Residents foraging for seasonal bamboo shoots in northern Japan have been ignoring official warnings to avoid a mountainous area. This after bears are believed to have killed four people in the area recently.
Kazuno city officials have been telling locals to stay away from the area, but many are reportedly ignoring the warnings, prefectural official Masaru Kobayashi said.
"Some people ignore our warning, thinking they won't encounter bears, or they can handle the dangerous situation," Kobayashi said.
Police are increasing patrols and distributing fliers alerting residents around the mountainous area to exercise caution after four people foraging for edible wild plants and bamboo shoots were killed in bear attacks in the small area in the last three weeks.
Hunters confirm the body of a black bear on the ground in Kazuno, Akita Prefecture on June 10, 2016.
The victims, who were aged 65 to 79, were killed in the area within a 2.5-kilometer (1.6-mile) radius of each other since May 20.
Police and firefighters are also patrolling the mountains encouraging anyone there to leave, Kobayashi said. "It's impossible to set up a fence around the mountains," he said. "All we can do is to advise locals not to go in."
The city set up several bear traps on Friday but they had not captured any, she said.
In the nearby Iwate prefecture, eight people were attacked by bears on six occasions between April 1 and June 7, according to its prefectural website.
Some 168 bear attacks were reported in Japan between April 2014 and March 2016, according to Environment Ministry data and 176 people suffered injuries or died in those attacks.
Fatal attacks are however rare, with only eight tallied from 1979 through last year.
Police said they don't yet fully understand of the reasons behind the sudden increase in the number of bear attacks. Prior to these incidents, no deaths had been reported int he past five years in the city of Kazuno in Akite - which is over 600 kilometers (370 miles) north of Tokyo.
Hunters shot and killed a female Asiatic black bear with a body length of 1.3 meters (4.3 feet) on Friday. The shooting was some 10-20 meters from where the fourth victim's body had been found dead. Authorities said it was possible that the same bear had attacked all four people.
Evidence of bear attacks
The bodies of the three men and one woman reportedly had bites and scratches thought to be made by "a large animal."
Kazuno Police Station spokesman Noboru Abukawa said the police had heard roars of a bear or bears and had also seen bears from a helicopter on their search for the victims.
Earlier this month, a seven-year-old boy was found safe after being abandoned by his parents in a bear-inhabited forest on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido.
jbh/msh (AP, AFP)