FEATURE: Gun-toting grandpas eying technological leg-up in animal culls
A Japanese municipality, searching for a solution to the dual problem of an overpopulation of crop-damaging wild animals and a shrinking and aging recreational hunting population, is looking for help from cutting-edge technology.
In yet another downside to Japan's rapidly graying society, numbers of active hunters are falling while the animals they hunt, such as deer and boar, have continued to thrive and inflict extensive damage on crops, an issue hitting many areas across the nation.
Against this backdrop, a small town in a mountainous area of western Japan is embarking on a project that utilizes sophisticated technology, including drones, to aid less mobile and increasingly frail hunters in tracking their target.
In December last year, Naka in Tokushima Prefecture conducted an experiment in which a drone was used to track and locate a hunting dog in a mountainous area. In the experiment, a portable tracking device showed the location of the dog more than 900 meters away on the side of a mountain.
Although the project is in an experimental stage, a town official said "(The technology) can reduce the difficulty for aged hunters to track their hunting dogs in the mountains."
If hunters can track their prey-finding hunting dogs using technology, without needing to traipse across large swathes of territory, it becomes much easier for the gun-toting grandpas to get their shot.
Along with the aging issue, there has also been growing concern over shooting accidents due to elderly hunters' worsening mental agility.
According to the National Police Agency, there were 52 fatal accidents involving hunting guns across the country between 2006 and 2015. Twenty-five cases were caused by accidental firing, while 16 were due to hunters mistaking humans for animals.
In Naka, a man in his 70s accidently shot and killed an 82-year-old neighbor while hunting wild monkeys on a farm road. The man was held criminally responsible for the August 2015 killing.
The hunter said at trial it had been difficult to recognize his neighbor as bamboo leaves hampered his view when he was taking the shot.
An aged hunter from Tokushima said that "sometimes we need to react quickly to shoot monkeys" because they are agile, providing some explanation to how the tragedy unfolded.
Many local municipalities, however, have no choice but to rely on elderly hunters, officials said. According to the Tokushima prefectural government, the number of people who obtained a hunting license or renewed it in the prefecture in fiscal 2015 (from April 2015 to March 2016) totaled about 2,900, less than half of those in previous years. And nearly 70 percent of them are aged 60 years or older.
There used to be many people who hunted for food or to obtain pelts for leather products, but now the population of hunters, notably younger hunters, is declining due partly to the time-consuming process of obtaining and renewing shooting licenses, according to a prefectural official.
In order to buck the trend, the prefecture has regularly organized workshops where veteran hunters teach students how to use guns and traps.
To help reduce damage to crops, the prefecture also established a website with photos of wild animals taken by residents, to show the location where the pests were spotted.
Naoki Naito, an associate professor at the state-run Tokushima University who works to encourage young hunters, said, "A lack of new hunters and the aging group of current practitioners could lead to accidents. There is an urgent need to create an environment where veterans can pass their skills down to younger generations."