Tag Archives: raccoon dogs

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.

Tanuki Tales

11 Jan

I promised a while back that I would write a piece on the raccoon dog or tanuki, and now seems as good a time as any.  This time I want to look at some of the folklore and tales surrounding the raccoon dog.

 

A “fuuri” tanuki by Hokusai.

The raccoon dog is known as a trickster (even when not depicted as a shape-shifter), but whose character ranges from lovable prankster to malicious killer.  Let us examine some folk tales that display these.

 

Bunbukuchagama tells of a raccoon dog that transforms itself into a tea kettle (some versions say as repayment for the poor man who freed it from a trap).  Unable to stand the heat of the fire and now incapable of properly transforming back into its true self, it helps the poor man make a living by performing – tightrope walking is the most frequently depicted performance.  When the raccoon dog dies, it is preserved as a kettle.  The Morinji Temple in Tatebayashi, Gunma has a version in which the raccoon dog transforms himself into a priest with a never-emptying tea kettle.  The temple is said to still possess this kettle.

Interestingly, there is a similar tale from Yamagata which is woven around a fox instead of a raccoon dog.

 

An illustration of Morinji Bumbuku Chagama by Sekien

Shojoji Tanuki Bayashi tells of a group of raccoon dogs who scare away priests from the nearby temple by transforming themselves into various spectres (notably the hitomekozo and rokurokukubi).

One day a new priest, Wako, arrives.  He is not at all scared by the apparitions and stays.  The raccoon dogs try to drive him away with noise instead and hold parties at night.  Wako sneaks up to see what the raccoon dogs are up to and, deciding that they are having fun, starts playing his shamisen.

Not to be outdone, the raccoon dogs drum harder on their bellies (It needs to be pointed out that in popular folklore, raccoon dogs have large pot-bellies which they pound like drums).

This musical battle continues for four nights.  The great leader, determined not to be beaten by a priest, pounds too hard on his stomach, bursting it and killing him.  Wako conducts a funeral for the leader.

A more child-friendly version says that the leader doesn’t die, but Wako heals him with a salve.

There is a children’s song dating from the 1920s based on this story.

 

Tanuki band by Utagawa

Monuent in the Shojoji Temple grounds with lyrics to the children’s song.

Kachi-kachi Yama is a tale of murder and leporine vengeance.

An old childless couple live in the mountains.  (The “old, childless couple” is a staple of Japanese fairy tales, much in line with the poor farmer or wood cutter of the Grimms.  Since the eldest son – or the husband of the eldest daughter – was the source of social security, being old and childless was the worst state to be in).  This couple, however, have a special friend – a hare (often mistranslated as rabbit) – who they treat like a child.

The couple also have an enemy – a racoon dog – who not only openly steals from their garden but taunts them.

One day the old man manages to trap the raccoon dog.  He takes it to the old woman and tells her to make tanuki jiru from it.

Now alone with the old woman, the raccoon dog begs for mercy and promises to help her.  Being a kind old soul, the woman releases the racoon dog, who snatches up a mill hammer and clubs the woman to death with it.

Exhibit A: the murder weapon. A mortar and pounding mallet.

Some versions of the story then have the villainous raccoon dog cook the body into soup and transform itself into a likeness of the old woman.  When the old man comes home, the raccoon dog gives him the soup to eat before revealing his identity (and the old man’s mortal sin) and then running away.

The hare, hearing about what has happened, promises revenge.

He sets several traps of pain for the raccoon dog, which vary with the story.  The one common to all versions is tricking the raccoon dog into carrying a bundle of firewood on its back and using a flint to set the pack alight.  (The Japanese onomatopoeia for the striking of the flint is kachi-kachi; when the raccoon dog asks the hare about the noise, he replies that it is the sound of “Kachi-Kachi Mountain”, leading to the title of the story)

Other torturous deceptions include treating the burns with a salty miso or hot chilli mix, dropping a hornet nest on his head and the finale of tricking the racoon dog into rowing out into the lake in a boat made of clay.  As the boat dissolves, the hare bludgeons the raccoon dog with his oar, completing his revenge.

There is a Mt. Kachi Kachi on Lake Kawaguchi.

 

The hare setting light to the raccoon dog’s load.

A Tokyo Metro warning about the danger of fires in mountains playing on the Kachi-kachi Yama story. Thanks to The Goat That Wrote for this picture.

