Friday, January 15, 2010

Using Bees to Battle Crows

Crows scavenge through bags of garbage in an alley of Tokyo's Ikebukuro entertainment district. Despite measures to control the number of crows in the city, their population has grown to more than 20,000 in the past eight years. Photo courtesy: Katsumi Kasahara/AP

It is always heartening to see a problem solved the natural way. For the past decade, Japan has been using an inventive solution to an on-going problem. In Japan, crows are considered to be a menace and the feathered nuisances are multiplying like mad due to the rich feast of street garbage they find in Japan – Tokyo in particular.

The war on crows began about 10 years ago. The unverified story is that a crow buzzed Gov. Shintaro Ishihara as he played golf, prompting a declaration that he would turn crow-meat pies into Tokyo's favorite dish. That never happened. But the battle continues today, with mixed results.

Crows are a very raucous bird; and, their cawing can rattle the nerves. Combine this with their curious, aggressive nature and incredible intelligence; and, you have a formidable opponent.

Npr tells us this story:
The sound of crows cawing makes Yumiko Kono's heart beat faster as she pounds around Yoyogi Park in central Tokyo. A long-distance runner, Kono covers at least seven miles a day. She is highly sensitive to sound, since she is blind. She runs with the aid of a companion. A year and a half ago, she was attacked by a crow in the park, an experience that traumatized her.

"A crow landed on my head just for an instant while I was running," Kono says. "It was like it was using my head as a jumping board. I was surprised, then scared. Now, when I hear crows cawing and their wings flapping, I still get scared."

Kono is not alone. Many Tokyo dwellers have been dive-bombed by the big black birds — the species known as jungle crows — that flap around the city. Almost everyone knows someone who has been pecked or pooped upon.
Koji Takagi, manager of Tokyo's Yoyogi Park, says the traps tend to catch younger, more inexperienced crows. The birds lured into the traps set up by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government are then gassed. Photo courtesy: Louisa Lim/NPR

The city’s response to the problem is the inhumane trapping and gassing of captured crows.

"We do get complaints from people opposed to the crow extermination. But this is the policy of the environment bureau. People should also learn to deal with garbage better," says Koji Takagi, manager at Tokyo's Yoyogi Park, which has three traps.

In addition to the dive bombing of both people and animals; and, the bird droppings in the street and on clothing and pedestrians alike; crows cause other problems. The birds cause technological havoc. They nest in utility poles and cause blackouts; they even steal fiber-optic cables to build nests, sometimes disabling parts of the broadband network.

Still, the main thrust of the effort directed at reducing the crows’ numbers should be cutting off the source of the problem - easy access to food scraps from garbage cans. Not only would it improve sanitation; but, it could reduce the amount of funds spent on keeping the crow population at bay. At present, the government budget for crow eradication is currently at $700,000 - about $50 per crow killed. This would appeal to the economically minded while also appealing to the environmentalist as this translates into fewer crows killed.

Atsuo Tanaka of the Ginza Honeybee Project says his 300,000 honeybees chase away crows. Photo courtesy: Louisa Lim/NPR

Fortunately, there is a privately-funded project called the Ginza Honeybee Project being conducted in Tokyo. While this project is primarily for the purpose of producing honey in a highly-populated city setting, an expected bonus was discovered. The site for the project was carefully picked based on the bees’ flight patterns and available surrounding green areas to supply the nectar. Finally, it was decided to set up a series of hives on the roof of an office block in the glam shopping district of Ginza. It was here that the researchers found the bees amazing ability to go head-to-head with the crows.

The co-founder Atsuo Tanaka says the 300,000 honeybees are doing their part to repel the crows. "The bees become very aggressive when they see shiny black objects, because it reminds them of bears or hornets who might attack them. So whenever they see crows, a whole swarm of bees will chase them," he says, adding that the bees are friendly toward humans.

Tanaka says the crows no longer land on or near his building; and, adds that they tend to fly lower to avoid the swarms of honeybees. While this is an impressive model, it has yet to be put into mainstream crow control. Hopefully, Japan will look further into this natural method of crow eradication; and, the trapping and gassing of crows will stop.

Photo courtesy: fishermansdaughter

Via TreeHugger and npr

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