Ezo deer
Some mammals in Japan like bears hibernate in the winter; other like squirrels, ermine, weasels, foxes and hares do not.

Acorns are a primary source of food for a wide variety of animals: bears, deer, snow monkeys, wild boars, squirrels as well as a variety of birds. Acorns are critical for providing both hibernating and non-hibernating mammals with nourishment to give them layers of fat they need to get through the winter. Many animals suffer in years when acorn production is low.

Good Websites and Sources: Bears: Asiatic Black Bear ; Wikipedia article on the Asiatic Black Bear Wikipedia ; 2009 Bear Attack in Japan ; Japan Bear Network ; Wikipedia article on a famous Brown Bear Attack that Killed Seven People in 1915 ; Brown Bear Page ; Wild Boars in Japan: Japan Times article ; Academic Paper on Wild Boars in Japan ; Serow Animal Picture Archives animalpicturesarchive ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia


Good Sites on Wild Animals: Animal Info ;Japan Animals Blog / ; Hub Pages on Wild Animals in Japan ; ARKive (do a Search for Japan or the Animal Species You Want) Animal Picture Archives (do a Search for the Animal Species You Want) animalpicturesarchive

Deer in Japan

Deer were an important source of food for the ancient Japanese. In some places deer achieved divine status. They were often depicted on “haniwa”, ceramic figures placed around grave mounds, dating from A.D. 3rd to 6th centuries. In many places sacred deer have been kept as animals familiar ot local kami.

The deer found in Japan are shika (or sika, Japanese deer). They are a forest deer closely related to deer found in East Asia from Siberia south through China to Vietnam and Taiwan. These deer are divided into more than a dozen different regional subspecies, of which seven are found in Japan. The largest is the ezo-jika, which lives in Hokkaido. Honshu and Kyushu-Shikoku have heir own subspecies. Unique subspecies live on Tsushima, Yakushima and Magesima Islands. Yakujika is a kind of deer native to Yakushima Island.

Shika are browsers that live primarily in forests — but are often seen roaming around farmland — and feed on tree leaves, fruits, flowers, buds, acorns and nuts. They have large eyes and strange haunting whistle. Adults can have large stately antlers. White hairs on the rumps can flare out like chrysanthemums when the animals are excited.

Deer Problems in Japan

Yakushima deer
The deer population in Japan has been growing rapidly since a ban on hunting them was put in place in 1976. Without any natural predators deer populations have exploded. For millennia the deer population were kept in balance by wolves. When the last wolves were hunted to extinction in the early 20th century deer population were also reduced by extensive human hunting and their numbers became dangerous low. When human hunting began to fall off the deer quickly revived and it wasn’t long before there were too many of them and they became pests

On Hokkaido hunting sika deer was banned in 1888. With no natural predators to keep them in check, their numbers grew to several hundred thousand in east Hokkaido alone. When the animals came to be viewed as a pest hunting was allowed to cull the animals.

Deer were responsible for 20.8 percent of the ¥18.6 billion in crop damage caused by animals in fiscal 2005. They have been blamed for damaging forests and killing trees by stripping off their bark and contributing to problems like erosion and flooding by eating away grass and shrubs that hold the soil in place. There is some discussion of relaxing hunting restrictions, carrying out occasional cullings and even reintroducing wolves from South Korea to bring deer numbers down.

Deer also cause a lot of problems for Japan’s railway companies. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Hokkaido Railway Co. trains were involved in 2,029 incidents’such as collisions and emergency stops — with Yezo shika deer in fiscal 2009. That figure is about 1.5 times the 1,317 incidents reported in fiscal 2006.The number of deer-linked dramas reported by Kyushu Railway Co. jumped from 139 in fiscal 2006 to 259 in fiscal 2009. And Central Japan Railway Co. has had to deal with 479 collisions with deer and other animals in fiscal 2009, up from 271 in fiscal 2005.” [Source: December 11, 2010]

“On a single day in October, nationwide freight train operator Japan Freight Railway Co. reported four collisions with animals on the Sanyo Line, which runs between the border of Hyogo and Okayama prefectures and in Hokkaido. Long-haul trains operating between Tokyo and Fukuoka stations on that day were delayed by as long as eight hours due to inspections after the incidents.”

