A wild brown bear wreaked havoc for hours in northern Japan on Friday, injuring four people as it rampaged through a military base and disrupted flights at a small airport before being shot dead.
A local resident first reported seeing a bear on the road in the northern city of Sapporo before dawn on Friday, according to police. Multiple sightings were reported after that, police said, with some injured as the bear remained on the loose into the morning.
“If you find a bear, be careful to evacuate immediately,” Hokkaido police warned.
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The frenzied hunt captured the attention of the Japanese public and made news bulletins as the bear trampled through the city, which is due to host some Olympic events later this summer.
Images of the animal went viral on social media as people tuned in to livestreams, watching the bear mosey past homes on a narrow residential street, climb a barbed-wire fence and disrupt traffic as police hurriedly tried to capture it.
Japan’s Chief of Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato urged residents to stay home and be alert during a news conference on Friday.
He told reporters the bear had entered one of Japan’s self-defense force military barracks in the city and confirmed that at least four people had suffered injuries following the bear’s rampage.
“We pay our condolences to the people affected in the Sapporo city,” he said.
Video footage showed the bear knocking down a uniformed soldier at the gate of the barracks before running through the camp and intruding onto the runway at a nearby airport. Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported that flights were briefly halted, while some local schools also reportedly closed.
The soldier suffered cuts on his chest and stomach, but his injury was not life threatening, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry. The other three people injured by the rampage were a man in his 70s, a woman in her 80s, and a man in his 40s — but their conditions were not known, Hokkaido prefectural police said.
The bear then ran into a forest where it was eventually shot by a local hunting association working in collaboration with the police — ending the eight-hour bear chase.
“The brown bear that had infested the eastern ward was terminated,” the Sapporo City public relations department tweeted. “Because there was concern that the damage would spread to the surrounding area in the future due to the circumstances such as causing harm to people.”
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.
Its death prompted a debate online about animal rights and whether the bear should have been tranquilized instead.
This is not the first time bears have posed a threat in northern Japan.
Last year, residents of the town of Takikawa — also on the northern island of Hokkaido — took desperate measures, deploying robot wolves in an attempt to scare away bears that they said had become an increasingly dangerous nuisance in the countryside.
The Yezo brown bear is an iconic part of Hokkaido’s wildlife, according to a local government tourism site, and is revered in the indigenous Ainu culture where the animals are worshiped as gods and relied on for fur and meat.
It is native to Japan along with the Asian black bear.
The Japan Bear and Forest Society said that a shortage of food, such as acorns and salmon, along with ageing and depopulating villages in the countryside were making bears venture closer to villages and towns.
The animal rights body warned that bears could face extinction if they were routinely caught 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
Matthew Mulligan, Caroline Radnofsky and The Associated Press contributed.