One of the most interesting animals in Karuizawa is the “flying squirrel”. The species of flying squirrel that lives in Karuizawa is one of the largest in the world, measuring almost the size of a pillow. Because flying squirrels are nocturnal, it is quite difficult to see them on your own. With the help of an experienced guide on a tour, however, you may be able to see them “fly”.
The tour is operated by the Picchio Wildlife Research Centre, established in 1992. They are located in one of the four National Bird Sanctuary Forests in Japan, in an area well-known for bird watching. Both Japanese and foreign bird watchers visit here to spot unique native birds, such as the copper pheasant and green woodpeckers.
As one of the leading ecotour operators in the region, Picchio has a staff of 10 naturalist guides. They regularly conduct research on various wild animals and birds and with an experienced naturalist guide in the lead, Picchio’s flying squirrel tours record on average a 97.7% of sighting the nocturnal creatures.
Picchio also operates bird watching tours and short guided tours for wildlife in Karuizawa.
Picchio also works to protect wild animals such as the Asian black bear. In the 1980’s, due to the economic growth of Japan, large resort development (such as golf courses and ski resorts ) occurred across the country. By the 1990’s, conflict between human and wild animals was taking place in many corners of Japan. At that time, when bears ventured into the residential area, they were usually caught and removed. Picchio thought this method might lead to the eventual destruction of the population of Asian black bears in Karuizawa area and started to monitor the behavior of individual bears by attaching radio collars to captured bears, beginning in 1998. From 2000 on, with the cooperation of Karuizawa town, they began officially protecting Asian Black bears. Karuizawa town has succeeded in significantly reducing bear conflicts by this program of individual bear management, by securing bear proofing all garbage dumpsters, introducing the Karelian Bear Dog, and by raising public awareness.