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Fukuoka town turns to mechanical 'monster wolf' to fight agricultural damage

Rice paddy farmer Norio Kido, right, pets the new protector of his fields, a robotic "monster wolf," as Ohta Seiki Co. President Yuji Ohta looks on in Soeda, Fukuoka Prefecture, on June 12, 2018. (Mainichi)

SOEDA, Fukuoka -- A town in Kyushu introduced a new weapon on June 12 in the battle against agricultural damage by deer and other pests -- a robotic vermin repelling "monster wolf" device.

The 50-centimeter-tall, 65-centimeter-long apparatus shaped like a wolf installed on private rice paddy land in Soeda, Fukuoka Prefecture, is the first of its kind in Kyushu. If the "monster wolf" proves effective during its test period of six months, Soeda Mayor Akio Teranishi hopes to introduce more of the "animal" guards.

When the infrared sensors of the device detect movement, the monster wolf's two red LED eyes light up while it shakes its head. The wolf is equipped with 57 different kinds of audio sounds to scare away would-be rice paddy raiders, such as howls like those of the real wild beast and a human voice saying, "Shoot it with a rifle! Shoot!"

According to President Yuji Ohta, 59, of the Hokkaido-based manufacturer Ohta Seiki Co. that installed the new equipment, the sensors on the wolf extend out to a maximum range of roughly 30 meters. The model is completely unique to the company, and the installation of the device in Soeda marks the 28th unit introduced into the wild nationwide.

"One-third of my rice crop was destroyed by wild boars before harvest," explained 70-year-old Norio Kido, who farms roughly 3,500 square meters of rice paddies, as he pet the fur of the mechanical wolf. "The howling of a wolf is threatening. I hope this can cut down on damage (to the crops)."

The Soeda Municipal Government regional industrial promotion department reports that during the 2016 fiscal year, pests caused a total of some 45.92 million yen in damage to the agricultural and forestry industries. The town had been taking on prevention measures such as installing electric fences and capturing the troublesome animals, but Mayor Teranishi said there was little decrease in the damage. As a new method to protect farmers, the local government allocated 100,000 yen in its initial budget for fiscal 2018 to purchase and introduce the mechanical wolf on a trial basis.

The actual price tag of the wolf is roughly five times that, as the equipment includes fees for solar panels and batteries as well as installment. However, Ohta Seiki gave the town a discount in hopes that the beast's success in Soeda would help boost sales of the devices throughout Kyushu.

At the moment, the monster wolf is not equipped with legs and cannot run on its own, but President Ohta said, "In the future, I would like to have it move like a robot and actually chase away vermin."

(Japanese original by Yoshiyuki Mineshita, Tagawa Resident Bureau)

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