Northern Japan is on the alert after bear attacks left four people fatally mauled over the past few weeks, the Guardian reports. Most recently, 74-year-old Tsuwa Suzuki was found dead in the Akita prefecture this weekend in an attack so severe that authorities could barely identify her. She was apparently killed while picking edible plants in a mountain forest. Three men, one in his sixties and two in their seventies, were also killed in the same area in separate incidents while picking bamboo shoots. Authorities responded to Suzuki's death by sending out a search team and fatally shooting a 4-foot-high, 154-pound female Asiatic black bear just 20 yards from where the woman was killed, Asahi Shimbun reports.
Local vet Takeshi Komatsu says there may be only one perpetrator behind the maulings. "After tasting human flesh (for the first time), the bear may have realised that it can eat them," Komatsu says. Yet sightings of black Asiatic bears and brown bears have soared in northern Japan this year, surpassing 1,200, which already doubles last year's count. An unusually high crop of beechnuts may have boosted the bear population by improving the nutrition of mother bears, Yomiuri Shimbun reports. Meanwhile, authorities are advising people to take precautions when walking around the mountains. "Bears normally avoid humans, so it's good to make them aware of your presence by using something like a bell," says a member of a nonprofit that specializes in driving away bears. (Read more bears stories.)