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Bear attack suspected after college student found dead on mountain in Japan

Authorities are investigating a college student's death from a suspected bear attack after his body was found last week on a mountain in northern Japan, marking what could be the latest in a spate of attacks in the country this year. The Mainichi newspaper, citing police, reported that the university student was found near the body of a deceased brown bear and in the same area where a group of men survived a brown bear attack just two days prior. 

The student's remains were found Thursday on Mount Daisengen, which sits on the lower peninsula of Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's four main islands. The remains were identified as Kanato Yanaike, a 22-year-old college student from Hakodate who had gone missing during a climbing trip earlier in the week, Hokkaido police said Saturday, according to The Mainichi. 

The cause of Yanaike's death was determined to be hemorrhagic shock. Since the carcass of a brown bear was found near the remains, authorities were investigating the incident as a suspected bear attack.

Police told The Mainichi that Yanaike had previously talked to an acquaintance about his plans to go climbing on Mount Daisengen on Oct. 29, and the student's car was later found near a trailhead on the mountain. His body was eventually found near another site where three men were attacked by a brown bear on Oct. 31. Those men ultimately managed to chase the animal off, but two sustained injuries in the attack.

Authorities probing Yanaike's death are investigating the incident as potentially the latest in a series of attacks by the same brown bear, The Mainichi reported. The Hokkaido Research Organization said it would examine stomach contents recovered from the bear carcass, according to the newspaper.

An Ussuri brown bear and a cub eat salmon after catching it from the beach of Sea of Okhotsk near the town of Rausu on September 28, 2019, in Hokkaido, Japan. Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Bear attacks are on the rise in Japan this year, with 109 people injured in such attacks between April and September 2023, mainly in the northern part of Japan's main island, Honshu, the Kyodo news agency reported last month, citing government data from the Japanese Environment Ministry. Two of those people were fatally wounded — one, in Hokkaido.

In May, Hokkaido police were investigating a fisherman's death from a suspected bear attack near a lake on the northern part of the island, opposite Mount Daisengen. They said at the time that they believed the man was mauled and decapitated by a brown bear after a human head was found in the area, Kyodo reported. 

In August, hunters killed an elusive brown bear nicknamed "Ninja" in the remote northern part of Japan after it attacked at least 66 cows, the Associated Press reported. And, in early October, local Japanese officials and media outlets reported that three bears were euthanized after sneaking into a tatami mat factory in the northern part of the country. The bears were captured after hunkering down inside the factory for almost a full day, according to the AP.

Local governments in Japan have suggested that bear population growth outpacing available food sources could be one reason for the spike in bear attacks this year, according to Kyodo, which said in October that an abundance of beech nuts and acorns in 2022 may have contributed to the population increase. Since this year's nut season was thin, officials have said Japan's bears have been venturing out of their normal habitats, and in some cases, into human habitats, looking for food as they prepare for hibernation.

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