Unfazed by `The Cove' Taiji's Fishermen Prepare to Resume Dolphin Hunt

Visitors look at dolphins
Visitors look at dolphins in a pool at the Taiji Whale Museum in Taiji Town, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. Photographer: Yuzuru Yoshikawa/Bloomberg
A flower is put on a barricade
A flower is put on a barricade in front of a road leading into the cove for practices "oikomi.", a method of hunting in which dolphins are herded into a bay for slaughter, in Taiji Town, Wakayama Prefecture. Photographer: Yuzuru Yoshikawa/Bloomberg
Kazutaka Sangen
Kazutaka Sangen, mayor of Taiji, speaks during an interview in Taiji Town, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. Photographer: Masatsugu Horie/Bloomberg
"The Cove."
A diver swims with dolphins in this undated film still from "The Cove." Source: Sundance Film Festival via Bloomberg
Fishermen in Taiji, whose annual dolphin slaughter was depicted in the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” say they will resume the hunt next week because the 400-year-old tradition is the foundation of their industry.
“We have no intention to stop hunting dolphins,” Miyato Sugimori, administrative chief of the Taiji Town Fisheries Association, said in an Aug. 25 interview. “Our young fishermen can’t continue to live in this town without the hunt.”
Of Japan’s annual quota of 20,000 dolphins, about 1,500 are killed or sold to aquariums by fishermen in the town in Wakayama prefecture, south of Osaka. Taiji’s practice of “oikomi,” a method of hunting in which dolphins are herded into a bay for slaughter, drew worldwide criticism after the documentary was released.
“It’s a horrific way to kill them,” said Sakae Hemmi, a spokeswoman for Elsa Nature Conservancy, a Japanese environmental protection group. “Even if they let them go, the structure of the dolphins’ group is disrupted.”
According to the Japan Fisheries Agency, Taiji is the only place in Japan that practices “oikomi.” After herding the dolphins into the bay, the fishermen impale them with harpoons.
Driving a spear into the dolphin’s brain can kill the mammal in as little as two seconds and is the most humane way to conduct the slaughter, said Sugimori, who is seen in “The Cove” observing the filmmakers. Sugimori, 59, said the hunt is needed to make the local fishing industry viable.
“If we relied solely on other forms of fishing, our annual income would be about 2 million yen ($24,000), which is not enough to live on,” said Sugimori. About 6 percent of the town’s population is involved in fisheries, he said.
Cows, Kangaroos
Japan exported 56 live dolphins to countries including China, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey in 2008, receiving an average of 5.2 million yen per dolphin, according to Elsa Nature Conservancy, which cited Ministry of Finance statistics. Dolphin meat sells for about 1,000 yen a kilogram in Taiji, Sugimori said. The lowest grade of tuna sold in a local supermarket costs three times as much.
“Westerners eat cows, Australians eat kangaroos,” Sugimori said. “Japan, including Taiji, is surrounded by ocean, so we eat things from the sea which include fish, whales and dolphins. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Sugimori said if dolphin hunting was banned, young people may choose office jobs that pay more rather than join his association, which has an average age of 68. The association filed for bankruptcy and was restructured in February 2007, according to Tokyo Shoko Research.
‘Mental Capacity’
Alex Sarkissian, 17, a Canadian student who was visiting the Taiji Whale Museum, said he didn’t know dolphin hunting was a Japanese tradition.
“I like dolphins, and I don’t see why they would slaughter them,” he said. “I can’t compare dolphins and cows. They’re not on the same level of mental capacity.”
The cove depicted in the documentary can be reached by swimming for 10 minutes from Kujirahama, or “whale beach.” Surrounded by walls of rocks and trees, the 20-meter shoreline is littered with empty drink bottles and fishing rope. A security camera stands guard atop a metal pole.
Taiji’s mayor, Kazutaka Sangen, said dolphins remain an important resource for the town of 3,500 people. The “oikomi” hunt lasts from September to February.
“There are no other industries here. We can’t harvest rice or vegetables and there’s very little fresh water,” said Sangen, 62. “If we couldn’t hunt dolphins and whales, this town would have died out a long time ago.”
‘Staged Scenes’
Sangen said he gives a “zero” to “The Cove” because it wasn’t factual. He said the filmmakers staged certain scenes and deliberately provoked confrontations with fishermen to create entertaining footage.
Asked about the filming, Louie Psihoyos, the documentary’s director, said no parts of “The Cove” were staged.
“We spent two days of negotiations with the mayor’s office in order to get their side of the story,” Psihoyos wrote today in an email. “They decided not to cooperate because they feared any exposure of what was going on would compromise their business.”
“The Cove” began limited release in Japan in July and had lower-than-expected box office sales, according to Takeshi Kato, president of Unplugged Inc., the Japanese distributor.
Atsushi Matsumura, manager of the Seventh Art Theater, a cinema in Osaka that screened the film for six weeks, said about 5,000 people came to see it.
“As a documentary, I thought it was second rate,” said Matsumura. The cinema received protest letters and phone calls prior to screening the film, he said.
“We screened ‘The Cove’ because we wanted audiences to watch it and decide for themselves.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Adam Le in Osaka at; Masatsugu Horie in Osaka at


