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Honshu Wolf Survival?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 8th, 2007

Honshu Wolf

Honshu Wolf

Honshu Wolf

The world’s smallest variety of wolf, the Japanese wolf, also called the Honshu Wolf (Canis lupus hodophilax), supposedly became extinct in 1905 in Nara prefecture. But did some survive beyond that date? And was there physical proof of this, in 1910 in Fukui prefecture?

Sightings of the Japanese wolf persist to the present. A new debate is occurring currently in Japan that the extinction date may have been incorrect, almost immediately.

Intriguingly, finding a taxidermy example of the Honshu Wolf presently is quite difficult. Only five mounted specimens are known worldwide, three in Japan, one in the Netherlands (which is pictured in Swift as a Swallow), and the supposedly final 1905 animal, which is located at the British Museum.

But was there another taxidermy mount that proved these wolves lived beyond 1905?

In Japan, a recent Asahi News discussion has surfaced regarding the photographs you see here. I am grateful to cryptozoology historian American Brent Swancer living in Japan, who has passed info from his translation along to me.

Supposedly killed in 1910 in Fukui, the Japanese wolf in the above photo is apparently genuine. The article explains that the last officially known Japanese wolf died in 1905, yet here is one that was allegedly killed in 1910.

Unfortunately, the body was destroyed in a fire, according to the article. The picture in the middle is a stuffed specimen of that last known Japanese wolf and the picture at the bottom is the farm where the wolf at top was shot.

The two photos today remain as the only real evidence that this wolf existed since the body has long since been destroyed.

In the Asahi News article there is a mention that in an issue of the Fukui agricultural magazine of the time, zoo staff had examined the animal the day after the shooting in 1910. They came to the conclusion that it was indeed a Japanese wolf. Unfortunately, it seems that that is as far as the examination went. It appears that those who advocate that this was a Japanese wolf point to that Fukui magazine article, as well as comparing the morphology of the animal pictured to data on the Japanese wolf. But it is inconclusive and not enough to change the common historical record that the last known specimen died in Nara in 1905. Brent Swancer

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

97 Responses to “Honshu Wolf Survival?”

  1. deejay responds:

    Very cool, THIS is why i read this site. Thanks for posting it!

  2. mystery_man responds:

    Just to let you all know, that is me up there. My real name is Brent, and I will be more than happy to explain in more detail the events that took place if you want. It really is quite a fascinating example of “when is an animal officially extinct?”. Under what circumstances and with what evidence to we make those proclamations? There is, with these photos and the article in the agricultural magazine, as well as examinations of the photos by several prominent zoologists in Japan, plenty of evidence to suggest that the last known Honshu was killed in Fukui in 1910, not Nara in 1905. So why haven’t the books been re written? Some have said that the photo is not genuine or that it was a hoax or even a dog of some type, or an escaped wolf, but the evidence does not support this. Unfortunately, this particular specimen was destroyed in a fire during the war.

  3. DWA responds:

    God I get tired of the poor old sasquatch. Such old news. 😀

    Thanks seconded!

  4. Ceroill responds:

    Agreed! Well done, and very interesting. Thanks, Loren.

  5. daledrinnon responds:

    This is an interesting-looking animal. It looks more coyote than wolf. Has DNA testing been done to show that it actually is Canis lupus and not a different species? If it were found in different parts of Asia, this might well have been called a jackal.

  6. DWA responds:

    Well. Pleased to “meet” you, Brent!

    Nice job. Although I must say the wolf remains were not subjected to taxidermy’s best work.

    daledrinnon: I think the same thing you do when I see pictures of the Arabian and Indian subspecies of the wolf. And it’s my understanding that the dingo is now classed under Canis lupus. That guy is one fuzzy critter, taxonomically.

  7. MBFH responds:

    mystery_man no more!

    Japan’s very own Thylacine, very interesting. Does anyone have any more information on whenthe most recent sightings have been. As has been discussed before, Japan has a very high population density but still some areas of pristine wilderness. Hopefully these wolves are still out there.

  8. dogu4 responds:

    Great topic. Very interesting but I wouldn’t rely on the superficial appearance of an animal for clues about the degree of an animal’s genetic affiliation when it comes to canids especially.

    Never the less, I too would love to see how their evolution is reflected in their genetics.

    The story of this Honsu wolf brings to mind an interesting story of the Warrah of the Falkland Islands and speculation that it was a fused species of fox and dog as a result of early visitors release of domestic canids prior to the arrival of Europeans in the mid 18th century. It seems that some species, canids especially, are more elastic than we might think.

  9. mystery_man responds:

    Daledrinnon- This is not Canis lupus per say, but rather a different sub species, Canis lupus hodophilax. The Honshu wolf did tend to be rather more coyote like in appearance compared to the Canis lupus we all know.

    DWA- As far as taxidermy work goes, remember this was in 1910. Also, the Japanese wolf has shorter legs and a stockier build than the wolf most of us are used to seeing. That may be why the taxidermy job seems strange.

