Vlakteplaas ranger Reckson Seane was invited to Japan to attend a course on Wildlife Conservation and Management for African countries with eight other candidates. The course stretched from 15 August to 8 October 2006 and was organised by the Japanese government. The other candidates were from Senegal, Mozambique, Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar. It was the first time that a delegate from South Africa attended.
As an introduction each candidate had to give a presentation on their own country, which was afterwards discussed by the group. Reckson said that the main difference between national parks of Japan compared to that of South Africa "is that their parks are not fenced like ours."
"Public roads run through the parks and nowhere do you pay entrance fees. There is no accommodation inside the parks, only restaurants and curio shops. In some places people even have small farms inside the national parks."
Japan also only has five indigenous wild animals - the Japanese sika deer, wild boar, Japanese serow, brown bear and the Japanese monkey. Poaching in Japan is also a problem although it is done for other reasons than in South Africa. Reckson says that in the Asian countries people will kill animals for cultural reasons. The people use the bile of the bear as a medicine and believe that when a woman gives birth she must eat this in order for her and her baby to survive. To be respected amongst their people men must go out and kill a bear. This resulted in a dramatic decrease in the bear population.
Similar to South Africa, Japanese people have problems where man and beast compete for food and space. The Japanese monkey, the wild boar and also the brown bear damage crops and in some instances people have even been attacked by bears. The sika deer creates a problem by eating the bark of trees, sometimes up to two metres high, causing the trees to die. The numbers of the sika deer are also increasing because the younger generation Japanese men are not as much into hunting as their predecessors.
According to Reckson the course was very diverse and as well as lectures given by various experts they also went on field trips and visited some of the national parks and other places of interest. The delegates took part in field work and got first hand experience on the sophisticated equipment used by the Japanese. Reckson said that the Japanese people are very friendly and supportive and went out of their way to make them feel welcome. He said that it was an unforgettable experience and "I want to thank everyone that made it possible, specially my field rangers that looked after the section as well as to Agnes Mukondeleli who assisted them in my absence."
This was the beginning of a new life in Tokyo. The heat problem in Tokyo is a common thing with very high humidity. Adapting with that kind of temperature after being exposed to the cold winters in South Africa was very difficult and at some stages I could hardly breathe. But that was for a few days. The day was very tight from morning until around 18h00. We started with the briefing session in the morning, JICA programme orientation and meeting for return flight arrangements.
We had curriculum guidance by Mr Kinoshita from Japanese Wildlife Research Centre until 12h00. At 12h30 we left Tokyo International Centre for Kasumigaseki where we were called by the Ministry of Environment. We used the train. On arrival we went to the 21st floor where Mr Minamikawa, Director General of Nature Conservation Bureau, addressed us. He gave us a brief history of conservation in Japan. National parks in Japan were introduced with the sole purpose of protecting the beauty of the place. That is why parks in Japan are not fenced and entry into national parks is free. From his office he could show us one of the parks next to the central government building, which was established way back in the 1930s.
From his office we went to one of the boardrooms in the same building where we received two lectures from Ms Chida and Mr. Tokuda, both from the Ministry of Environment. Ms Chida's lecture was about the Natural Parks System of Japan and Mr Tokuda's lecture was about Wildlife Management in Japan. Both lectures were in Japanese and Ms. Nakajima was interpreting for us. We finished late in the afternoon after 17:00 and went back to Tokyo International Centre.
This weekend was free and we used it to get to know the area around Tokyo. I also happen to get time to attend one of the local Christian churches and it was very good. It was a very unique experience attending church with Japanese people.
We had a lecture on Invasive Alien Species by Dr Kishimoto from Japanese Wildlife Research Centre. During his lecture he also showed us a case study and some relevant measures in Japan. He also used an example of a number of alien species that were introduced to Japan to solve problems, but later become problems.
These include mongoose species that were introduced in Japan to help in eliminating poisonous snakes. But later that mongoose started feeding on a certain species of birds that is endemic to Japan and currently they don't know how to reverse the whole process.
The black bass was introduced for fishing in rivers and later preyed on indigenous species, bumble bees introduced for pollination and later drove away indigenous bees, feral goat introduced for farming and later became problems in some islands after the people left during the World War II and the Taiwanese monkey that was introduced in the zoo. Some of them ran away and mate with Japanese monkeys causing genetic disturbance.
We left the centre in the morning for Haneda Airport on JICA bus. we were going to Hokkaido, the island in the far northern part of Japan. We left Haneda Airport at around 12h00 for Memanbetsu Airport in Hokkaido on one and half hour flight. On arrival at Memanbetsu we took an airport bus to Hotel Sun Park. We checked in and had a rest.
The main focus of this study trip was on Wildlife Management with special attention on Tourism and Conservation. Hokkaido is very popular for tourism because of the landscape, natural features, mountains, the sea, animals, national parks, etc. One of the most famous tourist attractions is Shiretoko National Park, which is situated at the Shiretoko peninsula. That is home to the Sika deer, bear, Japanese Serow and wild boar.
We left Tokyo early in the morning for Abiko City in the Chiba Prefecture. The morning session was a visit to Abiko City Museum of Birds where we had an interpretation through the museum by Mr. Saito. They have specimens of different bird species from all over the world. The afternoon session was a visit to the Yamashina Institute of Ornithology. The Deputy Director of the institute welcomed us and from there we had a lecture on Bird Banding Method and Utilization of Bird Specimen.
The institute is the only one in Japan and is serving the rest of Asian countries. The institute also has relationships with many institutions all over the world including one in Cape Town in South Africa. This helps them in studying the movement of birds to and from Japan. After the lectures they took us through their collections of different specimen of birds and their library. We finished late in the afternoon and headed back to JICA Tokyo on a train.
We were approaching our seventh week in Japan, which was going to be the last. The mind was already home. This week was focused more on Action Plan for the Improved Wildlife Management. We left JICA Tokyo on Sunday morning by train to Saku City in Nagano Prefecture. We used one of the best and most executive trains in Japan, the Black Train or Express Train. We arrived at Saku late in the afternoon and checked in a hotel. It was raining heavily.
This was our last day in Japan. The morning was filled with final packing with the kilogramme limit being the major problem. At 13h30 we were collected from JICA Tokyo to the Tokyo City Air Terminal where we boarded the airport limousine to the Narita International Airport. Almost three hours in a queue at the airport with very strict security checks.
We later went on a four and half hour flight to Hong Kong. Around 23h45 Hong Kong time, we left on a 13-hour flight to Johannesburg and arrived the following morning at 06h55 South African time. After very long and slow queue at Immigration counter, I went to collect the car at Avis and drove back to Kruger National Park.