It has been a busy month, so I apologise for my lack of action on the blogging front.
Actually, the Japanese have invented a word, gogatsubyo (五月病), which literally means “May sickness”. Because the academic and fiscal years begin in April, many students and new employees find themselves tired and stressed out in May.
In the last couple of weeks two wildlife-related incidents have made the national news, so I’ll share these briefly.
The first is a bit of good news for avian aficionados.
Observers have confirmed the hatching of three crested ibis chicks in the wild, the first time in 36 years of a successful hatching outside of captivity.
The crested ibis (Nipponia nippon), known locally as the toki (朱鷺, 鴇, 鵇 or 鴾), is at risk of extinction.
The bird was originally widespread over Japan from southern Hokkaido, and its range extended into far eastern Russia, the Koreas, far eastern China and Taiwan. Unfortunately, from the late 19th century their range and population decreased for the usual reasons – hunting and habitat loss.
The last of the Japanese birds died in captivity in 2003, and all the crested ibises in Japan now are descendants of Chinese birds brought over for breeding programs.
Attempts to get the birds to breed in the wild have been abortive up till now, and even captive breeding programs have suffered setbacks – a notable example was in 2009 when some Japanese martens entered the cage in a breeding facility and killed nine birds.
Government officials are keeping a close watch on the fledgling crested ibises via remote camera – there is still a real risk of predation by crows and kites, not to mention the problems caused by nosey humans.
Good luck to the crested ibises.
On the ursine front, the news was not so good.
Six bears were killed after they escaped their enclosure and mauled two elderly keepers to death.
The bears were Hokkaido brown bears – also known as Ezo brown bear or Ussuri brown bear, (Ursus arctos yesoensis or Ursus arctos lasiotus). In Japanese they are known as Ezo higuma (蝦夷羆) or often just higuma to distinguish them from the other species of bear found in Japan, the Asian black bear or Moon bear (Ursus thibetanus japonicus) – tsukinowaguma (月輪熊).
Whereas black bears are found over Honshu and Shikoku (and possibly Kyushu, where they are not considered indigenous), the brown bear is found only in Hokkaido (although it was found on some of the surrounding islands during the middle ages, and fossil records suggest a former range as far as Kyushu.)
The bears were just a few of 38 kept on a bear farm in Kazuno, Akita Prefecture. Their escape was due to the usual reasons – human stupidity and underestimating the animals’ intelligence.
In this case, the manager assumed that the 4.5 metre-high concrete wall would be enough to confine the bears in an exercise yard, but ignored the three metre snow drift that had built up in one corner. The bears clearly didn’t.
The stock footage in the papers and TV suggest overcrowding of the bears, and other reports suggest neglect and mismanagement.
My own impression of the facility is some kind of POW camp.