Cool Photo Blog From Japan

Men chase nine-meter mechanized whale

In this photo taken on Aug. 14, 2010, men on a rowboat chase a nine-meter (30-foot) mechanized whale during the annual whaling festival in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture in western Japan in a re-creation of the old whale hunts, when hundreds of men in dozens of boats would set out with knives and harpoons. The ancient village has a long and complex relationship with the dolphin. In early September, the waters of this same cove will turn blood red, as it becomes a holding pen for the annual dolphin hunts.

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Japanese mayor defends dolphin hunts

Japanese mayor defends dolphin hunts

TAIJI, Japan – As children in inner tubes bob on the calm waters of this small ocean cove, a 550-pound (250-kilogram) dolphin zips through the crowd in pursuit of raw squid tossed out by a trainer.

Niru, a Risso's dolphin caught locally, seems unbothered by all the people and the squeals of surprise and delight. The cove is packed — it's a bright summer Sunday and hundreds of families have come.

But in two weeks, the waters of the cove will turn blood red, as it becomes a holding pen for annual hunts that capture and kill hundreds of dolphins each year.

The ancient village of Taiji, portrayed in the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove," has a long and complex relationship with the dolphin. The film portrays the dolphin hunts as a sinister secret, cruel and dangerous because the the animals have high mercury levels.

But the hunts are no secret in this village, where Risso meat sells for $10 a pound at the local supermarket. And the villagers are deeply and stubbornly proud of their centuries-old tradition, whatever Hollywood says.

"We will pass down the history of our ancestors to the next generation, preserve it. We have a strong sense of pride about this," Mayor Kazutaka Sangen told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview. "So we are not going to change our plans for the town based on the criticism of foreigners."

For Sangen, dolphins are no more special than other animals, and fishermen have the right to start their hunts when the season opens again Sept. 1. He emphasized that he didn't speak directly for Taiji's dolphin hunters, who number about 60 and hunt with the permission of the national and prefectural governments.

But to activists like Ric O'Barry, the "Flipper" trainer-cum-activist who stars in "The Cove," dolphins deserve to be protected because they are different from other animals.

"Dolphins have a brain larger than the human brain. They're self-aware, like people and like the great apes. They're not fish, chicken, cows, pigs or other domesticated animals," he said while in Tokyo to promote the movie in June.

The dolphins caught in the region are not endangered. In 2008, the prefecture caught 1,857 dolphins, far less than other parts of Japan, which allows about 20,000 to be killed each year. Taiji fishermen use a method called "oikomi" to hunt dolphins, banging on metal poles in their boats to create a wall of sound and herd them to shore, where they are harpooned for meat or captured alive as show animals.

Nestled around a small bay, the tiny town of 3,500 is suffused with a fierce independence. It has refused to join surrounding villages as they merge, and ignores criticism as it seeks to become an international whaling and cetacean research center.

This was the birthplace of Japanese whaling in the 1600s, and shrines to the animals dot the streets, with the history celebrated in a series of annual festivals. While dolphins can be playmates, they are primarily seen as big game animals — an idea many foreigners find difficult to stomach.

The Cove's success has thrust the town and its traditions into the international spotlight, with much of the attention negative. Local fishermen decline comment, saying their words have too often been twisted by foreign reporters.

