not only on Jiri Mountain but also in surrounding areas.
- Re-establish public awareness and regional cooperation measures.
- Organize a full review of the species restoration project.
The message the KM-53 situation sends is clear; without solid, well-evaluated plans by experts in the field of wildlife restoration, the Ministry of Environment will fail in its stated goals.