Dealing with the Deer Problems in Japan

Large-scale deer culls are being carried on Yakushima island and in other places because of the damage the deer cause to local flora. According to the Environment Ministry, about 250,000 deer were captured through control efforts in fiscal 2008, up from 190,000 in fiscal 2005. The ministry offered several possible reasons for the apparent population increase: 1) Deer have expanded their grazing range in recent years due to less snow; 2) Abandoned farmland in mountainous regions has been providing good feeding ground for the animals, which has encouraged more breedingl 3) Fewer people are hunting, a change attributed to the aging of the population.

Deer have become such a dangers for trains in the Wakayama areas that railway workers have placed lion feces along the tracks in an effort to keep them away. Frozen lion feces have been provided for the task by a local animal adventure park. On the stretch of track where the feces were placed no deer incidents were reported for several months. A similar concoction made of diluted of lion feces was used on the Moriaka branch of the East Japan Railway and was shown to deter tanukis as well as deer.

The ploy was effective at first, but deer gradually became used to the smell and became unafraid. The tendency for rain to wash the lion droppings away proved to be another flaw in the plan, but not the last. "It smells terrible," a JR East spokesperson told the Yomiuri Shimbun . "And it's not effective enough to be worth putting up with, so we gave up on the plan."

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported, “Now, the company is reducing the speed of trains traveling through accident-prone areas at night, when it is most difficult for drivers to spot deer. For about 10 years, JR Hokkaido drivers have been trying to scare deers off by flicking the trains' headlights off and on. Two-meter-tall stainless-steel wire fences have been erected to keep animals off the tracks, but only along 38 kilometers of 2,500 kilometers of track.

An efforts is being made to market meats taken from deer killed as pests. Meat from deer killed in Hokkaido is sold in the Tokyo area at restaurants and hotels. The owner of a business sells it told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “After tasting our meat, many people say its is more tender and not as pungent as they thought it would be. It seems many people have only eaten venison that wasn’t processed properly and retained a gamy aroma.”

In December 2007, a deer in Nara Park managed to get a purse wrapped around it abdomen, A woman was feeding the deer a cracker and her handbag — with her purse and money inside — became entangled in the animal’s antlers and somehow slid downs its body and lodged between its two pairs of legs. Efforts to catch deer were unsuccessful. The deer was finally shot with a tranquilizer gun. The woman got all of her possessions back.

Schemes by Hunters and Chefs to Deal with Expanding Deer Population

In June 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “There has been an increase in efforts to develop effective ways to cull the Japanese deer that are damaging the agricultural and forestry industries in Nagano Prefecture. The deer's habitat has spread from the Southern Japanese Alps to the Northern Japanese Alps, triggering moves to cull them over a wide area. Authorities are also trying to encourage people to eat more venison. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 12, 2012]

“A hunters association in Azumino in the prefecture embarked on its first deer cull in the Northern Japanese Alps in spring. A member of the association said: "We confirmed they're inhabiting this area. I think it's necessary to deal with this situation." This month, the Environment Ministry will launch a council in cooperation with Nagano, Gifu, Toyama and Niigata prefectures--where the Northern Japanese Alps are located--to develop countermeasures for the spread of deer. They plan to share information about the movements of herds to ensure deer are culled effectively.

“Wildlife cause between about 1.5 billion yen and 1.7 billion yen a year in damage to Nagano Prefecture's agricultural and forestry industries, with about 40 percent caused by deer. In fiscal 2010, there were an estimated 105,000 deer in the prefecture. Additional measures besides hunting, such as traps, are now necessary to effectively cull deer. Additional steps are required because membership in hunting associations has fallen to a quarter of its peak, as hunters retire and fewer people join.

“The Japan Wolf Association has suggested introducing foreign wolves into the Alps that would prey on deer and reduce their numbers. Naoki Maruyama, the association's chairman, said, "[By using wolves] the burden on hunters will be reduced and the ecological system will be protected." However, this method has caused concern, with a ministry official saying, "We're worried the number of wolves could increase to a point where they may pose a threat to people.”

“A group called the Shinshu Gibier Kenkyukai (game study group), which encourages people to eat meals containing game such as deer, was launched in March and became a national body on May 31. Chef Norihiko Fujimi, 40, a member of the group, from Chino in the prefecture, said "If venison consumption increases, it would make hunting profitable and promote the capturing of deer." As venison is low in calories and rich in iron, there are plans to introduce venison in school lunches.


