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Drones help spy out bears amid frequent sightings, attacks in central Japan

A drone is seen hovering over a field to search for a bear in the Tagamihonmachi district in Kanazawa, on Nov. 15, 2020. (Mainichi/Akihiro Fukao)

KANAZAWA -- Troubled by a spate of bear sightings in human settlements this year, many municipal governments in the central Japan prefecture of Ishikawa have deployed drones to safely search for and scare away the animals.

    On Nov. 13, municipal government officials, police officers and local hunting group members were seen in the Yatanomachi district of the Ishikawa Prefecture city of Komatsu, an area with an open field dotted with a few homes, after a resident reported that there was "a bear climbing a persimmon tree." A drone, measuring about 32 centimeters in diameter, was released to fly over some bushes in the area, and spotted some movement. An infrared camera installed on the drone captured the bear hiding in the bushes. The search party members then cornered the bear while the drone hovered above for some 20 minutes, and they drove the animal into the woods by setting off firecrackers.

    The drone was apparently the type employed to search for missing people and confirm the state of fires during disasters. Taisuke Terada, 38, a fire lieutenant who operated the machine, said, "I was nervous as I tried not to lose sight of the bear."

    The Kanazawa Municipal Government in the prefecture is also flying drones for fire prevention in Tagamihonmachi, the suburb of the city where two people were injured in bear attacks.

    "We're living in a remarkable time. This is something I've never seen," a woman who was picking taros in a field in the area on Nov. 15 said as a drone hovered over her head with a low-pitched hum. She said she had stayed away from her field for a while due to fears of encountering a bear. Referring to the drone, the woman smiled and said, "It's reassuring."

    As of Nov. 10, there had been 703 reports of bear sightings in Ishikawa Prefecture this year. In an incident in October where a bear occupied a shopping center near JR Kagaonsen Station for some 13 hours, a Kaga Municipal Government worker operated a drone to search for the bear in a warehouse. They managed to narrow the scope of the search little by little and in the end the local hunting group shot the bear dead.

    The Kaga government also uses drones to patrol around school zones and other areas in the morning. This drone project is scheduled to run until Nov. 30.

    (Japanese original by Akihiro Fukao, Hokuriku General Bureau)

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