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Deer a pest said best served as local delicacy

To reduce the damage done to the environment by birds and other animals, major security company Alsok began a monitoring service this summer in which people helping hunters are notified by email when something lands in their traps.

Certified hunters have been setting traps to catch boar, deer and other pesky animals and then selling the trapped animals, but checking the traps is usually done by local residents.

Securing such manpower is not easy in mountainous areas, where young people are scarce.

Alsok began selling a monitoring device Aug. 1 that sends an email to nearby residents when an animal is ensnared.

“We thought the sensor technology we developed in our security business would be useful for vermin control,” Kiichi Fukuda of Alsok said.

The device costs ¥95,000. Even though it is expensive, the firm has received inquiries from municipal governments around the country, he said.

The number of animals trapped is expected to rise thanks to the service, so the next challenge to address will be what to do with the meat.

Wild boar is considered a delicacy and the meat is often sold to high-class restaurants.

Not so with venison, however. Only 20 to 30 percent of deer meat makes it to human dinner tables, according to estimates.

The best way to increase consumption of venison is to make it available commercially so companies can sell it for profit.

The meat of Ezo “shika,” deer from Hokkaido, is more popular than the Honshu venison.

Hideharu Ishizaki, who operates the Ezo Shi Cafe in the Sangenjaya district in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, said deer from Hokkaido have more meat than their Honshu counterparts.

Some 10 to 15 kg of meat can be utilized for food from a Honshu deer, whereas the typical Hokkaido deer yields 25 to 40 kg. This makes the meat of Hokkaido deer, which can regularly be found in supermarkets across the prefecture, about ¥1,000 cheaper per kilogram.

When Ishizaki was studying forest science at Hokkaido University, he witnessed first-hand the damage done to forests by deer.

“When I finished writing the thesis for my master’s degree, the forest in Akan National Park, which was the subject of my research, had been eaten away by deer. The forest had been conserved with great care for decades, but it was totally destroyed very quickly,” he claimed.

After graduation, he landed a job at a major consulting firm, then started his own business in 2010 as a consultant on vermin control for local governments as he was looking for work where he could deal with deer.

He operates the Ezo Shi Cafe in his spare time — it is open only on Fridays — to promote deer as a food source.

Based in Tanba, Hyogo Prefecture, Tanba Hime Momiji processes and sells deer meat. President Masao Yanagawase is a former chief of the industry and economy department in the Tanba Municipal Government. He founded the firm with his friend, Shinkichi Maekawa, in 2006 after learning about venison processing in Hokkaido.

Now in its seventh year, Tanba Hime Momiji may finally turn a profit as it has worked hard to cultivate demand from restaurants and retailers.

Masahito Yamazaki, director of Mitaya Sohonke, which processes and sells high-quality meat, including ham and sausage, joined Yanagawase and Maekawa in their mission to promote venison.

Yamazaki developed cuts and sausage using meat from the animal’s thighs and shanks, which were not in great demand. He perfected the taste and texture of the products and began selling them in March 2012.

In addition, Maekawa founded EG Cycle, which makes and sells dog food containing venison. Even though it retails for more than regular dog chow, sales are steadily increasing, he said.

Hokkaido and Hyogo are considered the leaders in consumption of venison. Their prefectural governments have created sanitary guidelines and provide support to businesses that trade in deer meat.

Advance Co., which operates a chain of restaurants in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture, began offering deer curry for ¥880, more expensive than regular curry, in May 2010.

Advance is a franchisee of curry restaurant chain CoCo Ichibanya.

“I was thinking about how I could develop products as a franchisee when I learned about vermin damage in Shiga Prefecture,” Advance President Yosuke Okajima said.

Although he secured a supply of venison from a hunters’ association, Advance’s biggest challenge was taste. Venison contains a lot of iron and coming up with dishes that taste good was a challenge, he said.

“We went through trial and error until our employees — who don’t like liver — approved the taste,” Okajima said.

At first, Advance began selling its deer curry at only two outlets, but last November it increased the number to 12.

By the end of September, the company had used an amount of meat equivalent to about 1,300 deer.

Outside of the business world, the nonprofit organization Companions in Metasequoia Forest, which promotes outdoor activities in Gujo, Gifu Prefecture, is advocating consumption of venison in rural communities.

The NPO set up the group Inoshikacho to hunt deer and other pesky animals and maintain nature in mountainous areas.

Go Nagayoshi of the NPO obtained a hunting license, lends traps to farmers and shoots any trapped animals.

Inoshikacho uses the meat from these animals to make jerky, which is then sold.

Mari Hayashi, who operates the Ai deer cooking school in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, is another promoter of deer meat. The name “Ai deer” connotes “idea” and “love deer.”

“I hear Queen Elizabeth has deer meat soup when she is sick,” Hayashi said, adding she has been busy teaching people how to develop good venison recipes.

There are problems, however, with making venison viable.

One is that the meat is not always available, unlike beef or pork. Also, the quality of venison deteriorates unless hunters or butchers bleed the carcasses as soon as the deer is killed.

If a deer is shot in the stomach, the bullet activates germs in internal organs that then contaminate the meat.

A deer stuck in a trap for a long time can also shed some of its meat.

To tackle these issues, sport hunters must learn correct field-dressing techniques.

It is also necessary to train people about wild animals and turn them into wildlife management experts.

“We should create groups of experts who can do everything from hunting to forest management,” Gifu University professor Masatsugu Suzuki said. These professional groups could help educate amateur hunters, which in turn would help expand the supply of venison.

The most important thing is to establish a system that is not arbitrary because, as Suzuki points out, there has been no vision as to how to manage wild animals in Japan.

This section, which will appear every second and fourth Monday, features translated stories on hot national topics from the monthly magazine Wedge. This week’s story appears Tuesday because there was no paper Monday due to the press holiday. The original article was published in the November issue. To see Wedge’s website, go to http://wedge.ismedia.jp/