Here we are, in what should be the coldest part of the year. Well, the 18th provided snow and single-digit temperatures. Meanwhile, the 20th – Dai-Kan and nominally the coldest day to the year – topped out at over 14 degrees, weather normal for mid-March.
The warmer than usual winter has resulted in bears not hibernating, meaning there are unfortunate encounters between these animals and humans. I can see this leading to trouble in the immediate future too, with normally hibernating bears competing with boars and other animals for already limited food.
Last week some interesting developments made the domestic news, but it looked like no English language version was coming soon. However, my search landed me on an article from May of last year which shows that even Japan’s normally glacial legislative system can change quickly IF THE RIGHT PEOPLE want it to.
From the Asahi Shimbun
Online sales exacerbate threat to endangered species in Japan
By YU KOTSUBO/ Staff Writer
May 16, 2019 at 08:30 JST
Salamander eggs and rare animals are increasingly being sold over the Internet, drawing warnings from environmentalists that ecosystems in Japan could be irreparably damaged by the trend.
Japan’s endangered species conservation law prohibits trade in especially rare animals and plants.
But freshwater fish species, amphibians and other creatures not listed in the law or covered by regulations can be sold.
And the Environment Ministry’s Red List has no legal basis to stop individuals from selling species that it considers endangered.
Some local communities and Internet shopping sites have introduced restrictions to protect endangered species and the environment.
But overhunting and online sales continue, and experts say that if nothing is done soon, it may be too late.
AMPHIBIAN EGG MASSES
The Tokyo salamander, which inhabits mountain areas near human settlements, is one of the species recognized as endangered on the ministry’s Red List.
But that did not stop someone from offering many Tokyo salamander eggs on an online shopping site in March.
A Twitter user criticized the seller, posting: “Don’t be ridiculous. Collecting so many eggs must have caused fatal damage to the local ecology.”
The post was retweeted more than 9,000 times and drew many comments, such as, “The seller has gone too far” and “Even just seeing them on sale is pitiful.”
In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, the Twitter user said, “It is really regrettable that some people engage in overhunting of endangered animals for their own benefit, destroying local ecosystems in mountain regions.”
Yoichi Kawakami, an official of the secretariat of the Tokyo salamander study society who is involved in the protection and research of the species, views online sales of salamander eggs as problematic.
“As people in nearby communities enter mountain areas less frequently, more raccoons and other non-native predators now live in the (salamanders’) habitat, making their situation even worse,” Kawakami said. “Overhunting of eggs would deliver the final fatal blow to them.”
Kawakami said that around 10 years ago, many salamander eggs were frequently taken from the Yokosawa Irisatoyama preservation zone in Tokyo’s Akiruno, where Kawakami engages in conservation efforts.
But the situation for the amphibians improved after an ordinance was introduced to penalize those who collect many eggs and citizen patrols started in the zone to protect the environment.
“Cooperation between authorities and citizens has been established, lowering the risk of eggs being stolen,” Kawakami said.
But few regions have taken such countermeasures.
Kawakami said many egg masses are still collected for sale in Chiba Prefecture and elsewhere.
He warned that excessive egg hunting could wipe out the amphibians.
Another problem that is already affecting local ecosystems are online sales of non-native species.
If purchased alien species are set loose or escape from their owners, they could crossbreed with native species that may have different genetic characteristics.
And if nonnative species have no natural predators in Japan, their populations could explode and wreak havoc on local animals.
For example, an invasive freshwater fish species called the rosy bitterling that can easily be bought online has now spread across Japan.
SITE OPERATORS CONSIDERING COUNTERMEASURES
The Asahi Shimbun asked four leading shopping site operators about how they handle sales of animals.
Mercari Inc. said it bans trades of any living creature on its website.
Yahoo Japan Corp., Rakuten Inc. and the Japanese subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc. said they prohibit trade in mammals, birds, reptiles and other animals whose sales are banned by law.
However, endangered amphibians and alien freshwater fish were confirmed available on their sites.
Asked whether the company’s animal sales policy will be revised, a Yahoo Japan official said, “We will work with relevant ministries and agencies to consider countermeasures, taking into account the effects on species preservation and ecosystems.”
Rakuten also vowed to “weigh various steps, including the introduction of guidelines (on animal sales).”
Amazon simply noted that “almost all living creatures are prohibited from sales.”
Online sales of living creatures have drawn harsh criticism around the world at a time when conserving biodiversity and meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are increasingly viewed as important global challenges.
Portugal in 2017, for example, enacted a law that bans online trades of wild animals.
Jun Nakajima, a researcher at the Fukuoka Institute of Health and Environmental Sciences, said shopping site operators should take further measures.
“Companies need to actively display a definite stance toward the handling of endangered species and invasive alien animals, such as voluntarily stopping sales of those species,” said Nakajima, an expert in loaches and biodiversity preservation.
He said consumers should also do their part.
“Buying endangered animals without due consideration is not good from the viewpoint of moral and natural conservation because it leads to overhunting in their habitats,” Nakajima said. “In addition, buyers of the living creatures must continue keeping the animals until they die.”
Salamanders sit on the higher maintenance end of Japanese amphibians. One book I have shows keeping salamanders in a modified refrigerator to maintain a constant temperature of 15℃. Some species of salamander can’t live at temperatures above 26℃, and they also don’t tolerate high humidity well.
(As you can probably guess, there was a time when I seriously considered keeping Tokyo salamanders; a pet shop in town sometimes stocked them.)
Anyway, it seems that this trade, along with a trade in giant water bugs (Kirkaldyia deyrollei or Lethocerus deyrollei, depending on who you listen to) didn’t escape the attention of the new high-profile Minister for the Environment, one Shinjiro Koizumi, son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
An NHK article quotes a figure of some 1500 known cases of trading giant water bugs on the internet alone. (I have also seen these in pet shops)
An article from NHK, January 19th.
Earlier last week, the Ministry for the Environment announced an upcoming ban on the trade of these animals for money, possibly as early as February 1st. My inner cynic suggests it was Koizumi trying to flex some political muscle in his new posting.
From the Yomiuri Shimbun, January 17th.
As it turned out, an English language version of the Mainichi article came out on the 17th, but I used the wrong search term. Had I tried “giant water bug” instead of “Tokyo salamander”, I would have hit it earlier!
Japan to ban buying, selling of giant water bugs
January 17, 2020 (Mainichi Japan)
TOKYO (Kyodo) — The Japanese government decided Friday to prohibit the buying and selling of giant water bugs, as well as catching them for commercial purposes, amid declining habitats for the insect.
The measure to protect the endangered bugs, one of the largest aquatic insects in Japan and which are popular among enthusiasts, will take effect Feb. 10.
Collecting the bugs and giving them away for hobby or research purposes will still be allowed.
The species has been threatened by water pollution in paddy fields and changes in their habitat, as well as overhunting for commercial purposes. The Environment Ministry believes that if the overhunting continues, the bugs may go extinct.
Giant water bugs, 48 to 65 millimeters in length, are currently traded at about 3,000 yen ($27) per insect.
Along with the water bugs, Tokyo salamanders and golden venus chub, a rare freshwater fish, were also added to a list of endangered species for protection.
The English version of the Mainich Shimbun article.
I’m glad that there is no total ban on collecting in the upcoming law. Genuine enthusiasts and researchers won’t be affected, and the lack of monetary motivation should remove most of the threat of over-collecting.
Now we just have to protect these creatures’ environments.