Tag Archives: rabbits

We Are The Invaders and Neuter Your Cats

10 May

Hi blog.

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.

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36228601

The cute creature Sweden wants to wipe out

Raccoon dog in SwedenImage copyrightAlamy

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.

Ludde Noren (left) and Per-Arne Ahlen, raccoon dog hunters, on snow tractors in northern Sweden
Image captionLudde Noren (left) and Per-Arne Ahlen hunting raccoon dogs

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.

Map showing Sweden and Finland, with Lulea and the Gulf of Bothnia marked out
Image copyright Bc

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.

Hunter with trapped raccoon dog
Image caption Ludde Noren with a trapped raccoon dog

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.”

Article ends.

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;

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/05/09/national/kagoshima-isle-neutering-3000-cats-in-bid-to-protect-rare-rabbits/#.VzF7r_mLTIU

Kagoshima isle neutering 3,000 cats in bid to protect rare rabbits

KYODO

 MAY 9, 2016

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.

Article ends.

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.

Splitting hairs? An adventure in Cross-Linguistic Naming

6 Nov

One of the interesting aspects of doing any anything nature-related in Japan is the difference in nomenclature between the English and Japanese languages.

Most non-linguists tend to think in very absolute terms – generally along the lines that their language’s interpretation of the world is the only one.  They are usually also guilty of believing that every word has an exact counterpart in other languages.

 

Let’s take a simple example, like “caterpillar”.

Simple, right?

Wrong.

Are you talking about a smooth-skinned caterpillar (further divided into “green” and “not green”!), a not-green looper or inchworm, or a hairy larval form of a moth or butterfly?  The Japanese language makes distinctions between all of these.

The smooth-skinned caterpillars come under the term “imomushi” (芋虫).  This group has two more sub-divisions: loopers or inchworms, called “shakutorimushi” (尺取り虫) – “measuring insect”, and the green-coloured varieties or “aomushi” (青虫) – “green insect”.

It’s green! The caterpillar of the swallowtail on a mandarin tree.

It bears mentioning here that the Japanese word “mushi”, while often translated as “insect”, is closer in meaning to the American generic “bug”, or the “creepy-crawly” of my childhood.  Thus, insects, spiders, centipedes, snails and worms can all come under the vernacular “mushi”

And if that’s not confusing enough, “ao” is usually translated as “blue”, but in reality covers a whole range of colours from blue to the light greens.  Green vegetables are “blue vegetables”, the green traffic light is also “blue”.  Translation work sometimes leaves me feeling blue (or is that green?)

 

The other group of caterpillars is the one whose members possess hair or spines as defensive mechanisms.  These are collectively known as “kemushi” (毛虫) – “hair insects”.  Most of these are the larval forms of moths, but some butterfly larvae are also in this group.

 

To complicate the issue further, there are also common names given to specific caterpillars.  An example of this is the moth Monema flavescens, known locally as iraga (刺蛾), although at least a dozen regional names also exist.  The larval form is called iramushi (刺虫), and loves persimmon leaves.  I can tell you from personal experience, you DON’T want to touch one of these!!  Just brushing against it produced more pain than a bee sting, and a rash which lasted all day.

 

Twenty milimetres of pain – the larval form of the iraga moth. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

I’ve just mentioned regional names, and these can cause confusion too.  Freshwater fish often have several different regional names, making it difficult to be sure which fish is being discussed.  Furthermore, the regional name for one fish may be the same as another regional name for a different fish.

Another example of identity crisis of is the raccoon dog, or tanuki (), with the badger, or anaguma (穴熊).  Both these animals are superficially similar, but are not closely related at all.  In some parts of the country, a dish known as tanukijiru (“tanuki soup”) is known, but it more likely contains the meat of the badger – assuming it contains meat at all.  Another dish bearing the same name is a vegetarian dish, the meat being substituted with konyaku.

Confusion arises because both these animals have been known as mujina () in different areas.  The soup in question was often known as mujinajiru.  Ascertaining which animal “mujina” refers to is difficult at best.

 

Spot the differences. Tanuki (top) and Japanese badger (bottom). Photos courtesy of Wikipedia.

The tanuki is a fascinating animal and deserves its own blog entry.

 

Now to the flipside – distinctions made in the English language but not in Japanese.

 

I recently learned that there are no rabbits on mainland Japan.  Japan’s only true rabbit is the Amami rabbit, Amamikurousagi (奄美黒兎) of Amamioshima and Tokunoshima islands.  The “rabbit” of Japanese folk tales is actually a hare – Nihon nousagi (日本野兎) or just nousagi (野兎).  The generic word usagi in Japanese can be either a rabbit or a hare – the language doesn’t make the distinction.  (It doesn’t split hares?)

 

A translation of “Kachi-Kachi Yama”. The hare has been translated as “rabbit”, and the tanuki described as “a kind of badger” – it’s actually a member of the dog family. Scanned from “Once Upon a Time in Japan”, Kodansha, 1985

Another generic word is hachi ().  Most Japanese (and their Japanese-English dictionaries) translate this word as “bee”.  In fact, the insect in question is more likely to be a wasp or hornet.  There are specific names for different bees and wasps, but the bee/wasp distinction is not made.

 

Bees and wasps. Clocwise from top left: Japanese hornet, Japanese honey bee, large carpenter bee, paper wasp. All “hachi” in Japanese.  Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

And finally, turtles and tortoises.

Growing up in Australia in the 1980’s, we (or rather, herpetologists) had three turtle/tortoise distinctions – turtles (specifically flippered sea animals), tortoises (club-footed or clawed animals that spend most of their time on land) and freshwater tortoises (animals with webbed feet and living in lakes and rivers) – also known as terrapins in the UK.  In the ‘90s, this changed to just turtles (aquatic or marine animals) and tortoises (terrestrial animals).

In Japanese, these animals are known collectively as kame ().  But then, the Japanese language has a separate word for soft-shelled turtles – suppon ().

 

This is just a small selection of some of the challenges of cross-linguistic wildlife watching.  There is no “right” or “superior” language for dealing with nature – one needs only an open and inquisitive mind.

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