A wild brown bear wreaked havoc for hours in northern Japan on Friday, injuring four people as it lashed out at a military base and disrupted flights at a small airport before being shot.
A local resident first reported seeing a bear on the road to the northern city of Sapporo before dawn Friday, police said. Multiple sightings were reported after that, police said, with a few injuries as the bear remained at large until the morning.
“If you find a bear, be sure to evacuate immediately”, Hokkaido Police warned.
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The frantic hunt caught the attention of the Japanese public and made headlines as the bear trampled the city, which is due to host Olympic events later this summer.
Images of the animal went viral on social media as people tune in to live broadcasts, watch the bear walk past homes on a narrow residential street, climb over a barbed wire fence and disrupt traffic as the police were hastily trying to capture him.
Japanese chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato urged residents to stay home and be vigilant during a press conference on Friday.
He told reporters that the bear entered one of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces military barracks in the city and confirmed that at least four people were injured as a result of the bear’s rampage.
“We extend our condolences to those affected in the city of Sapporo,” he said.
Video footage showed the bear knocking down a uniformed soldier at the barracks gate before passing through the camp and onto the runway of a nearby airport. Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported that flights were briefly interrupted, while some local schools have also reportedly closed.
The soldier suffered cuts to his chest and stomach, but his injury was not life threatening, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry. The other three people injured in the rampage were a man in his 60s, a woman in his 40s and a man in his 40s – but their conditions were not known, Hokkaido Prefecture police said.
The bear then rushed into a forest where it was eventually shot by a local hunting association working in conjunction with the police, thus ending the eight-hour bear hunt.
“The brown bear that had infested the eastern neighborhood has been eliminated”, the The Sapporo City Public Relations Department tweeted.
Local police also said on Twitter that the bear had been “exterminated” and images of officials wrapping the animal in a blue sheet were shared online.
His death sparked an online debate about animal rights and whether the bear should have been tranquilized instead, Jeffrey Hall, an American who lived in Japan for 16 years and followed the hunt live online at NBC News.
“It was a major media story because there were people who were able to film it,” Hall said, noting that normally bear sightings were common in rural areas and went unnoticed, rather than in large areas. city of some two million people.
“It’s not a normal thing,” he added, speaking by phone from Chiba near the capital Tokyo.
Hall, who is a lecturer at Japanese Kanda University and focuses on international communications and pop culture, said thousands of people like him are tapping online to follow the lawsuit and comment on social media.
He noted that for those who lived in “areas adjacent to bears,” animals were widely viewed as a “dangerous pest,” but ultimately humans still posed the greatest threat.
“It’s much more dangerous for bears than for people,” he said. “These are the bears that are going to be shot.”
This is not the first time that bears have posed a threat in northern Japan.
Last year, residents of Takikawa town – also on the northern island of Hokkaido – took desperate action, deploying robot wolves in an attempt to scare away the bears they said had become a nuisance of more and more dangerous in the countryside.
The Yezo brown bear is an iconic part of Hokkaido’s wildlife, according to a local government tourist site, and is worshiped in the indigenous Ainu culture where animals are worshiped as gods and invoked for fur and meat.
It is native to Japan with the Asian black bear.
The Japan Bear and Forest Society said a shortage of food, such as acorns and salmon, as well as the aging and depopulation of rural villages are causing bears to venture closer to human dwellings.
The animal rights organization has warned that bears could be threatened with extinction if they are systematically captured and killed, instead urging society to find a way to better “coexist”.
Adela Suliman reported from London and Christina Ching Yin Chan reported from Hong Kong.
Matthieu mulligan, Caroline radnofsky and The Associated Press contributed.