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The Story of Japanese Wolves
Once upon a time there were two species of wolves living in Japan: The Hokkaido Wolf and the Honshu Wolf. The Hokkaido Wolf, also known as the Ezo Wolf, occupied the Island of Hokkaido. The Hokkaido Wolf became extinct in 1889 during the Meiji restoration period. The Island of Hokkaido was experiencing heavy development during these times and the wolves became a seen as a threat to the new horse-breeding industry. After taking advice from Americans, wolves were poisoned with strychnine and they ultimately disappeared.
The Honshu Wolf was the smallest known variety of wolf, standing only about a foot tall. The introduction of rabies onto Honshu Island drastically reduced the wolf population and the species was declared extinct in 1905. However, evidence of the presence of the wolf has continued to the present day. Since the time of extinction, numerous sightings of the wolf have been reported, especially on the Kii Peninsula. In addition, physical evidence has been presented to Japanese scientists on a number of occasions, only to be taken away and never seen or spoken of again. In the 1970’s, an authentic Japanese wolf skin discovered in a shrine was taken to authorities to be identified. It dated back to 1950. An official identification was never announced and the carcass was never seen again. At a conference in 1994 in Nara, at least seventy people had reported seeing a wolf or hearing wolf howls recently.
Despite the evidence, Japanese scientists have refused to overturn the date of extinction. Many believe that Japanese scientists are afraid to acknowledge the evidence and admit that the wolves existed for at least some time after they were declared extinct. In Japanese culture, it is considered highly disrespectful to question the official pronouncements made by authority figures. Many suspect that because of this cultural taboo, Japanese scientists actively destroy any evidence that might bring into question a long-accepted fact.
Sightings of Japanese wolves decrease each passing year. If they are not yet extinct, they undoubtedly have continued to struggle for survival and are likely on the very brink of disappearance.