The movie depicts a team of environmentalists with hidden cameras as they capture bloody footage of dolphins being slaughtered. The fishermen who try to block the film crew are presented as rough goons.

Sangen and other officials say that during hunts, the cove is the equivalent of a slaughterhouse, a gory place by nature and usually closed off from public view anywhere in the world.

"We just hope that this issue can be viewed in a more realistic way," says Katsutoshi Mihara, head of the town council.

Taiji's pride was on display at its annual whaling festival earlier this month, when two sleek rowboats full of men in red loincloths chased a 30-foot (nine-meter) mechanized whale around the main bay, its artificial blowhole shooting up jets of water. It is a re-creation of the old hunts, when 200 men in dozens of boats would set out with knives and harpoons to kill a whale, young daredevils diving into the sea to prove themselves against an angry leviathan 1,000 times their weight.

Crowds line the dock to watch the "hunt," then everyone settles in for a night of fireworks, which include giant sparkly whale and dolphin outlines.

Hayato Sakurai, a history curator at the local whale museum, says the town's past links the issue to its pride and sense of duty, though few are directly involved today.

Taiji residents also carry their history in their last names, which many Japanese adopted in the 1870s, usually based on their occupation. Twenty-five percent of the town is still named Ryono, which means "sea field" and was often taken by whaleboat rowers. Descendants of harpooners are named Seiko, after their pursuit boats, and lookouts became Tomi, literally "far seeing."

The Japanese debut of "The Cove" this summer turned into a battle over free speech, with nationalist groups intimidating cinemas into canceling showings even while intellectuals urged them not to back down.

The accuracy of the documentary, and the context under which people agreed to appear in it, have been hotly debated in Japan. Unlike the U.S. version, most faces are blurred out, with disclaimers added that those interviewed are not protesting or supporting dolphin issues.

Many in the town say they are unhappy with how they are portrayed. Councilman Hisato Ryono, who talks about mercury levels in the dolphins, says he was deceived about the film's content beforehand.

Louie Psihoyos, the American director, said that he was open about the subject of the film with those he interviewed, and complaints have only come after its success and the accompanying backlash against the town.

"It wasn't a film on dog walking. There is only one reason you go to Taiji — that's to film dolphin hunting. That's what we were doing," he told The Associated Press.

The success of the movie has emboldened activists and deepened their pockets. This year, the usual motley assortment of local English teachers, surfers and save-the-dolphin activists are likely to turn out in bigger numbers than normal to protest the hunts and perhaps scuffle with local fishermen. But a major nationalist organization also says it will go to "stop disturbances by Western white people," while a more liberal group is planning a "Peace Walk" in honor of Taiji.

Even the more sympathetic in the town government say protests are unlikely to cause any change.

"They're not going to stop the hunts," says Ryono.

Several years ago he helped raise the issue of high mercury levels in local dolphins, the meat of which was being fed to school children, an issue later covered in the movie. That practice was stopped and a national lab was called in to conduct ongoing mercury tests on Taiji residents. The results showed some abnormally high mercury levels in the villagers, but no ill effects have been found.

Local residents mostly roll their eyes when asked about the film. Many, such as Sen Morimoto, 61, a former firefighter, are more worried about the future of the town as its younger generations leave for broader pastures — two of his three children have moved away, and the third says business at the local auto company where he works is worsening.

Mayor Sangen says that most people in Taiji are unconcerned about "The Cove" or the protests.

"People here really don't care about this," he said. "They've been living the slow life for 400 years. Even if foreigners suddenly appear, and Japanese, waving flags and saying 'it's terrible, it's terrible,' we've always eaten this way."

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"The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it – as long as you really believe a 100 percent."

— Arnold Schwarzenegger

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Oldest giant salamander dies

Oldest giant salamander dies

KUSHIRO, Hokkaido (Kyodo) A 126-cm giant salamander on display for 45 years at Obihiro Zoo in Hokkaido and deemed a national natural treasure died last weekend, the zoo said.

End of the line: A 126-cm giant salamander appears at Hokkaido's Obihiro Zoo in July. The amphibian, believed over 55 years old, died Sunday. OBIHIRO ZOO/KYODO PHOTO

The 19-kg amphibian was the longest-kept and oldest giant salamander in Japan. Records at the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums put its age at over 55.

