The worldwide human impulses to annihilate wolves, steal their territory, and create wolf haters come together in the story of the organized eradication of wolves from Japan. And buried in that tragedy are important questions for wolf survival.
The story is told well by Brett Walker in his book, "The Lost Wolves of Japan," and begins around 1600 when the Japanese regarded wolves as deities and worshiped them at shrines. Farmers accepted the wolf as a partner that killed the boar and deer that ate grain crops, the cornerstone of Japanese agriculture. Japan had no large scale livestock industry.
During the 1700s, Japan's swelling population encroached on wolf territory. Rabid wolves killed some Japanese. Hatred stirred; a bounty was placed, but the Japanese still held the animal in high esteem.
All that began to change in 1868 when the new Japanese government vowed to modernize the economy. Walker writes that modernization was built into "the Japanese education system, workplace, political values, and attitudes about agriculture." Government policy demoted grain farming and promoted livestock production on huge new ranches carved from yet more wolf territory. The government used taxidermy - stuffed snarling specimens - to portray wolves as monstrous killers that preyed on almighty livestock.