Tokyo - Reports on Friday said the body of a fourth victim suspected of being killed by a bear in the past three weeks was found in a forest in northern Japan.
The badly mauled corpse has yet to be identified, but police in Akita prefecture were searching for a 74-year-old woman named Tsuwa Suzuki, who was reported missing a day earlier.
Hunters killed a bear just 10 metres from the spot where the woman's remains were discovered in a mountain forest in Kazuno city in Akita, though it remained unclear if she was killed by that animal, reports said.
Three men, two in their seventies and one in his sixties, last month died in apparent bear attacks while out harvesting bamboo shoots in three separate incidents. The severity of their wounds have led experts to suspect bears were responsible.
A local veterinarian said that as the attacks happened within the same area and in such a short time, the same bear was likely responsible.
"After tasting human flesh, the bear may have learned it can eat them," Takeshi Komatsu told Japan's Kyodo News agency.
City officials warned locals not to go into the mountains and have set bear traps.
The total number of fatal bear attacks in Akita between 1979 and 2015 was just eight, the local Kahoku newspaper said, citing a prefectural official, who added that the recent spate of killings was "unusual".