"It had just appeared on the cover of the summer edition of our newsletter. I'm disappointed," zoo director Ken Fujikawa said.

"It wasn't that spectacular in appearance but amazed us for living so long."

Maneki Neko, the Beckoning Cat

Written by Sheeva H. & Edited by Tony Pham

We have all seen the cat figures sitting in the windows or on shelves of different stores and restaurants, but many of us may not have questioned its origin or complete significance. The maneki neko (招き猫), or the beckoning cat, is the name given to all those little cat figurines, which have one paw raised while the other holds an item, most commonly a coin.

This article will be focusing on the maneki neko and the stylistic features of it, such as the posture, color or the item it carries. It is very hard to set an exact standard on what each symbol, posture or color may represent when it comes to the figure. Different people, families and manufacturers may all have different interpretations on the different styles of the figures. For this reason, while mentioning some of the more commonly observed traits and representations, it should be known that a great deal of controversy may be found from other sources.

In general, most of these cats are created to depict a Japanese Bobtail. They are often created out of porcelain, but can also be found made out of a variety of material including wood, clay or even paper maché. In terms of the color of the bobtail cat, the most common one to see is the standard calico cat. It is tri-colored and generally depicted as a white cat with two-colored spots. While different people and manufacturers interpret all the colors differently, this particular cat is most commonly perceived to be the luckiest of all the colors. Following the calico cat comes the white cat, recognized as a symbol for purity and good things to come. A few of the other colors include the following: black cats to ward off evil; red cats to signify luck in relationships and marriage; green cats to represent health and/or educational success; gold cats to signify wealth; and pink cats, which are a more modern color, to represent luck in relationships.

If you have seen many of these good luck charms, you may have also had the chance to notice cats holding up either their left or right paw, or in some cases, both. For some, this can signify different things, and for others, it may not signify anything at all. In general, it is thought that the left paw is used to attract customers to the store, while the right paw is for attracting money and good fortune. For this reason, maneki neko with their right paws raised are used for piggy banks. Others, however, may say that the two paws signify the opposite: that the right paw attracts customers and the left paw attracts money and good fortune. Others will argue that the two are very closely correlated because customers bring money. In the case of having both paws raised, the cat is often thought to be, as one may have guessed, inviting both customers and money. Another significant factor that may be overlooked is the height at which the paw is raised. The higher the paw, the more luck the cat will bring. Finally, there is one more aspect to the paw that comments on the cultural differences between Japanese and Western cultures. In Japan, the beckoning action is done with the palm facing forward, mimicking the way the cat was made to look. Within Western cultures, the beckoning action is done with the back of the hand facing forward, moving the hand in a motion to bring someone closer. For this reason, a more Western style of maneki neko has been created, depicting a cat showing the back of his paw.

As mentioned before, the beckoning cat is most often seen holding a coin, which is known as koban (小判). Around the time the maneki neko came into existence, the coin that it now holds, the ryou (両), had a large monetary value to it (around one thousand American dollars). Nowadays, the cat is shown holding a larger amount. Another item that one of these cats may be seen carrying is a hammer, known as the Uchide no Kozuchi (打ち出の小槌), used to represent wealth. This “miracle mallet”, when shaken, is said to bring the person whatever they wish for, in this case, money. In some cases, you may see a maneki neko holding onto a fish, most likely a carp; a daruma (達磨), a Japanese paper maché doll (to learn more about the daruma please click here [not yet available]; or an ema (絵馬 prayer tablet)[not yet available].

The final aspects of the maneki neko to take into consideration are the collars, bells, and bibs that can be found on many of the cats. To better understand the existence of these items, one must look back a bit into history. In the past, during the Edo period, these forms of cats were quite expensive and most women would give them a red collar. The cats would also have a bell to help the owners keep track of their cat’s location. This trend from the past has seemingly been passed down to the maneki neko figurines, as many cats can be found to have a red collar adorned with a bell. The bib on a maneki neko can vary in extravagance, from the very simple to the very elaborate. These bibs may be something purely ornamental (as some toy animals in Japan also have bibs), or for some they may have more of a religious significance. This is yet again another factor to the maneki neko whose significance can truly vary depending on an individual person's own belief.

