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Japanese Wolf

By: Staff

Updated on: 28/03/2022

The Japanese Wolf is an extinct subspecies of the gray wolf that was last seen at the prime of the 20th century. Owing to its small size the Also called the Honshū Wolf, the classification of the animal as a subspecies is disputed. Many biologists believe that because of its small size and other its physical differences, it should be considered as a separate species, yet others think that it may not have even been a true wolf at all.

Scientific Classification

Species:C. lupus
Subspecies:†C. l. hodophilax

Quick Facts

Other Names:Hondo Wolf, Yamainu, Mountain Dog
Year of Extinction:1905
Size:About 35 inches (90 cm) in length
Height:Around 12 inches (30 cm) inches at the shoulder
Weight:Light (exact not known)
Average Lifespan:Up to 13 years in the wild, and 15 in captivity
Location/Distribution & Habitat:It was found only in Japan in the islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, primarily in the remote mountainous regions
Climate/Environment:Warm to moderate
Birth Type (Reproduction):Viviparous

History of Extinction

Japanese Wolf

In 1732, when contagious rabies began to spread in the country, the population of the Japanese wolf began to diminish. The first report of the disease, which is said to have been introduced by humans, was reported in the islands of Kyūshū and Shikoku. Such an incident in parts of the country began to affect the number of these wolves largely, and this continued for almost a century.

Japanese Honshu Wolf

Some researchers debate that the disease was spread purposely in order to kill the wolves, whose every existence in the locales had already been a matter of concern for the local people. However, others think that the domestic dogs might have transported the disease. But, whichever way, the humans, with their rabies-induced aggression, began to persecute the wolves in general and began to kill them in large numbers, eventually leading to their extinction.

Deforestation also played a significant role in the extinction of these creatures, since such an action forced the animals in coming into direct conflict with the human population, which in turn provoked the farmers to target the packs and kill them gradually. Other sources also claim that these canids were exterminated as a national policy.

Physical Description

Japanese Wolf Pictures

As the world’s smallest known wolf, this animal grew up to approximately 35 inches in length from nose to tail with a height of around a foot. They had a small head with an elongated muzzle, with the jaws lined with sharp teeth, with a close resemblance to dogs, jackals, and coyotes. The entire body was covered with short a coat of wiry hair, while the thin dog-like tail had long hair and had a rounded end. They had thin but elongated eyes, small, erect ears, and short legs.

Honshu Wolf Diet

The only food of the Honshu wolf was meat, and they are known to prey upon animals larger than them, including wild boar and deer. Since they would also hunt down smaller pests and rodents like rats that usually damage crops, they were praised by the farmers.

Interesting Facts

Japanese Wolf Images
Japanese Hosnu Wolf
  • The last specimen was officially killed in 1905 in central Japan’s Nara Prefecture.
  • At present, there are two photographs, eight pelts, and five stuffed specimens of the animal, out of which, the Netherlands, and London’s British Museum possess one each, while the other three are housed in Japan.
  • The animal occupied an important place in the folklore and the religious traditions of Japan. Quite much like the story of Rome’s Romulus and Remus, clan leader Fujiwara no Hidehira, the third ruler of Northern Fujiwara in Japan’s Mutsu Province is believed to have been raised by these wolves. Also, in Japan’s Shinto religion, the Honshu wolf is symbolically related to the mountain kami, an animistic spirit or god.
  • Various sightings of the extinct wolf have been reported from time to time since its extinction; however, scientists explained that these reports ‘merely derived from misidentification of feral dogs’.
  • Skeletal remains of this canine have been unearthed in archaeological sites including the Torihama shell mound, which dated back to the Jōmon period (10,000 to 250 B.C).
  • Just next to the banks of the Takami River in Higashiyoshino, Nara, stands the Japanese wolf memorial, which is a replica of the 1905-animal that was slain by the then hunters. Inscribed therein is a Japanese ‘haiku’ (a type of Japanese poetry with a specific meter):
    I walk
    With that wolf
    That is no more.

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