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Bear shot dead after 8-hour rampage in Japan residential injures 4

NBC News logo NBC News 6/18/2021 Adela Suliman and Matthew Mulligan and Caroline Radnofsky

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.

a large brown bear walking in the grass: Image: A brown bear that is on the loose in Sapporo, Hokkaido prefecture, Japan (AFP - Getty Images) © Provided by NBC News Image: A brown bear that is on the loose in Sapporo, Hokkaido prefecture, Japan (AFP - Getty Images)

Japan's public broadcaster NHK reported that flights were briefly halted at the local Sapporo Okadama airport after the bear intruded onto the runway, while some schools also reportedly closed.

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.

A soldier at the barracks suffered cuts on his chest and stomach, but his injury was not life threatening, according to Japan's Defense Ministry. Earlier Friday, the bear injured three other people — 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.

Video footage showed the bear knocking down a uniformed soldier at the gate of the barracks.

It then ran through the camp and intruded onto the runway at a nearby airport, before running 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.

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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 brown bears can get to around around 6 feet tall and weigh between 330 to 880 pounds, the body said, and are by nature curious, astute but solitary, hibernating for much of the year. They can also run at a speed of up to 30 miles per hour.

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 and instead urged for beast and man to better "coexist."

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