TOKYO - The Japanese military has been called in to join the hundreds of people already searching for a boy abandoned by his parents in bear-infested woods, according to multiple reports.
Seventy-five members of the country's Self-Defense Forces have been deployed to the mountainous forests of Hokkaido island to hunt for the missing 7-year-old, reports the BBC.
There are already 200 civilians and police combing through thick brush hoping to find him, reports Reuters. A local hunter has been tapped to join the search after fresh bear tracks were found in the area where the boy disappeared, the news agency reports.
Hokkaido police said the parents initially told authorities that their son had disappeared while they were picking wild vegetables, but then admitted they made him get out of the car and then left him behind "as discipline." Police said the father returned to the site a few minutes later but the boy was gone.
The parents told police that they were punishing the boy for throwing rocks at people and cars while playing at a river earlier in the day, according to Japanese media.
The boy's father said in an interview with public broadcaster NHK and other TV stations that "I regret what I did to my child." He said he initially did not tell police the truth because he found it embarrassing to ask for a massive search for what happened as a result of the punishment.
According to Japan Times, there have been dozens of bear attacks and deaths on Hokkaido since 1962, when the government started keeping records of them. The bears on the island are closely related to the grizzly bears found in North America. They can reportedly grow to well more than six feet tall, and weigh more than 650 pounds.