May 17, 2023
SINGAPORE – Early last Sunday morning, Mr Toshihiro Nishikawa was dropped off by an employee of a boat operator to fish at a spot in Lake Shumarinai in Hokkaido.
When the employee returned to pick up the 54-year-old later that day, he spotted a large brown bear with fishing waders in its mouth.
He tried to contact Mr Nishikawa on the phone but failed to reach him, according to local media.
After the local town office and police were informed, a bear hunt was launched, and a human head was found on the banks of a lake in Shumarinai Prefectural Natural Park on Monday. The police are trying to establish the identity of the victim.
Hunters also shot a 1.5m long bear nearby that day, reported The Yomiuri Shimbun on Tuesday.
Mr Nishikawa told people that he was going fishing, said the local police in the report. They are investigating his disappearance and think that he could have been attacked by a bear.
On May 9, a bear was also spotted around the lake, according to the Lake Shumarinai World Centre, a non-profit organisation that operates the boat, added the report.
The lake in northern Hokkaido draws anglers who aim to catch Sakhalin taimen, a rarely caught fish in Japan, as well as Japanese smelt and trout.
Bear sightings in Hokkaido over recent years
In Japan, the number of bear encounters soared to over 20,000 in 2020, the latest year for which figures are available. This is an increase from 4,800 in 2009.
Brown bears are the largest land mammal in Japan and can be found only in Hokkaido, said The Yomiuri Shimbun.
A male can weigh over 400kg, much heavier than the Asiatic black bear which is mostly found in Honshu island.
In April this year, a 37-year-old woman was injured after she was attacked by a bear in Akkeshi, a town in Hokkaido, when she was walking her dog. She was left with injuries on her head and leg.
Earlier this year in February, a man was attacked in the mountains in Hakodate, a city in Hokkaido.
In January 2022, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the increasing number of encounters with brown bears in Hokkaido is believed to be linked to a lack of food and their growing number. The Hokkaido prefectural government suspended a campaign to cull the animal decades ago.
Brown bears’ diet mainly comprises fruits and plants. However, they also eat deer, salmon and trout.
Besides the incident on Monday, a series of bear sightings close to Muroran, a city in Hokkaido, also prompted authorities to issue a second bear alert this year.
The alert will continue till June 12 as residents are at risk of being harmed, said the local government.