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For 1st time in century, suspected brown bear footprints spotted on Hokkaido island

Suspected brown bear footprints are seen on the shoreline of Hokkaido's Rishirifuji town, in this recent photo. (Photo courtesy of the Rishirifuji Municipal Government)
A brown bear was captured on Rishiri Island in the Meiji period. (Photo courtesy of Rishiri town's board of education)

WAKKANAI, Hokkaido -- Local residents found footprints on May 30 of a suspected brown bear on the shoreline of remote Rishiri Island off the northernmost town of Wakkanai. If the footprints are in fact from the animal, it would mark the first known appearance in 106 years since a brown bear swimming from the opposite shore was captured in May 1912, according to local records.

Wakkanai Police Station said that local residents spotted several footprints, each about 25 centimeter long and about 20 centimeters in width, on a beach along the southern shoreline of the island. According to Hokkaido Research Organization officials who analyzed the footprints, they likely belong to an adult male aged over 6 or 7.

An expert said that a brown bear could swim from the shore of Wakkanai on the mainland of Hokkaido -- a distance of at least 20 kilometers -- to Rishirifuji's Numaura district where local residents spotted the footprints. The island was believed to be outside their habitat, according to police and the local government.

The municipal government pointed out that it is currently breeding season for brown bears so a male could be searching for a female.

The town's officials urge local residents, tourists and others to be cautious of bears.

(Japanese original by Eiji Kaneko, Hokkaido District Office)

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