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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Japanese Serow

One of the nice things about the Internet, is that when you search for one thing, you can almost always find something else that is interesting, too.

Believe it or not, I was searching for a term in my son's MLB: The Show 2014 baseball game, whereby a pitcher threw a RFB pitch. It turns out to be a running fastball that moves in towards a batters hands. On the page I was on - which was dedicated to Q&A about various topics - I decided to search for Japan.

Believe it or not there were such topics as "Does Japan have bananas?" "Is (Are) there seagulls in Japan?" and "Are there ungulates in Japan?"

As silly as you might think the first two questions are - they aren't, in my opinion. The third one caught my eye.

First, yes and yes to those two early queries - but in some countries, availability of fruit isn't always a given, nor would one expect to see a seagull in say a place not near water - but they tend to find a way.

Squirrels... I never saw a freaking squirrel in Japan in my three years there... but apparently, they do exist. More on these guys tomorrow.

But back to question #3... I have heard of the term ungulate... but I'll be damned if that's a word I would use in any sort of everyday conversation. I had to look it up.

An ungulate is a hoofed animal... which makes me wonder why the hell someone with enough brains to ask a question with the word ungulate in it had to ask such a question regarding Japan.

Anyone who has ever had a Japanese steak or had milk would surely realize that cows exist there.

The thing is... the ONLY answer regarding Japanese ungulates, however, answered that there is a Japanese serow.

It's a Japanese goat, by the way. That's it in the photo above. Hunh... never saw one, never heard of it before.

I certainly have seen Japanese deer, however - also an ungulate. There are also pigs and sheep that are ungulates... and horses, too! Why the hell the person answering the question only mentioned the serow, stating that it was a goat-antelope, without mentioning any of the others confused me... okay maybe they just meant to state that here's a Japanese species of ungulate found ONLY in Japan. But, I'm pretty sure the deer is one, too.

I'm also sure that the various zoos in Japan have other ungulates... warthogs, wildebeest, rhino, etcetera...

So... what the hell is a Japanese serow? Known by the scientific name of Capricornis crispus (Capricorn is the goat symbol of the western zodiac), the Japanese serow is a national symbol of Japan.

¥8 1952 Japanese stamp featuring the Japanese serow.
Features, Adult:
  • Height: ~ 81-centimeters (32-inches) tall;
  • Weight: 30–45 kilograms (66–99 pounds);
  • Color: Black to whitish, with the color lightening in the summer months;
  • Covering: Fur, bushy, especially at the tail. No mane;
  • Horns: Two, short and curved back.
The creature can be found mainly in the north and central part of Japan's main Honshu island, but it can also be found in small parts of Shikoku and Kyushu. Since it is found in the more southern climes of Shikoku and Kyushu, one can assume it isn't just a cold-weather creature.

It does prefer forests at an elevation of 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) or higher, but it will also hang out in grasslands, though I would suspect also at high altitude.

The Japanese serow are solitary creatures, but will gather in pairs or small families - so not a herd.

They tend to live, as one would expect of a goat creature, to live in heavy mountain forest where they eat shoots and leaves (grammar correct) and acorns.

With such wonderful-looking fur and its solitary nature, you could expect that the Japanese serow would be a critter hunters like to hunt - and you would be correct.

Until 1955, the Japanese serow was nearly hunted to extinction until it was designated a Special National Monument, a title that is supposed to protect it from poachers… but really… if you are a poacher, you don't really care about such designations. What it did mean, however, is that Joe Suzuki and farmers et al couldn't hunt it.

Fret not, the plan seems to have worked. Where once it was nearly extinct, on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Animals ranks it "Least Concern". According to Wikipedia, there are 18,024 animals on the "Least Concern' list, including the earth-pig born, Cerebus the Aardvark... I mean, the aardvark... so I'm guessing the serow is safe enough for now.

... but that fur sure looks nice.

Of course, not everyone is happy to see a proliferation of the Japanese serow - like those in the forestry and farming industries… because the beast likes to eat high value tree stuff and forage for farm food.

Industry won out, believe it or not. I believe it. In 1979 the law to protect the Japanese serow was repealed - sort of.

The Japanese serow maintains protected status in 13 areas spread out over 23 prefectures, but if it strays outside those conservation areas, it is fair game to 'culling' as a pest.

While John Deere and its tractors may have popularized the famous advertising slogan: "Nothing runs like a Deere", in Japan the Yamaha Motor Company sold, between 1986-2007, its XT 225 sport motorcycle as the Serow… a 20 horsepower bike… of which I think I once owned when I was in Japan.

I rode it once around the block and nearly drove it through a plate glass window belonging to my apartment building's manager. I put it aside and sold it quickly. Nothing runs like a Yamaha Serow - thank god.

Oh, and as my dear Caroline would be quick to inform me, the lead character in the Miyakzaki Hayao animated film Princess Mononke (1997) rides a serow.

Baa! Cheers,
Andrew Joseph

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