Serows look like a cross between a goat and an antelope. Weighing between 25 and 80 kilograms as adults, they are about a meter in length, stand 70 to 85 centimeters at the shoulder, and have dagger-like horns, mule-like ears, brown, gray, black or white fur and acute vision, hearing and smell. Both males and females have horns. The horns are not shed annually like deer antlers; they are kept all year round. At the base of the horns and under their eyes are special glands that produce smelly secretions that the animals use to mark their territory.

Serow are one of most primitive members of the goat-antelope family. Fossils of an animal remarkably similar to a serow have been found in 35 million year old rocks. The Japanese serow, or “kamoshika”, are endemic to Japan and are closely related to mountain goats, musk ox and chamois. A slightly related but different species of serow lives in Taiwan. They are also closely related to an other specie that ranges cross the Asian mainland from Sumatra to the Himalayas.

Japanese serow eat grass and fresh leaves in the spring and consume the leaves of young fir and hemlock saplings in the winter. They stomp their hooves as a warning to others if they pick up a scent they don’t like such as of hunting dogs. They can escape by fleeing on sheer rock face than would send lesser animals to their death.

Serow have traditionally been hunted with dogs who corner them so hunters can shoot them. Serow have a bad habit of looking back at their pursuers, which gives them time to catch up, rather than just making a run for it. In May 2005, a 74-year-old woman in Yamagata was injured after being attacked by a serow that escaped from a pet house at a primary school. The three-year-old serow hit the woman with its horns.

Serows Make Miraculous Recovery

Serows have been designated as protected species and special natural monument by the Japanese government. They live in the mountains of Kyushu, Honshu and Hokkaido. They have disappeared from the Chugoku region and their numbers are shrinking in Shikoku and Kyushu. In many places though protection has helped their numbers increase.

In September 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Japanese serow, an animal once considered nearly extinct, has made what one expert calls a miraculous recovery. In Ishikawa Prefecture, the serow's habitat is said to have expanded five times from what it was half a century ago, and one of the animals was seen recently in Kanazawa's Chaya district, famous for its geiko community. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 27, 2012]

The expert said it was extremely rare in the world for a once-endangered animal to restore its population in about 50 years. Although the government banned serow hunting in 1925, poachers continued to hunt them until the 1950s as their meat was a source of protein and the fur and antlers a source of income. The serow took to steep mountainous areas to survive.Full-fledged conservation activities started in 1955 and a nationwide crackdown on poaching was launched in 1959. Thanks to these efforts, the area inhabited by the serow doubled by 2003 compared to surveys carried out from 1945 to 1955, the Environment Ministry said.

The ministry also said the population has grown remarkably in the Hokuriku, Chubu and Tohoku regions. Akinori Mizuno, director of the Ishikawa Museum of Natural History, said Japanese serows in Ishikawa Prefecture used to live only in a 300-square-kilometer area around Mt. Haku in 1955. By 2005, the animals had expanded their habitat to a 1,500-square-kilometer area, he said.

They have recently been spotted in satoyama--areas between mountain foothills and arable flat land--close to an urban area of Kanazawa. In May, a Japanese serow was spotted in a parking lot in a Kanazawa sightseeing area, where it made a great effort to escape before being captured by city officials and police officers.

In Kyushu, especially in the mountain range covering part of Kumamoto, Miyazaki and Oita prefectures, the number of Japanese serows are decreasing because of a food shortage, as they have to compete with a sharp increase in Japanese deer, which have a similar diet and stronger reproductive rates.

According to surveys by the three prefectural boards of education, the number of Japanese serows living in the prefectures in fiscal 2003 totaled about 650, a sharp drop from 2,200 in fiscal 1995. The Environment Ministry's red list still designates the Japanese serow in the Kyushu region as endangered. An official of the Oita prefectural board of education said, "We will take conservation measures after studying the actual living conditions of [the animals] and the causes of depopulation.”

Image Sources: 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) Animal Trials 6) Ray Kinnane 7) 8) Japan-Animals blog 9) Wikipedia 10) Hubpages 11) Akita Prefecture site

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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