As you can see, there is quite a great deal more to a maneki neko than what one might first believe. The combination of color, item, and the orientation of the paw can all alter the meaning of a particular maneki neko. Perhaps now you may be interested in purchasing a little cat of your own, maybe to boost your own luck in a particular area of life. These cats can be found in many sizes from basic key chains to the figures that you see in restaurants and businesses, and maybe there is one cat out there that is right for you. If you are interested in reading more of the history of these cats and some of the legends about their existence, please feel free to view this article [not yet available].


Giant brown trout caught in Hokkaido lake

Giant brown trout caught in Hokkaido lake

Yuichi Yamao holds the giant brown trout he caught in Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, on July 21. (Photo courtesy of Ito Hot Spring, Lake Shikotsu)
Yuichi Yamao holds the giant brown trout he caught in Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, on July 21. (Photo courtesy of Ito Hot Spring, Lake Shikotsu)

CHITOSE, Hokkaido -- A giant brown trout, possibly the largest ever landed in the country, has been caught in Lake Shikotsu, Japan Game Fish Association officials said.

The 97.5-centimeter, 14.05-kilogram trout was caught on July 21 by Yuichi Yamao, 38, a company manager who lives in Hong Kong. With a fishing career of some 30 years, the angler hooked the fish at around 4 a.m. after a 15-minute fight.

It is highly likely that the brown trout will be registered as the largest ever landed in Japan, breaking the current record of a 13.55-kilogram trout caught in the lake in June last year, according to the association.

Originating from Europe, brown trout mainly inhabit lakes worldwide.

"It may be possible to even beat the world record (18.79 kilograms) here in Japan," said Yamao, who often travels around the world in search of big fish.

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雑記帳:釣果、日本記録更新か 北海道・支笏湖

雑記帳:釣果、日本記録更新か 北海道・支笏湖





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DSCN3414, originally uploaded by Kate the Jet.

Kamugawa Hog

Kamugawa Hog_4V8026, originally uploaded by Skyhorse Photography.

Monkeys in the Onsen

Monkeys in the Onsen, originally uploaded by Emma and Liesl.


なぁに?, originally uploaded by maisuke*.

Shika Deer, Lake Fuhren, 24.6.10

, originally uploaded by Fran and Vicki's Photos.

Japanese bullfights draw fans as corrida struggles

Japanese bullfights draw fans as corrida struggles

Mon, Aug 2 2010

By Antoni Slodkowski

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - As two bulls crush their sweat-drenched bodies against each other with blood-shot eyes and foam dripping from their mouths, the referee shouts "draw" and the moment of truth comes for the Japanese "bull separators".

While the bloody Spanish corrida comes under scrutiny from animal rights activists and politicians, bullfighting in northern Japan is gaining popularity as fans cheer on both the bulls and the brave men who break up the match before the bulls get hurt.

Each match in "tsuno-tsuki", or bullfight, starts with 20 "seko" bull separators leading the animals on as they face off in a ring. But after just several minutes of muscle-straining and horn-goring, the referee ends the fight before any blood is shed.

The "seko" then showcase their skills as they catch the feisty beasts weighing over a tonne by their rear leg with a rope and separate them, often risking their lives.

"I can't imagine bloodshed in our ring," said Haruji Matsui, a bullfighting veteran from the tiny village of Yamakoshi in Niigata, northern Japan, as he sipped iced tea sitting among the bulls before the matches started.

"We grew up with them sharing the same earthen floor."

Older farmers in Yamakoshi speak fondly of the bulls, remembering the times when the animals were necessary to move supplies in winter and for help in the fields.

"We treat them like our children," said Fumihiro Aoki, an 80-year-old rice farmer, who started as a "seko" 65 years ago.

"I named my bull after my youngest son, Mitsuru. It loves like a human, behaves like a big dog and even recognizes the sound of an engine when I come back from the fields."

Tsuno-tsuki is steeped in Japanese culture, with salt and sake rice wine poured around the arena at the opening.

"The same ritual is performed during sumo fights to ward off evil spirits as fights carry a semi-religious meaning," said University of Tokyo professor Yutaka Suga, a researcher of the sport's tradition and an owner of a bull.

