WASEDA ONLINE

RSS

The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Opinion > Society

Opinion

Society

Recommendations for Wildlife Management
—The Problem of Animal Damage as Society Withdraws from Nature

Shingo Miura
Professor, School of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Allow me to start with a personal anecdote. I moved recently to Iruma City, which is close to my workplace. In October, I was shocked to hear a public information broadcast from the city authorities warning children to take care walking to and from school because wild boar had been appearing frequently. The warnings turned out to be accurate. The next day, six pedestrians were injured by charging wild boar in the cities of Fussa and Akiruno. In November, there was a newspaper article describing how a man had been attacked and killed by a bear in Gifu Prefecture (article dated November 6). According to data from the Ministry of the Environment, more than 140 people have been injured in bear attacks across Japan this year. There have been repeated “abnormal appearances” of bears in recent years, to the point that they have now become an “annual event” each autumn. The other day, there was an article about the recent proliferation of sika deer and the plant and crop damage this was causing across Japan (Asahi Shimbun, November 7). Damage caused to agricultural crops and forests by sika deer had spread across the length of Japan, and in the Minami Alps and Tanzawa/Okutama region it has even led to a risk of landslides.

A herd of sika deer

Articles on wild animals are published daily. However, I believe that the make-up of these articles has changed in nature. This is because in the past it was always the humans who were the aggressors and the animals who were the victims. Environmentally destructive overdevelopment destroyed habitats and humans put pressure on wild animals. However, recently there has been an increase across Japan in the distribution and population of wild animals, and as far as large mammals are concerned our roles have now been reversed. There are said to be more than 3 million sika deer and more than 800,000 wild boar living in the Japanese archipelago, and this number is estimated to be increasing (Ministry of the Environment, 2013). Japan is described as being under attack in an “animal war.” What’s more, it is the humans who appear to be gradually retreating. Why is this?

There are reasons why the number of wild animals is increasing. The first reason I want to cite is the fact that global warming and warmer winters have led to a marked decrease in natural death rates in the population. In the past, Japan experienced extremely heavy snowfalls and severe cold fronts once every ten years or so and this kept down any increase in the size of animal populations. However, we have seen a succession of mild winters. Second, there has also been an impact from the falling number of hunters and the increased age of hunters. In the 1960s, Japan had as many as 500,000 hunters, but this number has now fallen to below 80,000. What is more, the majority of these hunters are in their sixties or older. For better or worse, the activities of these hunters had an impact on the populations of wild animals. In recent years there has been little recruitment of a younger generation of hunters and if hunters were thought of in terms of a wild animal population they would be described as an “endangered species.”

There is another cause of increased wild animal populations that I need to point out, and I believe this cause to be the most significant. Namely, there has been a decline in Japanese agriculture and a resulting increase in abandoned fields. According to the most recent agricultural census (2010), the total area of abandoned fields across Japan has now reached approximately 400,000 hectares. This is an area roughly equivalent to the size of Shiga Prefecture. Abandoned fields have spread like a plague of insects across Japan, mostly in hilly and mountainous areas. Although this is not true in all areas, many of these areas have been replaced by wild animal habitats. Abandoned fields promote wild animals, increase crops destruction and further promote the human retreat from rural areas. This is a negative spiral. The boundary between human living space and wild animal living space has become blurred, and this is causing wild animals to overflow. It is clear that this issue has gone beyond mere “damage caused by wild animals” and started to overlap with the medium to long-term social problems Japan faces in terms of the disappearance of its regional population.

A sika deer-populated forest. Forest cover has disappeared because the sika deer have eaten all of the small buds and plants they can reach. The top soil is then washed away when there are heavy rains.

There are many ways we can address this issue. These include the installation of electric fences to prevent crop damage and the use of guard-dogs to discourage monkeys or bears, and the development of similar control technologies will become even more important in the future. This may be so, but these measures can only treat the symptoms of the problem by preventing damage, and the result is simply that the damage is shifted elsewhere. I believe that it is impossible for wild animals and humans to live side by side without managing the size of increasing wild animal populations. Sika deer in particular have not only caused damage to agricultural crops but also to natural ecosystems, such as flowerbeds in national parks and natural forests, and I believe it is necessary to control the population. However, I do not believe we should simply exterminate sika deer like a pest in the same way that we would treat cockroaches or rats. This is because large mammals are an integral part of Japan’s natural ecosystem and they are strongly linked to Japan’s culture and history. This suggests two things. The first is to pursue a thorough scientific approach and build a “wildlife management” system as has been carried out widely in the West. This is a framework for controlling populations by identifying the current situation, setting clear targets, building a management plan, carrying out ongoing monitoring, and verifying these plans. Another proposal is to make active use of hunted sika deer as a resource. Hunted sika deer are not trash. Far from it, they are an important animal resource that has been created by the ecosystem. How we reuse this resource, including the matter of meat distribution, will become an important challenge in the future.

What do we mean by people “living alongside” wild animals? It does not mean an uncontrolled increase nor expansion in wild animals, nor arbitrary displacement nor elimination of wild animals by humans. Instead, what we need is for people to protect biodiversity and ecosystems and promote sustainable use so that people and wild animals are able to build mutually beneficial relationships. In 2014, the Wildlife Protection and Proper Hunting Act was amended. The aim is to establish new wildlife management organizations and promote population control widely across Japan. Administrators and researchers capable of understanding the ecology and behavior of wild animals, proposing management plans and executing these plans are essential to wildlife management systems. I believe that we also have an important responsibility to foster a young generation with the desire to work as the vanguard of this field.

Shingo Miura
Professor, School of Human Sciences, Waseda University

[Profile]
Professor Miura was born in Tokyo in 1948. He graduated from the Graduate School of Agriculture, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, and earned his Doctorate of Science from Kyoto University. He is also Professor on the School of Medicine, Hyogo College of Medicine; Professor on the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; and Professor on the Faculty of Agriculture, Niigata University. Former chairman of the Mammal Society of Japan. Areas of specialization include behavioral ecology in mammals and wild animal management studies. Major works include: The Ecology of Mammals [Honyurui no Seitaigaku] (co-author, University of Tokyo Press); The Ecology of Mammals 4: Society [Honyurui no Seitaigaku 4 Shakai] (University of Tokyo Press); The Ecology of Wild Animals and Damage to Agriculture and Forestry—Pursuing the Logic of Coexistence [Yaseidobutsu no Seitai to Noringyo Higai—Kyozon no Ronri o Motomete] (Zenrinkyou); Wildlife Management for Beginners [Wairudoraifu Manejimento Nyumon] (Iwanami Shoten); Picture Book NEO Animals [Zukan NEO dobutsu] (Shogakukan)