A wild brown bear wreaked havoc for hours in northern Japan on Friday and injured four people as it ravaged a military base and disrupted flights at a small airport before being shot.
A local resident reported that he saw a bear on the street in the northern city of Sapporo for the first time on Friday before sunrise. Several sightings were reported thereafter, police said, with some injured as the bear was free until morning.
“If you find a bear, be careful and evacuate it immediately.” Hokkaido Police Department warned.
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The frenzied chase caught the attention of the Japanese public and made news as the bear stomped through the town that will be hosting some Olympic events later this summer.
Images of the animal went viral on social media when people were livestreaming, the bears racing past houses on a narrow residential street, climbing a barbed wire fence, and disrupting traffic while police rushed to capture it.
Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato urged residents to stay home and be vigilant during a press conference on Friday.
He told reporters the bear broke into one of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces military barracks in the city and confirmed that at least four people were injured after the bear ran rampant.
“We extend our condolences to the people affected in the city of Sapporo,” he said.
Video footage showed the bear knocking a uniformed soldier down at the barracks gate before running through the camp and breaking into the runway of a nearby airport. This was reported by Japan’s public broadcaster NHK Flights were stopped briefly, while some local schools have also reportedly closed.
The soldier suffered cuts to his chest and abdomen, but the injury was not life-threatening, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry. The other three people injured in the rampage were a man in their 70s, a woman in their 80s and a man in their 40s – but their condition was unknown, Hokkaido police said.
The bear then ran into a forest where it was eventually shot dead by a local hunting club in collaboration with the police – which ended the eight-hour bear hunt.
“The brown bear that attacked the eastern station was killed,” he said The Sapporo City PR department tweeted.
Local police also said on Twitter that the bear had been “exterminated” and pictures of officers wrapping the animal in a blue sheet were shared online.
His death sparked an online debate over animal rights and whether the bear should be stunned instead. Jeffrey Hall, an American who lived in Japan For 16 years, following the live hunt online across from NBC News.
“It was an important media story because there were people who could take pictures of it,” Hall said, noting that bear sightings usually go unnoticed in rural areas, rather than in a big city of about two million people.
“It’s not a normal thing,” he added when calling from Chiba, near the capital, Tokyo.
Hall, a lecturer at Japan’s Kanda University specializing in international communication and pop culture, said thousands like him had tuned in online to keep up with the persecution and comment on social media.
He noted that the animals are widely considered a “dangerous pest” for those living in “bear-bordering areas”, but that ultimately humans are still the greater threat.
“It’s much more dangerous for bears than it is for humans,” he said. “The bears are being shot.”
This is not the first time bears have posed a threat in northern Japan.
Last year, residents of Takikawa town – also on the northern island of Hokkaido – took desperate measures and used robotic wolves to scare away bears they said had become an increasingly dangerous nuisance in the countryside.
According to a. an iconic part of Hokkaido’s wildlife Local government tourism page, and is worshiped in the indigenous Ainu culture, where animals are worshiped as gods and used for fur and meat.
It is native to Japan along with the Asian black bear.
The Japanese bear and forest society said a lack of food, such as acorns and salmon, along with aging and depopulating rural villages, caused bears to venture closer to human habitation.
The animal rights group warned that bears could be threatened with extinction if routinely captured and killed, and instead urged society to find a way to find better “coexistence”.
Adela Suliman reported from London and Christina Ching Yin Chan from Hong Kong.
Matthew Mulligan, Caroline Radnofsky and The Associated Press contributed.