A Hokkaido boat operator first spotted a brown bear with a pair of waders in its mouth. A human head was then discovered nearby.
It is a gruesome beginning to a story, but one that is playing out on Japan’s northernmost large island.
As Kyodo News reports, local police are currently searching for 54-year-old angler Toshihiro Nishikawa after he went missing on Lake Shumarinai in Hokkaido’s Horokanai earlier this week.
Nishikawa was last seen early on Sunday, May 14, as his transportation to the lake, a local boating service, dropped him off. He was alone in his trip.
Not long after, the boat’s employees “saw a bear nearby with waders dangling from its mouth,” their report cites. The boat operator then attempted to call Nishikawa, but he could not be reached. Authorities were alerted, and a search and rescue operation immediately followed.
Town officials also sponsored a brown bear hunt during the S&R, based on the presence of human waders in a bear’s mouth alone. One bear was killed on the afternoon of Monday, May 15, officials cite.
But the search for both Nishikawa and local bears would lead to the discovery of a human head. “Police are investigating whether it is that of Nishikawa, a resident of Okoppe, also on Japan’s northernmost main island,” Kyodo adds. The Japan Times corroborates the shocking story.
Most of the nation is home to the Japanese black bear (Ursus thibetanus japonicus), a subspecies of the Asian black bear. Both are known to be aggressive towards humans. But Hokkaido also houses a brown bear subspecies. It can also be aggressive towards people, and is around four times larger than the black bears.
Hokkaido Brown Bear
Rarely seen but thriving on the island, the Hokkaido brown bear (Ursus arctos yesoensis) is found only on Hokkaido and on Kunashiri and Etorofu Islands in the Kuril chain. This is what prompts some bear authorities in Asia to classify it as a separate subspecies from the Ussuri brown bear (Ursus arctos lasiotus) also found in China and Russia.
Regardless of how these bears are classified, they are some of the largest bruins on the planet. Males regularly approach Kodiak and polar bears in size, some weighing well over 1,300 pounds. This is ten times the size of the average human being in Japan, so predation is far from inconceivable.
In June of 2021, a Hokkaido brown bear made its way into the densely populated areas of Sapporo. It is believed that the individual pictured above, a smaller bear, was directly responsible for injuring four people. One victim was a local soldier.
Sapporo government would then issue a warning to residents to stay home as sightings continued.
From the grizzly bears of Yellowstone National Park to these rare Hokkaido bruins, all brown bears view humans as prey animals. In kind, being Bear Aware in bear country is paramount. Wildlife is wild and unpredictable, and never to be approached. Traveling alone in bear country also comes with inherent risks.
See our previous coverage for more on brown bear species.
This story is developing.