In Brief

Bear attacks: Warnings issued after four people are killed in Japan

Officials fear separate attacks may be work of a single animal with 'taste for human flesh'

A 74-year-old woman is believed to be the fourth person to have been mauled to death by a bear in as many weeks in northern Japan.

Tsuwa Suzuki's body was discovered in a forest in the mountainous Akita prefecture, where she had gone to gather wild plants. Her injuries were so horrific that authorities were initially unable to identify her body.

On the same day, a local hunter shot and killed a female black bear just 65ft away from where the body was found, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reports. It is not known if this was the animal responsible for the attack.

It is the fourth such death in the area since 21 May. Three men, two in their seventies and one in his sixties, have also been found dead with severe injuries consistent with a bear attack after going into the forest to gather wild plants.

Officials warn would-be foragers to stay away from the woodland and to carry a bell to scare off any nearby bears.

Local vet Takeshi Komatsu believes the incidents may be the work of a single animal.

"After tasting human flesh, the bear may have realised that it can eat them," he told Kyodo news agency.

The spate of attacks is particularly unusual given that there were only eight bear-related deaths recorded in the area between 1979 and 2015, The Independent reports.

More than 1,200 brown bear and black Asiatic bear sightings have been recorded in northern Japan this year, already almost double the total spotted in 2015. Some of the sightings occurred in residential areas.

Bears often become more aggressive and bold when food is scarce, but experts say an abundance of supplies might be at the root of the apparent rise in the bear population.

Kazuhiko Maita, the chief director of the Institute for Asiatic Black Bear Research and Preservation, says a bumper crop of beechnuts, a favourite of the black bear, is likely to have led to a boom in the number of surviving cubs.

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