Incidents involving the Asian Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus), classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), have become more frequent in Japan as they grow accustomed to humans and are no longer frightened by bells and other warning devices. More aggressive than the bears of Eurasia and America, they have been known to occasionally attack humans.

A famous incident happened in September 2009, when a black bear attacked a group of tourists, mauling nine people and seriously injuring four at a bus station in Takayama, Gifu. Therefore, it's quite reasonable to expect that residents in Takayama would be particularly wary of bears and willing to take measures to protect themselves from further bear attacks, such as posting warning signs like this:

At around 11:30am on September 6, 2017, a 1 meter-long male Asian Black Bear was spotted by a teacher "moving very quickly" in the schoolyard of the Tochio Elementary School in Takayama (pictured below). The teacher immediately contacted the police, who arrived ten minutes later together with hunters from the local hunting association. The children were instructed to stay inside the buildings and all doors and entrances were closed and locked for safety. Parents were informed by email and regular updates were sent as the situation unfolded. The police found the bear on a tree branch 3 meters high. At first, the plan was to scare the bear away with firecrackers but those plans were scrapped for a more permanent solution.

The children heard two shots fired but did not witness the shooting.

An hour later, the principal convened an emergency assembly. As the children listened with solemn expressions, he explained that "although a precious life was lost today," the children should keep in mind "that natural threats are close by." Some of the children were apparently crying after the talk. Earlier in the faculty room, he had apparently told his staff: "We can't lie to the children. We should tell them that we killed the bear because safety was our utmost priority."

Although the school maintains that no children suffered any serious emotional distress from the incident, after reports of the shooting went online, the school and the Takayama City Office began receiving phone calls criticizing the way the incident was handled. Some of them asked: "Couldn't you have used a tranquilizer gun instead?" while others questioned the appropriateness of "carrying out an execution on school grounds."

The police chief of Takayama City responded in a prepared statement: "We need to immediately respond to situations involving danger to human lives, especially when children are involved. In this case, a set of circumstances such as the danger that the bear may enter the school buildings and limitations presented by the layout of the area combined to create an unavoidable situation. Shooting the bear was the correct decision to make."

In an interview with Sankei Shimbun, Dr. Toshiki Aoi, Professor Emeritus at Iwate University and expert in the habits of wild animals, advised: "Generally speaking, putting the bear to sleep with a tranquilizer and returning it to the mountains is the best option. However, it is rare for (authorities) on site to be ready with a tranquilizer gun, so it probably couldn't have been avoided." At the same time, the fact that the bear was killed in the schoolyard "has created a powerful memory for the children, and I am worried that they might get it into their heads that the normal response when a bear appears is to shoot it down."

By - grape Japan editorial staff.