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Hokkaido city deploys 'monster wolf' robot to scare bears away from residential areas

A "monster wolf" robot with flashing red eyes and fangs bared is seen ready to threaten off bears in a residential part of the city of Takikawa in Hokkaido. (Mainichi/Hiroto Watanabe)

TAKIKAWA, Hokkaido -- A wolf robot that can roar and flash its eyes red to scare off brown bears entering populated areas has been introduced in this city in Japan's northernmost prefecture after a steep rise in sightings of the animals in residential parts of the city.

    The "monster wolf" developed by a firm in the Hokkaido town of Naie and others was installed by the Takikawa Municipal Government in September in a bid to "avoid friction between residents and bears." The initiative marks the first time for the mechanical wolf to be deployed in front of general housing, and since its arrival on the scene there have been no eyewitness reports of bears. An individual connected to its installation said reassuringly, "At the very least it's effective in making residents feel at ease."

    The robot was developed through a cooperative project involving the company Ohta Seiki, a precision-machinery maker in Naie, along with Hokkaido University and Tokyo University of Agriculture. It made its debut in November 2016. The finished product resembles a wolf, with a body measuring 120 centimeters long and standing at a height of around 90 cm. When its infrared sensor detects that a wild animal or human is close by, the robot shakes its head and lets out a roar to threaten anything in its surroundings. At present, a total of 62 monster wolf robots are in use from Hokkaido to the southern islands of Okinawa to ward off deer and wild boars that target farming produce.

    For years in Takikawa there was perhaps one bear sighting every few years, but since May 28 there have already been a total of 10 this year. On Sept. 14, residents situated about 6 kilometers from the city's densely built-up areas, and about 1 kilometer from a riverbank, reported to the city government that they could "see a bear from the window" of their home. Three days before, the city government also received reports of a bear-cub sighting in the same area, and the information led to its decision to deploy the monster wolf robot.

    The contraption will serve until the early part of November, before the bears' hibernation period, and will be put "on the lookout" again from the spring. Yuji Ota, head of Ohta Seiki, said, "We want to let the bears know, 'Human settlements aren't where you live,' and help with the co-existence of bears and people."

    (Japanese original by Hiroto Watanabe, Asahikawa Bureau)

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