    Dogu4- Canis lupus hadolifax was an officially recognized subspecies of wolf. The last known specimen died in Nara and that was confirmed. As for judging this one from appearances, there was a fairly renowned Japanese zoologist that compared the photo with the morphology known from the holotypes of the Japanese wolf and he was quite sure that is what this was. Let’s not forget the team from th zoo that examined it and declared it a Honshu wolf. But that’s the mystery here, isn’t it? Since this one does not have a body left to look at, then we can only go on these few photos and that is where some of the controversy originates. There were actually two varieties of Japanese wolf, the Honshu wolf shown here, and another found on the island of Hokkaido. That one was called the Ezo wolf.

  10. mystery_man responds:

    It also might interest some to know that the taxonomy of the Japanese wolf has often been cause for debate. The Japanese zoologist Imaizumi Yoshinori was a big proponent of classifying it as a distinct and seperate species although it is mostly thought of as a subspecies. It was indeed very small, standing just over a foot at the shoulder.

  11. DWA responds:

    Kind of sounds like the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis).

    That animal has gone by the names Simien fox and Simien jackal as well.

    Maybe it’ll stay a wolf for a bit. 😀

  12. mystery_man responds:

    MBFH- I will tell you a little about some fairly modern day sightings. In 1934, a group of foresters came across a pack of 5 or 6 animals as they were out hunting for deer. In 1936, a man reportedly captured a wolf cub, but released it when he feared the mother would come looking for it. In the 1940s and 50s, there was a spate of sightings. During the years before and after the second war, there was a huge conscription effort going on in the country and a lot of people were moving out of rural areas. This caused a decrease in hunting and an increase in prey species such as deer and wild boar, which many think could be the reason a small population boost in the wolves occurred which led to a lot of sightings during this time. Unfortunately the amount of sightings has dropped significantly since the 50s, although they happen from time to time. The Southern part of the Kii penninsula is though to be a likely place for them to still be due to the amount of sightings there. Sightings have happened in areas far and wide, so it gives me hope some of them might be out there still. I personally feel that there is more of a chance that the Ezo wolf (Canis lupus hattai) of Hokkaido has the best chance of surviving into modern days. Hokkaido is sort of like America’s Alaska, sparsely populated with large swaths of wilderness. The Ezo wolf was larger then the Honshu wolf and had an appearance more like a normal Grey wolf.

  13. mystery_man responds:

    I guess revealing my name makes me not such a mystery_man anymore. Maybe I should change my blog name to “somewhat of a mystery_man”. :)

  14. DWA responds:

    If there’s anything that makes one wonder about the paranormal, it’s the elusive nature of plain old critters.

    It’s hard to imagine wolves anywhere in Japan, even Hokkaido (the part of Japan I’d most want to visit from what I’ve seen and heard). But if Hokkaido has grizzly bears – at least the pictures I’ve seen make them look like griz – it could have wolves too.

    Here’s hoping.

  15. mystery_man responds:

    Japan is at least ecologically speaking capable of supporting large animals in its wilderness. It is not all Blade Runner-esque urban sprawl. Two thirds of its landmass is forests and mountians, and most of the population is focused into megacities in the coastal plains. There are a lot of large mammals dwelling here, from deer, to wild boar, to Japanese macaques (a type of monkey), to the tanuki (another type of wild dog.), and yes DWA, bears too. The deer and wild boar are actually quite a nuisance in many parts of Japan, their numbers pretty unchecked except by the occasional hunter. The ecosystem is ripe pickings for a top keystone predator and there is enough unspoiled wilderness that the wolf could possibly remain hidden. There has been even talk of trying to reintroduce wolves into Japan although this has not gotten off the ground. I think if they did, it could perhaps threaten any remaining indigenous Honshu wolves. But Japan might suprise you with its amount of nature. I can take the train for about an hour out of Tokyo and wind up in scenic, forested land that stretches for miles and miles. I always look out there and think that there is hope the Japanese wolf is still out there.

  16. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: I’m SURE that outside of Hokkaido, of which I know at least something, Japan would surprise me. Which is one reason it’s high on my list of places to visit. Someday.

    Japan has both black and brown bears. That’s something right there.

    The main exception to my general aversion to scientific darting collaring and generally fiddling with wildlife is reintroductions. Sometimes it is just The Thing To Do. But maybe in Japan we should wait, and find out about the wolf that might be there first.

  17. dogu4 responds:

    Excellent info Mystery Man…now that molecular biology is an essential technique in classifiying the genetic lineage of populations, it seems now is the time to cross-check earlier designations of extinct animals whose genetic materials we can find in our collections which were classified prior to availability of these new tools. I think we might find that the notion of what is a species might come into some new more modern and more comprehensive definition for species.

    And DWA…re grizzly bears. There are places with populations of Usus Arctos though no wolves (Kodiak Island, for instance), though both are indicator species in-so-far as their living in a habitat means it has the potential to support an ecosystem in which large predators and their prey are keystone elements.

