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Brown bears have been frequently spotted and have sometimes appeared in urban areas in Hokkaido this year, with casualties they caused hitting a record high.

Municipalities are taking measures to help prevent people from being attacked by the animals, which may wander into cities from late September to October trying to find food before they hibernate.

The number of people who were killed or injured by brown bears in Hokkaido this year so far has come to a record 11, topping the previous annual record of eight in 1964.

More than 1,600 reports of sightings of brown bears had been received by the end of August, the highest since 2015, when the current counting method was adopted, according to the Hokkaido Prefectural Police department.

The Hokkaido Prefectural Government had been proactively getting rid of brown bears since the 1960s, but abolished the removal program in 1989 because the population drastically decreased.

Since the government switched its policy to conservation, the brown bear population has increased and has also been more widely distributed in recent years.

Tsutomu Mano, a senior researcher at the prefectural government-linked Hokkaido Research Organization, pointed to a reduced fear of humans among brown bears as a reason for more bears being spotted in the vicinity of people.

“Brown bears used to stay away from humans, fearing being removed, but in recent years, more bears have become less vigilant and appeared near areas where people live,” Mano said.

In Sapporo, in June, four people were attacked by a brown bear in a city area. The municipal government revised its manuals this month so that it can control brown bears if they appear in urban areas and are deemed highly dangerous, even when no harm is done to humans.

The city is also working on measures to keep the bears at bay.

Emitting sounds from drones and shooing them away are some such measures. The municipal government is also preparing to implement a plan to stop bears from coming into living areas for people by determining their pathways using cameras with artificial intelligence set up along rivers.

Municipalities around Sapporo plan to use a mailing list system to share reports of sightings and work together in removing or driving off brown bears roaming across the municipal boundaries.

The prefectural government will put more emphasis on communicating information on brown bear sightings through social media. It will also consider sending email alerts to residents.

“As brown bears become more active in autumn, people can encounter them anywhere in Hokkaido,” said an official of the prefectural government’s environment department.

The official urged people to try to avoid them by making good use of information on sightings.

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