TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese town has deployed robot wolves in an effort to scare away bears that have become an increasingly dangerous nuisance in the countryside.
The town of Takikawa on the northern island of Hokkaido purchased and installed a pair of the robots after bears were found roaming neighbourhoods in September. City officials said there have been no bear encounters since.
Bear sightings are at a five-year high, mostly in rural areas in western and northern Japan, national broadcaster NHK has reported. There have been dozens of attacks so far in 2020, two of them fatal, prompting the government to convene an emergency meeting last month to address the threat they pose.
The so-called ‘Monster Wolf’ robot consists of a shaggy body on four legs, a blond mane and fierce, glowing-red eyes. When its motion detectors are activated, it moves its head, flashes lights and emits 60 different sounds ranging from wolfish howling to machinery noises.
The robot was developed through a cooperative project involving the company Ohta Seiki, a precision-machinery maker in Naie, along with Hokkaido University and Tokyo University of Agriculture. It made its debut in November 2016. The finished product resembles a wolf, with a body measuring 120 centimeters long and standing at a height of around 90 cm. When its infrared sensor detects that a wild animal or human is close by, the robot shakes its head and lets out a roar to threaten anything in its surroundings. At present, a total of 62 monster wolf robots are in use from Hokkaido to the southern islands of Okinawa to ward off deer and wild boars that target farming produce. Ohta Seiki has sold about 70 units of the robot since 2018.
The real Japanese wolf roamed the central and northern islands of the country before being hunted to extinction more than a century ago.
Takikawa city officials said that bears become more active and dangerous as they search for food before going into hibernation in late November. A decrease of acorns and nuts in the wild this year may have driven the animals to venture closer to towns in search of sustenance, according to local media.
(Reporting by Hideto Sakai, Akiko Okamoto and Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Gareth Jones)