Our Lives | JAPAN LITE

Uninvited pair of animal invaders leave island in a tizzy

by Amy Chavez

Special To The Japan Times

The most exciting thing to happen at our island’s recent town hall meeting was the delivery of the “Inoshishi Report.” The fact that a wild boar chose to become a resident of our island has unsettled the entire human-to-wild-mammal ratio, which used to be 521-to-0 (unless you count stray cats). The actual “Wild Boar Report” consisted of just two words — “Not yet,” referring to its anticipated capture in a baited cage.

There are no eyewitnesses of the rumored suid, but a few people’s gardens have been ravaged overnight as if they were all-you-can-eat buffets. The local policeman has dusted for cloven hoof prints and continues to collect evidence.

After the meeting, I went up to the village representative who had delivered the Wild Boar Report and asked, “What are you going to do with the animal once you catch it?”

“We’ll take it somewhere so they can kill it and use it for research,” he said.

I winced. This was one of the most egregious cases of murahachibu (village ostracism) I’ve ever heard: Track down the outsider and kill it!

If you’re wondering how the little gormandizer got onto our small island in the middle of the Seto Inland Sea in the first place, then you don’t know much about wild boars. And no, it didn’t take the ferry. Nor did anyone bring it here on a boat and release it as some practical joke.

Nope, it swam here from a neighboring island. The wild boar’s aquatic prowess has enabled it to island-hop in what survives as the last vestige of ancient wild boar tourism.

Despite being accomplished swimmers, however, they possess a bit of the human inclination for indolence when given the choice. In 1999, when the Shimanami Kaido Bridge — which spans nine islands in the Inland Sea — was completed, a stunned public watched as the trotters rerouted their families via the bridge to reach the neighboring islands. The new bridge was a logical choice since they could now cross under any weather conditions and no longer had to wait for calm seas or changing tides. Nor was there an inoshishi surcharge to pay.

The moment the lone boar set hoof on our island, it was the talk of the town. “Kowai!” (“Scary!”) shuddered one old lady after hearing the news. “Mendokusai!” (“What a pain!”) said another. “Kusai!” (Smelly!) scorned one more. Then, in a final attack on the swine celebrity, someone said, “It’s probably pregnant,” as if to suggest that the wild boar family would soon take over the island and perhaps destroy our houses — with explosives. Talk about murahachibu!

And then, a small, timid voice pierced the air, rising above the supremacist banter: “A wild boar? I’d love to see a wild boar on the island.”

That voice was mine. Suddenly, all the women turned their gazes to the ground, the Japanese equivalent to rolling their eyes.

“Amy likes the wild boar,” spoke my neighbor in my defense. A long silence ensued. As unpopular as I had suddenly become, I knew my mother would have been proud.

Being a vegetarian, you might think I’d take sides with the decimated vegetable gardens, but the peculiar absence of wildlife here on Shiraishi Island is one thing that has always perplexed me. No squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks or weasels. Nothing furry, antlered or snouted. And very, very few birds. The once-prosperous blue herons have been largely replaced by crows and hawks battling for territory. There are plenty of lizards and snakes but I’ve never seen a mouse. I bet the hawks and stray cats have, though.

The natural shores of our island have been replaced by either cement sea walls or imported sand from China. The rest of the sea is overfished and tainted by pollution. This cannot be a healthy ecosystem. And it isn’t. Our few kilometers of forests are being overtaken by kudzu weeds, the pine bark beetle is killing our trees at an unprecedented rate, and the sea is full of garbage.

So it was with great excitement that I cheered the latest news: A deer has swum over to our shores! The antlered quadruped had been spotted walking elegantly down the beach on the Chinese sand at sunset. It then disappeared up into the forest.

This time someone had seen it swim over from a neighboring island. But again, our populace was not impressed. They considered this kudzu-nibbling animal to be scary, smelly — and probably pregnant. And surely, these “messengers of the gods” would be a threat to the vegetable gardens.

Wild animals can be destructive and their interests are often adverse to ours. But they are requisite for a healthy ecosystem. While wild pigs scarf down our vegetable gardens, they are also eating insect larvae and snails and are credited for keeping at bay destructive pests such as sawflies, which can destroy entire forests. Their rooting about contributes to plant species diversity. Deer, while also dining on our rosebushes and persimmons, eat twigs and fallen leaves as well as nuts, grasses, ivy and other foliage.

When an indigenous wild boar and a deer show up offering diversity and hope to repair our ecosystem, we should be honored that they’d even consider taking up residence here. Shouldn’t we seek a more symbiotic relationship with wildlife rather than just eradicating anything that makes our lives inconvenient?

My worst fear is that our addlepated island residents, so used to controlling everything that happens on this 3 square kilometers of the world, have also forgotten the joys of nature and how its beauty is a reflection of our own humanity.

Let’s learn to live with nature rather than fighting it. Or worse, destroying it.

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