Wild bears become more than an inconvenience, invading a small Japanese town on the northern island of Hokkaido in search of food and increasing the risk of deadly encounters with humans.
As bear sightings and growing danger, employees in the city of Takikawa, a population of 40,000, turned to a mechanical solution.
In September and October, officers installed a “Wolf Monster” near a residential neighborhood and another in a field in a suburban area to keep wild bears in the bay.
The mechanical wolf, originally developed by machine manufacturer Ohta Seiki, is 2.6 feet tall and four feet long, the manufacturer said. But when planted high in a field, it seems more than a coincidence for a wild bear.
That way, the bears wouldn’t get used to the sound, according to Shuji Sasaki, director of Wolf Kamuy, the company responsible for selling and maintaining the mechanical wolf.
Takikawa’s gambit seems to have been a great success, said Hiroki Kondo, a city official. No more sightings of roaring bears have been reported since the robo-wolves appeared.
According to official data, bear sightings in the wild have reached a five-year high in Japan in recent months. As of April, 13,670 reports have been submitted. A number of attacks this year left residents wounded or killed, and bears shot. Recent attacks, including two fatal ones, led to an emergency government meeting last month to tackle the threat, local media reported.
Brown bears have rarely been seen in Takikawa – about one every few years, but residents have reported about 10 sightings in the city this year, Mr Condo said. On September 14, some residents told city officials they could “see a bear from the window” at their home. Three days earlier, the city government had received reports of a bear in the same area, according to local reports. This led to the deployment of mechanical wolves.
Acorn shortages and shrinking rural populations – which serve as a buffer between the desert and more populated urban areas – are among the factors driving wild bears to other areas to seek food before hibernation.
Yuji Ota, chief executive of Ohta Seiki, told Japan’s public broadcaster NHK last month that the robo-wolf could help humans and bears “coexist” by chasing animals back into the mountains.
“We want to inform the bears: ‘Human settlements are not where you live,'” he told the Mainichi newspaper.
Monster Wolf was originally launched in 2016 to protect agricultural land and crops. Since then, deer, bears and monkeys have been filmed bouncing as mechanical invention twists. About 70 wolves are used across the country, from Hokkaido to the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, where they protect pineapple farms from wildlife.
As for the real wolves, they are thought to have disappeared in Japan for more than a century.