Even though deer and wild boars have been causing serious damage to crops and forests, the number of licensed hunters has tumbled to less than half the figure 40 years ago, and those who actively hunt are aging.
Under the circumstances, the revised Law Concerning Protection of Wildlife and Game was enacted to strengthen measures related to wild animals and encourage hunters to cull overpopulated species. Efforts to foster young hunters with expertise have begun.
"It's hard to make this place look natural once it's been dug up, isn't it?" said Yasuhiro Goto, 20, a third-year student at Tokyo College of Environment in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, as he covered a deer trap with soil.
The scene was the highlands of Mt. Akagi, located about one hour by car from JR Maebashi Station in Gunma Prefecture. The school's fieldwork training was held in mid-June in a mountain forest known for its white birch trees. The trainees were Goto and Masami Matsuzawa, 20, from the same class as Goto. They practiced setting up traps and inspected the damage caused by animals in the forest.
The traps are connected to a tree where a sensor is attached. If a deer's leg is caught in a trap and it struggles to free itself, the motion of the trap's wires being pulled will set off the sensor, which sends an e-mail alert to the cell phone of a registered hunter. The two students carefully covered one of the traps with grass, fallen leaves and soil and tested how the sensor worked by inserting a wooden stick into the trap.
Lecturer Yutaka Aoki, 52, explained that trapping is a game of wits between people and wild animals, saying, "Deer that let down their guard around people can be trapped, but one video showed a cautious deer approaching a trap, then leaving just before stepping into it." The two students nodded as they listened to the explanation.
Goto and Matsuzawa are enrolled in a training course for wildlife management specialists that the school launched this year. The course aims to foster personnel with knowledge of techniques to catch deer and wild boars, and plans ways to minimise the damage caused by animals. Students in the course are required to obtain hunting licenses for using guns and traps. According to the school, classes that systematically teach measures to prevent damage from birds and other animals are rare in this country.
Explaining the reasons for setting up the course, college President Masaaki Komaru said: "Members of hunters associations [in charge of preventing bird and animal damage] have aged. There is a need to produce work-ready personnel who are experts in wild animal ecology and can work on-site to develop effective control methods."
According to the Environment Ministry, the number of hunting license holders has halved over the past 40 years and the hunters themselves are getting old. In fiscal 1975, the number of licensed hunters was 518,000, and only 9 per cent of them were aged 60 or older. By fiscal 2011, however, the number had dropped to 198,000 and 66 per cent of them were 60 or older.
Crop damage has hovered around ¥20 billion a year since surveys started in fiscal 1999, according to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry. In fiscal 2012, crop damage was ¥23 billion, with about 70 per cent caused by deer, wild boars and monkeys. The ministry set up a system under which it would pay up to ¥8,000 per animal to those who capture deer or wild boars. Nevertheless, securing young hunters is a pressing issue.
Possibility of professionals' entry
The revised law has eased the requirements for obtaining a trapping license by lowering the minimum age to 18 years old from 20 years old.
The Environment Ministry has been holding forums to educate the public about the role of hunters and to demonstrate trapping across the nation since fiscal 2012. About 3,800 people have participated in the forum so far and according to a survey of participants in fiscal 2013, 64 per cent of them were in their 20s to 40s.
However, an official in charge at the ministry said: "Hunting was originally regarded as a pastime. It's difficult to make a living on hunting alone." The school official also cited the same problem, saying: "Municipal governments or security companies that monitor traps are expected to provide employment opportunities. However, the environment of creating jobs for hunters is insufficient."
"Under current circumstances, there are few workplaces where motivated young people's expertise in hunting can be utilized either in public or in the private sector," said Masahiro Igota, an associate professor at Rakuno Gakuen University in Ebetsu, Hokkaido, who opened a laboratory on hunting management four years ago.
The revised law has adopted a recognition system for professionals. Igota hopes the system will be effective, saying "If the hunting business grows, the demand for hunters will rise and create more work for hunters."