Reintroducing predators: Hokkaido island in Japan

Hokkaido is the most northern and biggest prefecture in Japan. This place is well-known for its beautiful nature, however, there are serious environmental, social and economic problems caused by the excessive increase of native deer: the Ezo Deer. The height of Ezo deer is 140-180 cm (the big ones exceed 2m!), and the weight of the heaviest one is over 170kg. So, they are not only harmful as pests which eat agricultural products, but also dangerous as causes of car accidents. I lived in Hokkaido when I was at a Japanese university. So I heard about lots of people bumping into Ezo deer, and sometimes the people died by the car accident. In addition, these deer damage the ecosystem by eating particular types of plants.

The Ezo deer have become an issue because of the absence of predators. Actually Japanese native wolves called Ezo wolves existed as predators on Hokkaido about 100 years ago, yet they became extinct due to diseases and hunting. However, lately the Japan Wolf Association is suggesting a plan to reintroduce a similar predator. They intend to reintroduce European wolves which are genetically close to the extinct Ezo wolf. But local government and farmers object to this plan, because there is a high possibility that the introduced European wolves will start to hunt livestock, and also control of the wolves will require expensive running costs. Therefore, this plan has not yet been realized.

Ezo wolf which became extinct during the Meiji era (around 100 years ago). Source:

Ezo wolf which became extinct during the Meiji era (around 100 years ago). Source:

However, there is a precedent where wolves have been reintroduced to control a feral animal. In the Yellowstone National Park in the US, there was damage to native vegetation caused by excessive increases in the number of elk. The cause of this increase was the extinction of a predator: the grey wolf. Thus, the Federal government decided to reintroduce this species. As a consequence, the resilience of the biodiversity in the national park has been reported. In addition to the recovery of vegetation, the number of beavers and red foxes have also recovered, since the grey wolves reduce the number of coyotes which compete with red fox and hunt beavers and do not hunt elk. This plan seems to have succeeded easily, but there was a long preparation period (around 30 years) and some conflict about the reintroduction of wolves. The first idea of the reintroduction of wolves was submitted to the Congress in 1966, yet farmers who worried that wolves would attack livestock strongly opposed the plan. The Federal government kept negotiating with farmers while gathering the opinion about the reintroduction plan from general public. Moreover, continuous evaluations of environment were conducted during this 30 years period of negotiation. In 1987, the government established a fund for farmers to compensate for the loss of livestock, then in 1996, the plan finally was approved by Congress.

However, whereas the plan was successful in recovering biodiversity in the national park, some incidents of wolves killing livestock, and more alarmingly , killing human have recently been reported.

Situations of Japan and US are different, because in Japan, the reintroduction planned for the entire Hokkaido prefecture while in the US, the reintroduction was limited to Yellow Stone National Park. However, Hokkaido also has some national parks and the reintroduction could be limited to those areas.

Do you think wolves should be reintroduced?

Thanks for reading!!

Yamato Miyamura (u5035249)


Knight, J., 1998. Wolves in Japan? an examination of the reintroduction proposal, Japan Forum, 10 (1): 47-65.

Fritts, S. H., Bangs, E. E., Fontaine, J. A., Johnson, M. R., Phillips, M. K., Koch, E. D., and Gunson, J. R., 1997. Planning and implementing a reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, Restoration Ecology, 5(1), 7-27.

“Defenders of Wildlife”. A Yellowstone Chronology, Accessed from: (Accessed 30 May 2013)

About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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8 Responses to Reintroducing predators: Hokkaido island in Japan

  1. Kitanogaijin says:

    My understanding was that the Ezo wolf was wiped out mainly through a deliberate eradication program of widespread strychnine baiting. American advisors to the Meiji government during the efforts to populate Hokkaido and build an agricultural base recommended the eradication and arranged for the importation of “shiploads” of the poison. The rationale for this was – again as I heard locally here in Hokkaido – to ensure primarily that foals born to horses being raised in the Hidaka area were safe from the predators.

    It would appear that in addition to killing off all of the wolves, sadly it also destroyed a number of other birds and animals that fed on the carcasses of the dead wolves and were themselves poisoned.

    Much as it would be nice to see wolves back in Hokkaido, including to help manage out-of-control deer populations, I fear the Japanese would panic and kill them at first sighting, much as they do with any poor, unfortunate bears that happen to stray across a human path.

  2. I saw a documentary on television about wolf re-introductions in the USA and the vehement protests that ensued. Some very strong views indeed. As you say, it’s a long road of building a case, supported by evidence, and gaining community support before projects like this are likely to be successful.

  3. Zimmber says:

    Why not take European wolves and selectively breed them to be smaller and with a fawn color, so they will more closely resemble the extinct Hokkaido wolf, thereby creating a new subspecies. As for the Japanese farmers, introduce them to the idea of flock guardian dogs, such as Turkey’s Kangal Dog or the Ovtcharka of Kazakhstan. Knowing the Japanese, they’ll probably create a new breed of flock guardian by breeding some of these together, and such a breed will be uniquely improved and better suited for Japan’s environment and terrain. So it’s selective breeding folks, for a new kind of wolf and a new kind of flock guard dog.

    • Frida Nyberg says:

      They don’t even really need *European wolves*. Russia isn’t far away, and there are several subspecies of Asian wolves, that should be more closely related to the Japanese.

  4. Pingback: Deer Tales | Human Ecology: Rivers

  5. Jim Sleeman says: A Fantastic video on how they saved Yellowstone with re introducing Wolves.
    How Wolves Change Rivers
    Sustainable Human
    New Nara deer adoption program lets you take home your own pet deer, help with overpopulation as Deer population numbers Explode!

  6. Steve Braun says:

    Very poor article. Not correct with regards to wolf behavior and biology, this guy just repeats mythology instead of accurate information. Wolf reintroduction in Japan would be much easier compared to in the USA. Biologically no problem at all. Japan has little time before the mountains are destroyed.

  7. Dr. Georgie, MS,ND says:

    Well, grey wolves may have been a success story when it came to the ECOSYSTEM, and that should not be have been a surprise, since when did God and Nature devised a plan and managed the ecosystem with “Stupid” 4 legged animals???, NO WHERE.!! But today, grey wolves are being mass murdered at lightning speed in Washington State,for again greedy ranchers. and Ugly greedy, crooked politicians are trying to Delist grey wolves in all 48 states so HUNTERS CAN KILL THEM FOR TROPHIES, another trick to help ranchers while states make money from allowing humans to KILL WOLVES !!!!. The federal government already “Steal” from the taxpayers already by subsidizing a BILLION DOLLAR every years to Welfare Ranchers on our public land. LET THEM STAY EXTINCT !!!!! and allowed that PIECE OF GOD’S EARTH no longer able to SUSTAIN DIVERSITY OF LIFE !!!!
    And as more and more of the Earth ecosystems die (tiger, rhino, elephants, INSECTS)……and become a NON-LIVING planet…humans can go too along with the polar bears.

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