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3 bears are captured after sneaking into a tatami factory as northern Japan faces a growing problem

TOKYO (AP) — Three bears that snuck into a tatami mat factory in northern Japan and were holed up inside for nearly a day have been captured and killed, according to town officials and media reports.

A patrolling official spotted the bears, believed to be a parent and two cubs, as they walked into the factory on Wednesday morning in Misato, a town in Akita prefecture, where there’s been a growing number of reported bear attacks in or near residential areas.

An owner of the factory said he saw the bears walking outside but never thought they would come inside.

Town officials and police officers rushed to the site, wearing helmets and carrying shields, and kept watch. Local hunters used fire crackers to try to scare the intruders out, without success. They later set up a pair of cages at the entrance of the factory and waited overnight.

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On Thursday morning, the bears were trapped in cages, two cubs in one and the adult in another. Television footage showed the cages being taken out of the factory and placed on a pickup truck with a crane.

Misato issued an urgent message later Thursday to residents that all three bears had been captured. Media reports said the bears were later killed for fear that they would return to the town and pose a threat if released.

Akita’s governor, Norihisa Satake, who had sounded the alarm over the increase of marauding bears in the prefecture, told reporters on Thursday that he planned to seek the central government’s support to combat the bears, including revising wildlife protection law to allow the use of hunting guns in residential areas.

“Otherwise we cannot eliminate bears in residential areas,” Satake said. “The problem is growing around the country.”

Akita has logged a record 30 cases of bear attacks on people in 2023 alone, increasingly in residential areas. Experts say they come down from forests looking for food due to a scarcity of acorns, their staple food. Officials warned residents not to leave garbage outside, and advised hikers to carry bells to make noise, and use anti-bear spray or lie flat face-down in case of an encounter with bears.

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