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Tuesday, July 10, 2001

HOG-WILD PESTS

Kobe to crack down on boars


By KENZO MORIGUCHI
Staff writer

KOBE -- The Great Hanshin Earthquake of January 1995 devastated Kobe's Nada and Higashi-nada wards, with residents and authorities having since worked around the clock to put their neighborhood back together.

It appears, however, that the peaceful lives of residents in these areas now are being threatened by yet another natural foe -- foraging wild boars from nearby Mount Rokko.

With the number of complaints concerning the beasts on the rise, the Kobe Municipal Government last month established a seven-member panel consisting of experts and local residents to discuss the problem.

Its findings are to be reflected in an ordinance banning the feeding of boars, which is set to be introduced by the end of the current fiscal year.

Wild boars are no strangers to the locals living in the environs of Mount Rokko.

According to a Hyogo Prefectural Government survey conducted in 1990, some 500 to 600 boars were estimated to inhabit the area.

This is widely viewed as a very conservative figure, given that some 200 boars are exterminated by authorities every year because they venture too far into populated areas.

"The exact number is unknown, but it is believed that the figure has increased since 1990," Kobe official Hideki Nagasawa said.

"We have to consider the introduction of the feeding ban because of the increasing number of accidents and injuries caused by boars."

Of the 211 boar complaints submitted to the city during fiscal 2000, 20 involved injuries to humans.

According to the authorities, a man in his 70s was walking his dog when he encountered a drove of six boars.

Upon trying to stop a fight that broke out between his pet and the boars -- which are often hostile toward dogs -- the man's right arm was bitten. His dog was killed.

In another case, a woman in her 50s was bitten by a boar in her neighborhood as she tried to walk past it.

Now the woman is scared to walk along the roads, according to city officials.

"These boars are not afraid of humans because some people feed them," Nagasawa noted.

"In fact, baby boars are very cute and they are usually harmless except that they eat anything from plants at gardens to oil cakes buried in the ground. But people should understand that feeding them is harmful -- both for humans and boars."

The municipal government and the ward office have asked people to stop feeding the animals. At times, however, this request has met with a terse response from those who claim that the boars are the victims of the development on Mount Rokko.

"Some people, including mountain hikers, do not listen to us," said Satsuki Nakayama, an official at the Higashi-nada Ward Office.

"While feeding the boars, they say, 'Look, the boars listen to me. They are harmless.' At the moment, we have no power to stop them."

Garbage left out on the road during the evening also attracts the animals to populated areas. Although residents are supposed to take out their trash in the morning, some do so the night before.

"Because of the feeding and garbage, boars now react to plastic shopping bags, trying to pull at them when they see the bags and hear them rustling," Nakayama said.

"People who take out garbage during the night-time do not realize that they are inviting the boars. We have trapped and killed quite a few of them (after receiving serious complaints), but unless people stop feeding them and leaving garbage out overnight, the boars will continue to come."

Irresponsible acts of this kind eventually lead the boars into death traps.

"Other people, such as those troubled by the boars, see the animal differently (than these people)," said Nakayama, who receives around five telephone complaints a day from residents disturbed by the animals.

Residents also complain that the boars leave droppings on roads and block pedestrian walkways.

An average wild boar weighs 50 kg to 60 kg, but some grow as big as 180 kg.

"A boar over 100 kg is quite threatening -- even just to look at -- if you encounter it on a road," Nakayama said.

She said she hopes opinions aired during the panel's discussions, coupled with the feeding ban ordinance, will eventually convince those feeding the boars that their acts are harmful both to the animals and the local habitat.

Nagasawa said, however, that he doubts whether the ordinance alone can solve the problem.

"We are not planning to include any penalty in the ordinance because it is impossible to keep checking for offenders," he said.

"Its purpose is to raise awareness of the wild boar issue, especially among residents.

"We used to know how to deal and coexist with wild animals. But people these days complain about wild animals even when they are just there, not causing any harm.

"If we want to preserve our natural environment, wild animals are bound to turn out. Now we have to think how to deal with them when they appear in urban areas."



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