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The Japanese Wolf
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 15, 2006 3:00 pm    Post subject: The Japanese Wolf Reply with quote

The Japanese Wolf (狼 or オオカミ, Ōkami?) refers to two extinct subspecies of the grey wolf. The subspecies that the name 'Japanese Wolf' usually describes is the Honshū Wolf (Canis lupus hodophilax (日本狼 or にほんオオカミ, Nihon Ōkami?)), which occupied the islands of Honshū, Shikoku, and Kyūshū in Japan. It is thought to have become extinct due to a combination of rabies, which was first reported in Kyūshū and Shikoku in 1732, and human eradication. The last known specimen died in 1905, in Nara Prefecture.

Some interpretations of the Honshū Wolf's extinction stress the change in local perceptions of the animal: rabies-induced aggression and deforestation of the wolf's habitat forced them into conflict with humans, and this led to them being targeted by farmers.

There are currently eight known pelts and five stuffed specimens of the Japanese Wolf in existence. One stuffed specimen is in the Netherlands, three are in Japan, and the animal caught in 1905 is kept in the British Museum. Owing to its small size (the Honshū Wolf is the smallest known variety of wolf, probably due to allopatric speciation / island dwarfing) the Honshū Wolf's classification as a subspecies of the grey wolf is disputed.

The other endemic wolf of Japan was the Ezo Wolf (Canis lupus hattai (蝦夷狼, Ezo-ōkami?)), also known as the Hokkaido Wolf, which occupied the island of Hokkaidō in Japan. The Ezo Wolf was larger than the Honshū Wolf, more closely approaching the size of a regular grey wolf. The Ezo Wolf reportedly became extinct in 1889 as a result of deliberate strychnine poisoning by farmers.

The Japanese Wolf was afforded a benign, rather than malignant, place in Japanese mythology and religion: the clan leader Fujiwara no Hidehira was said to have been raised by wolves, and the wolf is often symbolically linked with mountain kami in Shinto (the most famous example being the wolf kami of Mitsumine Shrine in the town of Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture).

Sightings of the Japanese Wolf have been claimed from the time of its extinction to the present day, but none of these have been verified.
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