A bear has been shot dead after it went on the rampage and broke into an army base, according to Japan’s national broadcaster.
Several flights had to be cancelled at a regional airport in the northern part of the country.
The bear was first seen at about 3.30am on Friday, when it made it past the gates of the army base next to Okadama airport. It injured at least four people, including one soldier.
The airport was forced to cancel at least eight flights, broadcaster NHK reported. It said that 10 schools in the vicinity were also forced to shut down.
Katsunobu Kato, a government spokesperson, said Hokkaido prefecture, where Sapporo is the capital, had been put on alert. He added: “A total of four people, including one self-defence forces member, have been attacked and injured by the brown bear.”
Several officials, police, a local hunting association and helicopters were called out, Mr Kato had said, indicating that if necessary the brown bear might be killed.
Television stations reported that hunters from the local association shot the animal at around 11am.
The identities of those injured were not immediately revealed but local media reported that one was aged in their 40s, one in their 70s and another in their 80s. Details on the age of the fourth victim were unclear.
Video of the bear shows it galloping across a road and then heading towards the base.
It reportedly took five shots to kill the animal, according to a reporter on social media.
The Japan Bear and Forest Society has warned that brown bears are increasingly straying towards populated areas in search of food.
Shinsuke Koike, a professor and bear expert at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, told the Washington Post: “It’s hard to properly understand what happened but knowing that the bear is male, and given that it is the breeding season right now, it’s highly conceivable that the male was chasing after a female bear and in the process wandered into a residential area.”
Tsutomu Mano, of the Hokkaido Institute of Environmental Sciences, wrote in a paper The Status of Bears in Japan that brown bears are native only to Hokkaido, the northern-most island. These bears, the author notes, were also respected as the gods of the mountain by native people, the Ainu. Most of the population was killed off by 19th century settlers, however, who considered the animals pests.
According to data from the environment ministry, two people were killed and 158 hurt in encounters with bears last year.