Statues of raccoon dogs are frequently found outside bars.  In this guise, they are depicted as jolly characters possessing large pot-bellies and huge testicles, and usually carrying a bottle of drink and wearing a sun hat.

 

A raccoon dog in priest’s clothing photographed in Kawagoe.

The raccoon dog is also the mascot of okonomiyaki restaurant chain Dotonbori.

 

Raccoon dogs are said to be fond of tempura; and noodles (soba and udon) containing tempura are labelled “tanuki”.  (In the same vein, foxes are said to have a similar fondness of fried tofu, and noodles containing this are known as “kitsune”.)

 

A sly old person (the epithetical “old fox” in English) is often known as a tanuki in Japanese.

 

Raccoon dogs are a favourite subject of children’s songs, and the lyrics frequently refer to them drumming on their bellies.  This is the inspiration behind the title of the Studio Ghibli film Heisei Tanuki Gassen Pompoko (平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ) – which I recommend seeing as an insight into the plight of these animals and how they are viewed in popular culture.

 

Finally, I stumbled across a saying in my reading: hitotsuana no mujina (一つ穴の狢) or onajiana no munjina (同じ穴の狢), meaning “villains of the same stripe”.  Apparently, the proverb has its origins in the belief that raccoon dogs shared part of a badger’s burrow.

 

The raccoon dog ranks very high on my wish-to-see-in-the-wild list.

Mujina and Mami – the Myth and the Mammals

28 Nov

On the Akasaka Road, in Tokyo, there is a slope called Kii-no-kuni-zaka,—which means the Slope of the Province of Kii. I do not know why it is called the Slope of the Province of Kii. On one side of this slope you see an ancient moat, deep and very wide, with high green banks rising up to some place of gardens;—and on the other side of the road extend the long and lofty walls of an imperial palace. Before the era of street-lamps and jinrikishas, this neighborhood was very lonesome after dark; and belated pedestrians would go miles out of their way rather than mount the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone, after sunset.

All because of a Mujina that used to walk there.

 

The last man who saw the Mujina was an old merchant of the Kyobashi quarter, who died about thirty years ago. This is the story, as he told it:—

One night, at a late hour, he was hurrying up the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, when he perceived a woman crouching by the moat, all alone, and weeping bitterly. Fearing that she intended to drown herself, he stopped to offer her any assistance or consolation in his power. She appeared to be a slight and graceful person, handsomely dressed; and her hair was arranged like that of a young girl of good family. “O-jochu,” [1] he exclaimed, approaching her,—”O-jochu, do not cry like that!… Tell me what the trouble is; and if there be any way to help you, I shall be glad to help you.” (He really meant what he said; for he was a very kind man.) But she continued to weep,—hiding her face from him with one of her long sleeves. “O-jochu,” he said again, as gently as he could,—”please, please listen to me!… This is no place for a young lady at night! Do not cry, I implore you!—only tell me how I may be of some help to you!” Slowly she rose up, but turned her back to him, and continued to moan and sob behind her sleeve. He laid his hand lightly upon her shoulder, and pleaded:—”O-jochu!—O-jochu!—O-jochu!… Listen to me, just for one little moment!… O-jochu!—O-jochu!”… Then that O-jochu turned around, and dropped her sleeve, and stroked her face with her hand;—and the man saw that she had no eyes or nose or mouth,—and he screamed and ran away.

Up Kii-no-kuni-zaka he ran and ran; and all was black and empty before him. On and on he ran, never daring to look back; and at last he saw a lantern, so far away that it looked like the gleam of a firefly; and he made for it. It proved to be only the lantern of an itinerant soba-seller, [2] who had set down his stand by the road-side; but any light and any human companionship was good after that experience; and he flung himself down at the feet of the soba-seller, crying out, “Ah!—aa!!—aa!!!”…

“Kore! kore!” roughly exclaimed the soba-man. “Here! what is the matter with you? Anybody hurt you?”

“No—nobody hurt me,” panted the other,—”only… Ah!—aa!”

“—Only scared you?” queried the peddler, unsympathetically. “Robbers?”

“Not robbers,—not robbers,” gasped the terrified man… “I saw… I saw a woman—by the moat;—and she showed me… Ah! I cannot tell you what she showed me!”…

“He!  Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?” cried the soba-man, stroking his own face—which therewith became like unto an Egg… And, simultaneously, the light went out.

