The father of a victim whose life was taken by a “man-eating brown bear” reveals his “regrets and the end of his son. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The father of a victim whose life was taken by a “man-eating brown bear” reveals his “regrets and the end of his son.

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A brown bear this reporter encountered in Hokkaido

He said, “I am still upset, and when I feel weak, I end up getting emotional. Why did I go to such a place (Lake Shumarinai, where the incident took place)…? Why did I go fishing alone? Why did he choose this day? I feel like my head is about to explode from all the questions I have.”

The words were squeezed out of Toshihiro Nishikawa, 54, the father of a brown bear that attacked and killed him on May 14 at Lake Shumarinai in the town of Horokanai, Hokkaido. Mr. Nishikawa had visited Shumarinai Lake to fish on May 14, and had gone missing after getting off the fishing boat at a point called “Namako-zawa” in the eastern part of the lake.

On the 14th, an employee of the Shumarinai Lake World Center, a non-profit organization that manages the lake, went to pick up Mr. Nishikawa, but he was nowhere to be found. He saw a brown bear with a “body length” used for fishing in its mouth about 30 meters away. The next day, on the 15th, the head of Ms. Nishikawa’s body was found in the vicinity. The body had been bitten by a brown bear and was severely damaged.

On the same day, a brown bear believed to have attacked Mr. Nishikawa was exterminated by a local hunting club, and a piece of meat and bone that matched Mr. Nishikawa’s DNA were found in its stomach.

The body was found in a lake, and the body of a brown bear believed to be that of his son was found in the lake. When I heard that a body that appeared to be my son’s had been found in the lake, it was like something I had never even heard of, and I didn’t want to believe it had happened to my own son. After that, no matter how many TV and newspaper reports I saw, I could not connect it to my son….

The police continued their search, even though the body seemed to be severely damaged. I am so grateful and sorry. Due to circumstances, I have not been able to see my son for the last 6 months. I have two children, so I cannot help but think about the feelings of my grandchildren.

According to Hokkaido statistics, the number of brown bears living in the Teshio/Masuge area, where Lake Shumarinai is located, was about 200 in 1990. However, by 2008, the number had quadrupled in 30 years to approximately 850 bears. Furthermore, the incident occurred under the circumstances that brown bears were also sighted in the Shumarinai Lake area on May 9, just before the incident. Mr. Nishikawa’s father expressed his feelings.

If he had died while doing his favorite fishing, he might have wanted to do what he did. But to be eaten by a brown bear, I don’t know….

I feel that if the manager of the lake had issued a stronger warning about brown bears, my son would not have lost his life. Of course, my son went fishing because he wanted to, so I don’t blame the manager. Still, as a parent, I can’t help but think about such things…”

Residents in the area say that there have been no previous cases of brown bears attacking humans around Lake Shumarinai. This time, the worst case of a brown bear attack had occurred when no brown bear damage was anticipated. However, May is the season when brown bears awaken from hibernation and move around actively to breed. It is the most common time of the year for brown bears to unexpectedly come face to face with humans.

In recent years, as the brown bear population has increased, there have been numerous cases of bears appearing in urban areas. In Muroran City, there has been a series of brown bear sightings since May 12, and the habitat of bears overlaps with people’s living areas. Without appropriate countermeasures, further damage could occur.

The son’s accident should make us rethink the way we warn anglers and tourists about bears. In urban areas around Sapporo, when brown bears appear, police cars and other vehicles are used to alert local residents….

My son was the type who was passionate about one thing. He had always loved physical exercise, but eventually he began to focus on fishing. He had many friends who fished with him, and I guess fishing for itou was a big part of my son’s life. As a parent, I try to think that although it was a very cruel end, it was unavoidable because he met his end doing what he loved.

Mr. Nishikawa’s father repeatedly emphasized during the interview that it was not the fault of the management. We must not repeat such tragic accidents caused by brown bears.

  • PHOTO Takashi Yamazaki

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