Only in Japan would the solution to an ecological problem involve a robotic wolf. But when that problem is the proliferation of wild boars, the furry, fanged, red-eyed “Super Monster Wolf” might actually do the trick.
After being used on a trial basis last summer, the wolf—which starts to howl when an animal is determined to be approaching—is slated to go into mass production across Japan. As The BBC reports, the 20-inch tall robot wolf, which has a effective range of over half a mile, stays energized with solar-rechargeable batteries. It can produce a number of different howls to keep wild boars confused, and thus deter them from gorging on farmers’ crops.
This super wolf savior, which will cost around $5,000, is arriving just in time to confront a worsening wild boar problem in Japan. The situation is especially bad in northern areas where “the species was believed to be unable to survive winter, and their growing presence is being blamed on climate change,” according to a recent article in The Asahi Shimbun. While the boars are native to all but Japan’s northernmost reaches, they are now encroaching into new territory.
An official from Akita Prefecture, a mountainous northern region on Japan’s main island, told the paper that boars are moving up the Japanese archipelago “largely because global warming has reduced snowfall, making it easier for them to survive winter even in the Tohoku region.”
The boars are known to feast on potatoes, rice, and other crops, and according to the government, the nearly one million wild boars across the country caused $46.52 million in damage to agricultural products in 2015—a little more than a third of all damage caused by animals.
As The Washington Post recently reported, the influx of boars can also be attributed to declining human populations in some of these regions. Japan’s population is rapidly aging, and the younger generation is concentrating in larger cities in the south.
In Iwate Prefecture, which borders Akita Prefecture, only two boars were caught seven years ago. That total has now skyrocketed to nearly 100, according to the Post.
According to Scientific American, “extensive previous research had shown that countries at high latitudes were warming at a faster rate than the rest of the world.” Japanese officials believe that the boars cannot survive in areas where there is more than a foot of snow for 70 days or longer. Last August, a boar ventured into Aomori, the northernmost prefecture on Japan’s main island, the first sighting there in over a century.
The 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster only worsened matters in northern Japan, as the resulting damage caused a mass exodus from the region, with many farmers abandoning their fields.
But the boars never got the evacuation order, and when residents started to return to devastated regions in 2017, they were met by hundreds of wild boars that had descended into previously populated areas surrounding Fukushima.
“It is not really clear now which is the master of the town, people or wild boars,” Tamotsu Baba, mayor the deserted Japanese coastal town of Namie, told Reuters last March. “If we don’t get rid of them and turn this into a human-led town, the situation will get even wilder and uninhabitable.”
Sounds like a job for some robotic wolves.
Update: A previous version of this post included a statement from an outside source that was not properly attributed. The text has been updated to clarify the source of the language and properly attribute it.