Book Review « Japan Wolf Association: JWA

Book Review

Waiting for Wolves in Japan: an Anthropological Study of People-Wildlife Relations.

Knight, John. 2003. Oxford University Press.


By Adrian Treves, PhD, University of  Wisconsin

(Book review: Conservation Biology Volume 18, No. 4, August 2004 )

** Human and Ecological Dimensions of Conservation Controversy **

51YA3NDZPNL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Since 1945 Japan has seen radical transformations of its mountain ecosystems and rural human populations. In Waiting for Wolves in Japan, John Knight provides a richly detailed description of the diverse human- wildlife interactions within the forest- agriculture ecosystems of rural Japan. He recounts how a dramatic decline in rural populations via urbanization was coincident with the spread of smallholder timber plantations that replaced fruiting trees with ever- green cypress and pines. Depopulation caused labor shortages, so farms and forestry plantations were left un- guarded or even abandoned. As a result, mammals in the Japanese mountains have increasingly come into conflict with the remaining farmers, villagers, and foresters. From dam- aged plantations and fields to threats to human safety, it seems that every aspect of life in Japanese mountain villages is somehow affected by the abundant, problematic wildlife. Against this backdrop, Knight re-counts the myriad interactions of humans and wild animals, the varied views and responses to the conflicts that result, and the ensuing sociopolitical discord between people. Nevertheless, this book is more than a story of human-wildlife conflict be- cause it provides tremendous detail about the lives and habits of hunters, farmers, foresters, and animal-lovers of many sorts, as well as valuable in- sights into the behavior of Japanese wild pigs, deer, serow, macaques, and bears. For this reason, Knight’s book will interest those studying the human dimensions of biodiversity conservation, community natural resource management, and the behavior and conservation of large mammals in human-dominated landscapes.

Waiting for Wolves contains fewer insights into wolves—surprising given the title. After multiple chapters that make virtually no reference to wolves, one almost forgets that Knight is setting the stage for the remarkable and recent campaign to build political support for wolf reintroduction to Japan. Japanese wolves were extirpated in the first decade of the twentieth century. The proposed reintroduction of wolves to Japan illustrates the stunning complexity of some twenty-first century restoration efforts that must overcome challenges posed by technology, wildlife biology, ecology, and politics. The intervening chapters on other wildlife and the rural villages of Japan are essential to the nuanced picture Knight presents of the wolf reintroduction proposed by a nongovernmental environmental action group, the Japanese Wolf Association ( JWA). Knight attempts to organize all this complexity for us and provide the background structure of human beliefs, livelihoods, and historical interactions with wildlife in an entertaining and illuminating fashion. He succeeds admirably in achieving most of these objectives, but the book will not satisfy many in his intended audience.

Knight effectively uses his training in sociocultural anthropology to canvas opinions across a wide range of actors in rural Japan, but the reader is given too little quantitative insight. Knight’s research would be strengthened by analysis of the demographic variation or spatial variation in the diverse—sometimes contradictory— opinions held by people in similar walks of life. Although one person and one book cannot meet all expectations, the shortage of spatially explicit, quantitative analysis may disappoint some conservation biologists and the more quantitatively oriented practitioners in the social sciences. More important in my mind, the anthropological approach frustrates conservation action because the reader is left rudderless to determine what actions—whether outreach, policy, or protection—would be effective or win public support. Anecdote, no matter how thoroughly documented, provides a scant basis on which to predict outcomes or guide action. Knight also reduces the readability of his book by littering the text with hundreds of Japanese words—sometimes used several lines after their first definition. Although I applaud the scholarly aspect of this, it will turn away part of his audience who seek concise insights. In the last chapter, Knight takes a risk by criticizing JWA’s proposed restoration of wolves on the grounds that it is unclear whether wolves exert compensatory or regulatory mortality on their prey. This criticism ignores the literature on the indirect effects of predators, namely how they change the behavior of surviving prey animals in addition to removing some prey. The indirect effects and wider ecosystem shifts that may follow from predator reintroduction should not be ignored, particularly the shifts in prey movements and the enriched scavenging niche such as occurred in the Yellowstone ecosystem following gray wolf reintroduction (Berger et al. 2001; Smith et al. 2003). Hence, JWA’s conjectures— that reintroduced wolves can help re- store pre–Meiji era Japanese nature and may induce their prey to avoid open habitat such as farms—may be plausible regardless of whether wolves exert compensatory mortality or limit their prey.

John Knight has attempted some- thing that few sociocultural anthropologists would brave, describing simultaneously the human and ecological dimensions of a modern conservation controversy. He has made a real contribution to conservation science by broadening our perspectives on the human beliefs and behaviors that everywhere play a major part in the success or failure of conservation programs. He succeeds in my view because he does not digress into the narcissistic polemics of deconstructionists and never loses sight of his two sets of subjects—the wildlife and the humans with interests in the Japanese forest-agriculture ecotone. This book is well worth reading for any conservation practitioner working with local communities on issues relating to forest restoration, large-carnivore reintroduction, agriculture and livestock production in wildlife areas, or the role of hunting in wildlife management. It should also interest theoreticians that consider the manifold ways humans shape and are shaped by their natural environment. The book will not satisfy landscape ecologists, sociologists, or population ecologists who seek more quantitative and spatially explicit analyses of human-wildlife interactions, although the book may whet their appetite for more information on Japan’s intriguing rural agroecosystems.

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