Japan turns to drones to help elderly hunters combat crop-damaging pests

by

Kyodo

In another downside to rapidly graying Japan, the nation’s active hunters — in decline and aging — are having a hard time keeping up with their hunting dogs that dash after their prey.

That’s a big headache for prefectural governments nationwide that need hunters to go after deer, boars and other animals that cause extensive crop damage.

The small mountain town of Naka, Tokushima Prefecture, is hoping to solve the problem by using drones and tracking devices on dogs to help increasingly frail hunters bag their targets.

In December, the town conducted an experiment using a drone to locate a hunting dog in the mountains. In the experiment, a portable tracking device showed the location of the dog more than 900 meters away on the side of a mountain.

“(The technology) can reduce the difficulty that aged hunters have in tracking their hunting dogs in the mountains,” a town official said.

If aging, gun-toting hunters can keep track of their dogs without having to traipse across large swaths of territory, it becomes much easier for them to shoot their prey.

There are also growing concerns that aging hunters might become involved in shooting accidents.

According to the National Police Agency, there were 52 fatal accidents involving hunting guns across the country between 2006 and 2015, including 25 caused by accidental discharge of weapons and 16 in which hunters mistook people for animals.

In Naka, a man in his 70s accidently shot to death an 82-year-old neighbor while hunting wild monkeys on a farm road. The man was held criminally responsible for the August 2015 killing.

The hunter said at his trial that it was difficult to recognize his neighbor because bamboo leaves hampered his view when he was taking the shot.

An elderly hunter from Tokushima said that “sometimes we need to react quickly to shoot monkeys” because they are agile, suggesting how the tragedy unfolded.

Many municipalities, however, have no choice but to rely on elderly hunters.

According to the Tokushima Prefectural Government, about 2,900 people who obtained or renewed a hunting license in the prefecture in fiscal 2015, less than half the rate in previous years. Of them, nearly 70 percent were aged 60 or older.

There used to be many people who hunted for food or to obtain pelts for leather products, but now the population of hunters, notably younger ones, is declining due partly to the time-consuming process of obtaining and renewing their shooting license, a prefectural official said.

To buck this trend, the prefecture has been organizing workshops where veteran hunters teach students how to use guns and traps.

To help reduce crop damage, the prefecture also established a website with photos of wild animals taken by residents to show the location where the pests were spotted.

“A lack of new hunters and the aging group of current hunters could lead to accidents,” said Naoki Naito, an associate professor at Tokushima University who works to encourage young hunters. “There is an urgent need to create an environment where veterans can pass their skills down to younger generations.”