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News Navigator: How dangerous are Japan's bears?

A local hunter examines the body of a bear shot dead in a mountain forest in Kazuno, Akita Prefecture, on June 10, 2016. (Mainichi)

There were a number of fatal bear attacks recently in northern Japan and efforts are under way in some areas to keep better track of the animals. The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about Japan's bears and what to do in case on an unexpected encounter with one.

Question: Where do Japan's bears live?

Answer: There are two types of bears in Japan: the Asian black bear, and the brown bear. Asian black bears live in mountainous areas in Honshu and Shikoku, and are about the same size as humans -- measuring around 110-150 centimeters from head to tail and weighing some 80-120 kilograms. Brown bears in Hokkaido are quite a bit larger, at around 220-230 centimeters and 150-250 kilograms. Both species hibernate from December to April.

Q: Are bears aggressive?

Bears are omnivores, so they do eat animals. About 90 percent of a bear's diet, however, consists of plants. They eat wild plants in the spring, honey and insects in the summer, and nuts and berries in the autumn to fatten up for their winter nap.

Bears are timid by nature, and it's said that they originally did not attack humans. However, the animals' habitat has been widening as more agricultural land is abandoned and untended forests grow thick with underbrush. This has brought bears much closer to the human sphere, and damage caused by the animals is growing.

Q: What precautions should hikers take?

A sign warning of bears is seen in the Towada-Oyu district, Kazuno, Akita Prefecture, on May 22, 2016. (Mainichi)

If you're going into the forest to pick wild mushrooms or even just for a walk, check the local government's bear activity information first. Also, if you're close to the bears' habitat, don't leave out any edible refuse.

Q) What should I do if I encounter a bear?

Bears have very good senses of hearing and smell. They also have sharp claws and teeth, and can run at up to 40 kilometers per hour. So remember: Even if you see a bear in the distance, you don't have time to snap a photo. If you see one of the animals, do not panic or yell. This could agitate the bear and cause an attack. Also, the bear may chase you down if you run. Instead, back away very slowly while making sure not to show your back to the animal, and then calmly leave the area. If the bear attacks, pepper spray is said to be an effective repellent.

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