Bullfights between bulls are performed across Japan with the most famous matches on the southern island of Okinawa.

"But our area is special," said Matsui with pride, as he watched another pair of fighting bulls with a spark in his eye.

"Not only is it just here that we end matches with draws, but also unlike in other parts of Japan, we don't make bets."

According to professor Suga, Niigata is the only place in the world where animal fights end in a draw.

"One of the legends goes that these communities are tiny and heavily reliant on each other, so they avoid gambling and fights with clear winners and losers."

The biggest challenge facing tsuno-tsuki is keeping up the rising interest in the sport that was named an "important cultural property" by the Japanese government in 1978.

After an earthquake in Niigata in 2004 killing 65 people and injuring 3,000, many families fled to cities and never returned, but those who stayed say they would never let the tradition die.

"We organized bullfights even when we lived in temporary housing after the earthquake and the bulls gave us the energy to overcome our hurdles and carry on," said Aoki, the rice farmer.

"In a sense, we owe them our lives".

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Monkeys Chase Flying Squirrel

Monkeys Go Bananas Over Flying Squirrels

Monkeys Go Bananas Over Flying Squirrels


Researchers have observed small monkeys called Japanese macaques going bananas at the sight of a flying squirrel.

This">riled-up response is probably just a false alarm, with the monkeys mistaking the squirrel for a predatory bird. On the other hand, male macaques - some of whom give chase and even attack a harmless rodent - might be trying to impress females in their troop.

Although this tough-guy motive was not proved in a new study, "it is possible that adult or sub-adult male monkeys may be 'showing off' their fitness" as potential mates, said Kenji Onishi, an assistant professor of behavioral sciences at Osaka University and lead author of the paper being published in the current issue of the journal Primate Research.

Biologists and psychologists have long studied macaques' complex social interactions for insights into human evolution and behavior.

However, much remains unknown about how macaques get along (or not) with other creatures. Better documentation of such encounters could reveal more about macaque societies as well as that of our shared primate forbearers.

"Human evolution occurred alongside primate evolution from a">common mammalian ancestor," Onishi told LiveScience. "Therefore, it is important to learn the evolution of primates in understanding the previous steps in human evolution."

Intruder alert!

When Japanese giant flying squirrels glided over to a tree in the monkeys' vicinity, adults and adolescent macaques started hollering at it threateningly, the researchers report. Young macaques screamed and mothers scooped up their infants, while adults and high-ranking males in particular went and physically harassed the offending squirrel.

Onishi said other researchers have observed macaques responding in a similarly aggressive manner to birds that prey on the monkeys, such as the golden eagle and mountain hawk eagle. These raptors glide and swoop much like the flying squirrels.

Upon closer inspection up in a tree or on the ground, however, the squirrel is clearly no bird of prey. Yet the animal still raises the hackles of the macaques.

Other woodland creatures, including hares, deer and wild boars, barely elicit a response from macaque groups, said Onishi, though dogs and people will sometimes instigate alarm calls and a fleeing from the immediate area.

Meet the macaques

After humans, macaques are the most geographically dispersed primate on the planet, living across southern Asia and into North Africa. The">rhesus macaque is also perhaps the most familiar monkey to Westerners, common both in zoos and as lab animals.

The">Japanese macaques in the study are well-known for a group of them that hang out every winter in the Jacuzzi-like Jigokudani hot springs when it gets too cold and snowy outside (no wonder the species is also nicknamed "snow monkey").

The adult male Japanese macaques range in size from about 20 to 24 inches (50 to 60 centimeters) tall and females about 19 to 22 inches (4.8 to 5.5 centimeters).

This gives the monkeys a clear size advantage over their flying squirrel antagonists, if one does not count the squirrels' tails. The squirrels documented in the study were typical for their kind, about 12 to 15 inches (30 to 40 cm) long and with a bushy tail of about equal length.

Show of (non)force?

When chasing macaques did succeed in getting close to these infringing squirrels, the monkeys tended to look on "in fear and hesitated to attack," Onishi said.

In rare instances when the bolder monkeys did physically assault their quarry, Onishi said the squirrels were neither harmed nor eaten and eventually escaped.

