Traps planned to corral pesky Tokyo crows

by Tsutomu Shida

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government plans to launch a sweeping operation this month against the capital’s crows, notorious for attacking piles of garbage and even small animals.

Tokyo officials will set up wood-and-wire cages at some 100 locations in the capital, including parks, in a campaign to crack down on the birds.

The cages will be 3 x 4 x 3 meters in dimension, and will have wiring at the entrance designed to catch a crow’s feathers after it enters the cage and prevent it from getting out.

But the Wild Bird Society of Japan said the operation will not be effective without addressing the cause of the problem — the bags of household garbage that are piled up at designated places in residential and entertainment districts on certain days for collection.

Metro officials organized a project team in September to tackle the crow issue, recruiting 18 members from various divisions, including a veterinarian and a landscape gardener.

The team submitted a report to Gov. Shintaro Ishihara at the end of September outlining its plan to catch crows by using the wood-and-wire cages, as well as proposing that garbage be collected at night.

Tokyo had about 14,000 crows in 1996, but the number rose to about 21,000 in 1999, according to the Institute for Nature Study at the National Science Museum.

The metro government has received complaints from residents about crows attacking people and tearing up garbage bags in their search for food. A rise in the amount of garbage and the disappearance of goshawks and owls — natural enemies of crows — from the Tokyo area are cited as reasons for the increase in the crow population.

Ueno Zoo, in particular, has been the scene of countless attacks by crows for about 10 years. Zoo officials said crows have scraped off the fur of deer and tapir and carried away baby prairie dogs.

“The situation is abnormal,” said Ueno Zoo breeder Masato Yoshihara. “The rise (in the number of crows) is destroying the balance of the ecosystem and threatening animals.”

He said the metro government should try to catch crows, but at the same time work out measures to reduce the volume of garbage to bring the situation back to normal.

A Wild Bird Society official said the traps will not be effective for snaring strong crows and that only young and weak crows could be caught.

The group called on the metro government to abandon the plan, but officials are set to go ahead with it, saying that over 60 percent of Tokyo residents support them.

Keisuke Ueda, a professor at Rikkyo University, said: “People’s feelings toward crows vary. Some people give them bread, while there are others who do not even want to look at a crow’s eyes.”

There were times, he said, when Japanese people were more in harmony with crows and the birds appeared in children’s songs.

They could probably return to a happy coexistence if people would cut down on the volume of garbage they generate, he added.