Wolves to the Rescue: Wolf reintroduction is a much needed solution to Japan’s deer problems.

Ôkami (Canus lupus hodophylax) once roamed the boreal forests of Japan. The last Japanese wolf fell prey to hunters in 1905. Now 5,900 sika deer roam the forests and valleys of the Shiretoko Peninsula. Narumi Nambu is working to reintroduce the wolf to Japan.

“An apex predator is essential for sustainability of an ecosystem, and in Japan it was a wolf,” she writes in an email. Nambu volunteers for the Japan Wolf Association. Her work earned her the “Who Speaks for Wolf” award at the International Wolf Symposium in Minnesota, where she recently spoke.”

She explained that, without the presence of natural predators like wolves, two-thirds of Japan’s 30 national parks are showing signs of deer-induced injury.”

Narumi Nambu was the Who Speaks for Wolf Award winner in 2018. She is pictured here with her husband, Hiroshi Asakura. Photo by Kelly Godfrey www.wolf.org

Ôkami is the Japanese name for the creature commonly called the Japanese Wolf (Canus lupus hodophylax), which became extinct in 1905.

Deer take over the city streets in Nara Japan.

Sacred deer of Nara Japan.

In Nara, the legend goes that a god of thunder, Takemikazuchi, traveled from Ibaraki prefecture to Nara sometime in the 700s. It is said he first appeared on the top of a mountain riding on a white deer. Takemikazuchi became one of the deities enshrined at Nara’s Kasuga shrine, thus the deer inhabiting the surrounding forest were deemed messengers of the gods and decreed sacred. www.theculturetrip.com

Sacred to Nusance

Today Japan has a deer problem with 197684.305 acres in damages, of which 77 percent is caused by deer according to a 2016 report by Japan’s Forestry Agency. The damage to Japan’s forests by deer totaled $53 million.

The Benevolent Ôkami

Before western culture arrived to Japan the Ôkami (Canus lupus hodophylax) was a benevolent influence in Japanese culture. Wolves kept deer and rabbits out of the rice patties. Wolves were worshipped as deities for protecting Japanese rice patties. But were soon killed off during Japan’s industrialization in the late 19th century.

An Ezo wolf, Hakkaido wolf, illustration. Public domain.

Restoring Ecological Balance to Japan’s Forests

“It is a situation retired professor Naoki Maruyama hopes to fix. The chairman of the Japan Wolf Association, Maruyama believes that the reintroduction of wolves—extinct in Japan for the better part of a century—can help curb the damage caused by deer and restore ecological balance to affected regions of the country.” from How Do You Convince 125 Million People to Embrace Wolves by Allan Richarz

There are roughly 1.5 million deer in Japan a country around the size of California. California is approximately 403,882 sq km, while Japan is approximately 377,915 sq km.

Wolf Reintroduction in Japan

“For wolf advocates like Hiroshi Asakura, the biggest challenge is not finding wolves to translocate, but changing the mindset of the Japanese public. The Japan Wolf Association says that support for wolf reintroduction grew from 12.5 percent in 1993 to nearly 45 percent in 2016.“

Nambu is optimistic: “If people realize there is another way to reconcile with nature, they will be sure to choose that. It is co-existence with wolves.”


Sources: Could Reintroduction of Wolves Help Save Japan’s Forests?

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