The Japanese town of Takikawa, on the country’s northern island of Hokkaido, have installed robotic “monster” wolves in hopes of guarding the town from the growing scourge of marauding bears, Reuters reports. The shaggy, wolf-shaped robots are designed to scare bears and other nuisance animals back into the wild with glowing red eyes and speakers that play frightening sounds.
Beginning in September, Takikawa residents started reporting bears emerging from the surrounding forests to roam the town. Greater Japan is also experiencing an increase in bear sightings and encounters this year. Kyodo News reports that there were 13,670 bear sightings across the nation’s various islands from April to September 2020, the highest tally for a six-month span since 2016.
In October, two women died of injuries suffered during bear attacks, per Kyodo News. And last year, 157 people were injured by bears across Japan, the most in a decade, and one person was killed, reports Justin McCurry for the Guardian.
Some conservation scientists who study Japan’s black bears speculate that the spate of encounters may be the result of a paucity of acorns in the forested countryside, luring the bears toward human settlements in search of food, reports Sophie Lewis of CBS News. More broadly, the issue may have its roots in the deforestation shrinking the bears’ habitat.
In response to this uptick in dangerous bear-human interactions, Takikawa purchased a pair of robotic wolves—a product dubbed “Monster Wolf”—from Japanese machinery maker Ohta Seiki, according to the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK). If Monster Wolf’s motion sensor is tripped, its LED eyeballs glow red and its head swivels from side to side while a loudspeaker blares one of 60 noises ranging from howls to heavy machinery, per Reuters.
Since September, when Takikawa installed the robotic bear deterrents, there have been zero bear encounters, city officials tell Reuters. Speaking with Hiroto Watanabe of Japan’s Mainichi newspaper, Yuji Ota, the head of Ohta Seiki, says, "we want to let the bears know, 'Human settlements aren't where you live,' and help with the coexistence of bears and people."
According to Reuters, Ohta Seiki has sold roughly 70 “Monster Wolf” robots since 2018. In other locations, the robots’ primary are keeping deer and wild boars away from crops. Real wolves once roamed the forests of Japan’s central and northern islands, but have been absent for more than a hundred years after being hunted to extinction.