The rapidly expanding deer and wild boar population in Japan is having a serious impact on the nation’s agriculture and ecosystems. The population of deer was estimated at 3.25 million and that of wild boars at 880,000 across the country as of 2011. The government has proposed an amendment to the law on animal protection, calling for efforts to reduce the number of wild animals to appropriate levels. The challenge is how to secure the manpower and other resources to meet the targets.
The deer population has sharply increased as many of the nation’s aging hunters have retired. The government also believes that their habitat has expanded as a widening area of Japan’s farmland has been abandoned with the decline in the number of farmers and that changes in ecosystems due to global warming has reduced the number of deer that die of starvation in winter.
These animals’ growing numbers have caused severe damage to agricultural production, which is estimated to reach ¥20 billion annually. Signs of the impact on ecosystems have also been found in many of Japan’s national parks, where trees have withered after their bark was eaten by deer, alpine plants have been consumed and mudslides have taken place in areas where vegetation has been stripped away by foraging animals. To prevent further damage, these animal populations need to be controlled.
In recent years, emergency measures have been taken mainly at the initiative of municipalities to contain the damage through intensive efforts to hunt or capture wild animals and to erect fences to stop them from entering farmlands. But these efforts have done little to reduce crop damage.
In December, the central government set a target of halving the deer and boar populations within 10 years. Similar targets were also set for Japanese macaque monkeys and great cormorants. An amendment to the law on protection of wild animals, now under deliberation in the Diet, adds population control of these animals as the purpose of the legislation.
Prefectural governments will be tasked to come up with plans to control the number of wild animals and birds whose population is sharply rising or whose habitat is expanding. The amendment will authorize nighttime hunting in local government-organized programs and creation of a system to certify businesses that engage in organized hunting.
Controlling the population of these animals will be a challenge. The deer population outside of Hokkaido, which stands at 2.61 million, increases by roughly 20 percent each year. Only 10 percent of that population are either hunted or captured annually.
To start reducing their population, the number to be hunted must be more than doubled and such efforts must be kept up each year. That will require more manpower and budgetary resources than currently spent.
Under the amendment, national and prefectural governments are to organize intensive programs to hunt the animals across municipal borders. Prefectural governors will certify local hunting associations, nonprofit organizations or security firms to engage in the endeavor. Sufficient budgetary allocation will be needed to ensure that such efforts will be aided by people with expert knowledge.
In addition to hunting the animals, measures to separate their habitats from human communities and farmlands — such as installing fences, patrols and making sure that surplus produce that will attract animals is not left on farms — would also be effective.
Local communities should take the lead in such efforts with the aim of improving the state of coexistence between them and the surrounding wildlife.