 

 

 [1] O-jochu (“honorable damsel”), a polite form of address used in speaking to a young lady whom one does not know.

 [2] Soba is a preparation of buckwheat, somewhat resembling vermicelli.

 

“Mujina” from Kwaidan, by Lafcadio Hearn

(footnotes are Hearn’s originals)

 

Kwaidan was published in 1904, shortly before Hearn died.  It seems strange that his footnotes do not include a definition for “mujina” – the uninformed reader is likely to conclude that it is the faceless apparition, not some mischievous shape-shifting critter.

In another of his stories – “Common Sense” from Kotto, in which a priest is tricked with a vision of the Fugen Bosatsu and saved by a hunter – Hearn specifically states that the goblinry was the work of a badger.

 

In Japanese folklore, shape shifting is attributed to three animals – foxes, cats (under certain conditions) and raccoon dogs.  Hearn’s “mujina” and “badger” undoubtably refer to the raccoon dog.

 

A shape-shifting mujina by Toriyama Sekien. I personally think it looks more like a cat…

I had originally intended this to be a post about the raccoon dog, or tanuki, but while doing some background research I realized that simply clearing up the name would be a post in itself.

 

Previously I mentioned overlapping and crossover between dialectal names of raccoon dogs and badgers.  Here is probably a good point for clear definition.

 

Racoon dog or tanuki (Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus) – a member of the family that includes dogs, wolves and foxes.  The raccoon dog has five digits on its front paws and four on its rear paws.  It is not, despite its English name, related to raccoons.  The modern Japanese name is hondo tanuki.

 

Badger (Meles meles anakuma) – a member of the weasel family.  It has five digits on both its front and rear paws.  Its modern Japanese name is Nihon anaguma.

 

Both animals are of similar size and build, both live in holes (the badger preferring to burrow, while the raccoon dog prefers rock crags, hollow logs or burrows dug by other animals), and both hibernate in winter (the raccoon dog being the only member of the dog family to do so).  They share similar dietary habits, although the raccoon dog is less picky.  They also both have dark patches forming a “mask” around their eyes – the badger’s “mask” consists of two vertical stripes, while the raccoon dog’s being more of a “Zorro mask” – and both are primarily nocturnal.  It is not hard to see how the two could be confused.

 

Depending on the region, mujina ( or the older ) could be used to describe either animal, or loosely, both!

A mujina according to the Wakansansaizue

I found a story of a 1924 court case involving the illegal hunting of raccoon dogs.  The defendant was declared not guilty because his understanding was that it was illegal to hunt mujina after March 1st, but not illegal to hunt raccoon dogs.

Even today in parts of Tochigi, the raccoon dog is known as mujina and the badger is known as tanuki.  And in other regions, the term is used to refer to the civet.

 

The masked palm civet (Paguma larvata) is something of an enigma itself.  It appears to be an introduced species, but some scholars believe it to be native.  Its local name is hakubishin (白鼻芯).  It has a slighter build than either the raccoon dog or badger, and is more cat-like in appearance, but still bears some resemblance.

 

Further confusing the issue (as if it isn’t already confusing enough) is another old term, mami ().  Mami can refer to mujina, meaning that it could be either a raccoon dog or a badger; however, it has also been used in reference to Japan’s two varieties of flying squirrel!

 

A mami according to the Wakansansaizue. It looks like a mujina to me…

A mami from the Kyokahyakumonogatari. I find this deptiction to most closely resemble the raccoon dog.

“Will the REAL mami please stand up?” The raccoon dog, badger, giant Japanese flying squirrel and masked palm civet have all been known as “mujina” or “mami”.

Furthermore, the ideograms for writing these names may have obscure older or secondary meanings.  The character for raccoon dog () traces its roots to China and refers to a wild cat.  (Is this the reason for shape-shifting to be attributed to cats in a more urbanized 17th century?)

The character for mami () can also mean a kind of wild boar.  It also turns up in the names of several supernatural beings.

 

A mami attacking travellers at dusk. This version seems to resemble a civet.

Hearn produced several chapters on singing insects, dragonflies, butterflies, frogs, folklore and mythology.  I’m sure that the subject of raccoon dogs, badgers, mujina and mami could have provided him with more than enough material for a small volume.

All images are public domain, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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