Though clearly not interested in eating each other, the diets of the animals do cross when it comes to fruits, nuts and other delectables. But a territorial defense of food resources is not the motive of these">militant monkeys, as there are "low levels of food competition between macaques and the squirrels," Onishi noted

It is more likely that a simple misunderstanding about the squirrels' nature underpins the melee.

Mewa Singh, a professor of psychology at the University of Mysore in India who has studied macaques, pointed out that the flying squirrels are generally nocturnal, whereas the monkeys are active during the day.

"The interactions between monkeys and a flying squirrel, therefore, are not expected to be frequent and the monkeys may not "know" whether the squirrel is a predator or not," said Singh, who was not involved in the study.

All in the game

Nevertheless, the fact that adult males had a greater tendency to be the ones beleaguering the flying squirrels led Onishi and his co-authors to speculate that a measure of flaunting biological fitness to the females is in play.

At the same time, a generic "battle stations!" response to raptor-like behaviors from any sort of animal, whether featured like a bird or not, might prime the macaques for when real danger glides into town.

This hair-trigger might increase the possibility that macaques in the troop "survive when true predatory threats emerge," Onishi said.

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Japan's unwanted dogs face almost certain death

Japan's unwanted dogs face almost certain death

Mon, Mar 29 2010

By Kim Kyung Hoon and Olivier Fabre

TOKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters Life!) - It's a dog's life for a stray mutt in any country, but in Japan a canine that ends up in the municipal pound is far more likely to be put down than to find a new home.

While in some other industrialized countries the idea of "saving" a pet from a shelter is well-established, in Japan animal welfare activists say strays often fall foul of an attitude that prizes puppies and pedigrees as status symbols.

"In Britain, the public go to animal welfare shelters to adopt an animal and save a life. The mindset in Japan is still 'if you want a pet, go to a pet shop'," said Briar Simpson, a New Zealander who works for Japan's animal shelter ARK, via e-mail.

In Britain, approximately 6 to 9 percent of dogs in pounds are put to death every year, 2007-2009 figures show, according to the website of Dogs Trust, the nation's largest dog welfare charity.

In Japan that figure is more than 70 percent, the Japanese animal welfare organization ALIVE says.

In rural areas such as Tokushima Prefecture, on the southwestern island of Shikoku, the situation is even worse. In 2008 alone, more than 88 percent of abandoned dogs at the Tokushima Animal Welfare Center were put down.

Most strays have been abandoned by their owners, while others are the offspring of abandoned dogs that have gone wild. Some hunting dogs are dumped in the off-season rather than kept for the following year's season, activists say.

But whatever their former lives, once at the center the dogs are kept for a maximum of only seven days.


Kensuke Kuramoto, a dog trainer exercising his Dobermann in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park, said too many people treat dogs like toys and trinkets.

"First of all, too many people are raising dogs in Japan, and people tend to view their lives too lightly," he said.

"As there are people who treat dogs as part of their family, there are also those who buy them for simple reasons like celebrating a daughters birthday."

Attitudes are changing slowly due to media coverage in recent years, especially in the cities where the pet boom is at its height. More people are adopting strays.

"I have these two dogs because someone threw them away, but as dogs are living creatures, it's similar to murder if you throw them away," said Mika Takahashi, a 21-year-old resident of Tokyo as she walked her two pets -- one a pedigree Italian greyhound and the other dark-grey husky mongrel.

However, taking in an abandoned dog is still not very common in Japan despite the burgeoning dog population. At more than 6.8 million in 2008, there are already more canines in the nation than children under the age of six.

And more than 118,000 dogs a year Japan still end up in the dog pound, according to the latest 2008 statistics. Out of these only a handful will be found new homes.

At the Tokushima Animal Welfare Center alone, more than 2,700 dogs were put to death in the year to March 2009.

When the center was built, officials promised locals they would not kill any dogs on site, so they are asphyxiated with carbon dioxide gas in metal containers euphemistically called "dream boxes" aboard a truck between the center and the local crematorium.

However painless the operation is, the process is still emotionally painful for those that have to see it daily.

"Whenever I press the button to inject the gas, I feel totally powerless," said the centre's chief veterinarian, Akinori Kume, his eyes filled with tears.

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