A couple of very different articles.
First, one from the BBC about dealing with raccoon dogs running feral in Sweden – too bad there is no Japanese language version of this to remind the locals that their native animals can be destructive outside their natural ecosystems.
The cute creature Sweden wants to wipe out
They look cute and cuddly and are sometimes kept as pets – but raccoon dogs are a menace, threatening wildlife across Europe. Sweden is so worried about their impact that it has trained a team to hunt and kill the animals, with the unwitting help of creatures made to betray their mates.
It’s mid-April and on the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland, the ice covering the sea is still a metre thick.
It’s where Ludde Noren and Viktor Medstrom, two professional hunters from the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management have switched off their snowmobiles and are using GPS tracking equipment to try to detect signals of an unwelcome visitor.
The animal they are looking for is a raccoon dog, a fox-like creature native to East Asia that has a similar face to a raccoon but is a member of the canine family.
The beeps coming from the tracking equipment are weak, so it’s back on the snowmobiles to roar across the vast expanse of the frozen sea towards a small island.
Per-Arne Ahlen who leads Sweden’s project to eradicate raccoon dogs, is with them too. He says the animals were first released in the European parts of the former Soviet Union by biologists as a source of fur.
“Economic success 80 years ago, today an ecological disaster,” he says.
An ecological disaster, he explains, because raccoon dogs feed on amphibians and ground-nesting birds in wetland areas.
“Amphibian species can go extinct in areas with a high raccoon dog population,” Ahlen says.
Along with the Arctic fox, they reproduce more quickly than any other canine species. A million are born every year in Finland, and there are thousands more in Germany. They have been sighted as far west as France and the Netherlands, Ahlen says.
Sweden’s plan to eradicate raccoon dogs began a decade ago, when they were first spotted in the far north of the country – now the animals are hunted to reduce the threat to biodiversity.
Some of the work is done from an office in Lulea, a city 900km (560 miles) north of the capital Stockholm. The staff there receive thousands of sightings from members of the public every year, which are then followed up by field staff.
There are also cameras on the main routes between Sweden and Finland which can detect raccoon dogs as they arrive in the country.
And from their computers they are able to track the so-called “Judas animals”.
These are raccoon dogs that have been caught, sterilised, tagged and released.
Raccoon dogs stay with a partner for life and as soon as the Judas dogs are released, they go in search of a new partner.
When one stops moving, the office dispatches one of the six full-time field workers to see if it has found a new partner.
Two hours north-east of the office, Noren and Medstrom, the two men on the snowmobiles, have tracked one of the Judas animals to a small uninhabited island still covered in snow.
Their tracking equipment now beeps at shorter intervals.
“You hear, the signal is more frequent, it’s a moving signal,” says Noren. He’s helped by his hunting dog, which can help sniff out the raccoon dog but is muzzled so it can’t do any harm.
There are paw prints in the snow. It’s hard to tell whether it’s from one raccoon dog or two.
Noren tells everyone to stop. There’s fur poking out from behind a tree.
Are raccoon dogs aggressive animals?
“I’m used to comparing it to a badger on sleeping pills,” Noren says.
Project leader Ahlen takes the lead and hooks the raccoon dog with a snare. It barely moves.
It is alone and hasn’t managed to find a partner for the team to shoot.
So it is weighed and released.
The system hasn’t worked on this occasion but Ahlen is convinced of its effectiveness.
“I stole it from the Spanish and Ecuadorian governments, their way of eradicating goats on Galapagos,” he says. “[They] didn’t succeed until they started with the Judas goats.”
Ahlen says it’s a technique being used a lot now in conservation biology to eradicate invasive species. There are Judas rats in Mexico, Judas pigs in North America and Judas camels in Australia.
At one time, there were between 100-130 raccoon dogs in Sweden, Ahlen says. But in the past 10 years they have killed about 2,000 in Sweden and on the bordering areas of Finland and they’re now finding and killing fewer and fewer.
The raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides)
Sweden has a relatively small population of raccoon dogs – now probably fewer than 100, says Ahlen. He estimates there are up to 1,000 in Denmark and hundreds of thousands in Germany and Poland. In Finland the population is rising and in spring is approximately 250,000 – although about a million cubs are born each year, most die from starvation, hunting and road accidents. In Norway, there are “hopefully zero – we try to keep it that way”. In France a few sightings and some road kills have been reported. The creatures could soon establish themselves in the wild both there and in the UK where escaped pets pose a potential problem, he says.
It’s illegal to keep them as pets in Sweden, Denmark and Norway but Ahlen says he has seen evidence that people in the UK do have them as pets.
“The thing if you have them as pets is that they will escape and then you will endanger your native fauna if you release them in England,” he says.
“Both from Ireland and the UK, I’ve seen several cases where people have lost their pets and I’m quite sure that if you have not already, I think that you will have your first feral emerging population by reproduction of escaped pets.”
Ahlen says the project to eradicate raccoon dogs in Sweden hasn’t faced any opposition.
“Not even the animal rights groups are against what we’re doing because we are protecting our grandchildren’s nature, we are protecting the animals that will disappear if we have raccoon dogs in southern Sweden,” he says.
“Conservation biology is not always nice, it’s not beautiful all the time.”
My take: That final quote is quite telling. Cuteness should not be an excuse for not controlling feral species that pose a threat to local wildlife.
Next is a local approach to deal with the predators that may endanger Japan’s only native rabbit species.
From the Japan Times;
TOKUNOSHIMA, KAGOSHIMA PREF. – Three municipalities on a remote island in Kagoshima Prefecture are midway through an unprecedented project to neuter all 3,000 resident felines in order to protect native rabbits. The rare bunnies are designated as a special national treasure.
Only around 200 Amami rabbits are thought to inhabit the island of Tokunoshima in Kagoshima Prefecture, which has a human population of 23,000. The rabbits are at risk of being attacked and killed by stray cats.
“Domestic cats have a hunting instinct, and they hunt when they become feral,” said Harutaka Watanabe at the Environment Ministry’s nature conservation office on the island.
“There are no carnivorous mammals on the island, so native rabbits are not so vigilant,” said Watanabe, 30.
Culling the strays is not a realistic option for the island, which is part of the Amami and Ryukyu islands. The area is seeking recognition as a World Natural Heritage site.
Osamu Minobe, a 60-year-old islander from the town of Isen, said the isle would not qualify as a heritage site if the slaughter of thousands of cats takes place.
As a solution, the three municipalities on the island launched the project in November 2014 in collaboration with an animal protection organization based in Hyogo Prefecture.
Municipal officials set traps to capture stray cats. Veterinarians from Doubutsu Kikin (Animal Fund) neuter the cats and notch their ears before they are released.
Meanwhile, the Environment Ministry has also started a project to capture cats in the mountains that prey on the island’s rabbits. The ministry also neuters the cats and temporarily keeps them in a shelter run by the three municipalities on the island until new owners are found. The owners are required to keep the cats indoors.
“I hope we can change the residents’ mindsets, encouraging them to keep their cats indoors,” said Hikaru Akiyama, 29, who is in charge of the shelter.
So far, some 2,200 cats have gone through the process, and Amami rabbits are being seen in greater numbers already. A staff member at Doubutsu Kikin said it is important to continue the effort or the situation would revert to that five years ago, as the cats reproduce quickly.
Under the project, cat owners can have their pets neutered for free, as many are reluctant to pay for the operation.
My take: There are two telling quotes in this article. One is about cat owners being reluctant to pay for neutering, which I find a bit rich considering the exorbitant prices people are willing to pay for cats. (Note: People in Japan tend to buy cats from pet dealers – typically for well over one hundred thousand yen – rather than adopt)
It reminds me of the woman who refused to neuter her female cat on the grounds that it was “cruel”, but proceeded to drown the unwanted kittens. Go figure.
The other pertinent quote is the one about the island not becoming a World Heritage site if the slaughter of cats takes place. It certainly won’t become a World Heritage site – a status symbol Japan craves beyond belief – if its rabbits become extinct.