  18. dogu4 responds:

    And Mystery Man…you are aware that the fact that a country with the population of Japan’s is still so well forested is no mere coincidence. Reading Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” one becomes acutely aware of how our conscious efforts and a critical interpretation of both cultural and natural history is essential.

  19. shumway10973 responds:

    Talk about a small wolf-the coyotes around here are bigger. It would be cool if they did survive. There are very few animals I don’t cheer for when rediscovered, and those are extremely dangerous or absolutely annoying (won’t lose sleep if the mosquito goes extinct).

  20. MattBille responds:

    From the land that brought you the subcompact car, we present the subcompact wolf.

    There’s a chapter on the wolf, taking it up through the end of 2005, in my book Shadows of Existence (Hancock House, 2006).

  21. mystery_man responds:

    I just think it is amazing how this wolf can still be classified as having become extinct in 1905 when it appears to me that is incorrect. For me, it is akin to maintaining that the last specimen of the Thylacine died out when it did, even if there was another specimen known to have existed at a later time. Unfortunately, so much time has passed and so little known of this 1910 killing, that I doubt the common account that it died out in 1905 in Nara will be overturned. I feel this fascinating creature at least deserves that kind of recognition and its final demise (if that is indeed its final demise), should be properly recognized.

  22. Jeremy_Wells responds:

    It doesn’t surprise me that the history books on the extinction aren’t being re-written. Too many people will say “Well it’s only 5 years, a hold-out wouldn’t be too surprising.” instead of “Wow, This animal was able to stay completely hidden for at least 5 years. I wonder if they could have held out longer?”

  23. kittenz responds:

    Well, mystery_man,

    If you still like mysteries, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t keep your nom de plume (or nom de blogue?) :).

  24. kittenz responds:

    Wild canids of many species are quite capable of surviving in close proximity to humans, even to the point of inhabiting large urban areas – witness coyotes living wild in New York City and Detroit, among other places, and red foxes in London.

    Smaller, more generalized canids like coyotes and the smaller species and subspecies of wolves are especially adaptable.

    I am one who believes that the gray wolf should be reclassified as something like a “superspecies” or “subgenus” rather than a single species with many subspecies. It’s becoming more and more apparent that wolves and wolf-like animals are much more genetically “plastic” than we ever thought possible.

  25. daledrinnon responds:

    I noticed DWA’s posing at 10:17 AM

    Yes, it reminded me of the Ethiopian Wolf as well. That is why I inserted the word ‘jackal’ (The Ethiopian wolf is more like a coyote actually, and until recently it was called a jackal) So I’m still holding out for a descision on a distinct species until the DNA tests say otherwise.

    I noted a mentiuon of the Falkland Islands wolf: my information on this dates from the news bulletins of the Falklands war, and it was said at that time that it was related to the Andean wolf.
    Is ‘Warra’ actually the correct name for that? Unusual coincidence if that is so.

  26. MBFH responds:

    mystery_man, thanks for the feedback – interesting stuff indeed.

    kittenz, I was just reading today that in many parts of London that the fox populations are becoming so large that they are considered pests. They are also modifying their calls so that they can be heard over the traffic noise. This is irritating the residents of London!

  27. dogu4 responds:

    Info on Warrah.

    It’s not much…and some speculation as to it’s origin from the author Gavin Menzies in his book “1421” in which he suggests the Chinese would have left asiatic small dogs for eating with a small garrison…the rest being presumed; the dogged persistence in all things reproductive for which the species is renown.

    Kittenz suggestion of populations like the canids being a superorganism is one that I’ve heard before and is very appealing and i can see where it could account for the kind of speciation canids and some other lineages have done so marvelously. One can hardly find fault with a strategy that’s been so successful. Could primates be considered for similar reasons?

  28. Tengu responds:

    I suspect they always were rare, as Japanese myth, replete with animal tales, makes little mention of them.

    If they were small they would have had competition from the Tanuki, a little canine which is found all over Asia and has recently expanded into Europe. Interestingly the Raccoon dog is the only canine known to hibernate.

    And why are they extinct? A forested land with much to eat and a populace who do not keep sheep or hunt much would seem an ideal place for a wolf to live.

    (The Japanese have their own wild man, the Hibagon…any news from him of late?)

  29. kittenz responds:

    I think that our system of classification breaks down when it comes to canids. The widely accepted definition of “species” as a group of similar animals which can breed to produce fertile offspring does not hold true in the case of most canine species. Canids which clearly are distinct species can and do interbreed and produce fertile offspring. I think that calling nearly all wolves, worldwide, by the species name Canis lupus is much too simplistic. There’s no doubt that most of these animals are closely related, and they can interbreed with each other, and the offspring are fertile. Yet wolves of all subspecies can also interbreed with domestic dogs, pariah dogs, and dingoes. All of that group also readily interbreed with Simien wolves, jackals, and coyotes. There have been successful breedings between wolves and dholes too, as well as between dholes and domestic dogs. Yet all of those animals are distinct enough to be separated at the species level.

  30. mystery_man responds:

    I just wanted to tell everyone that I am truly pleased that everyone has shown an interest in this topic and thank you for all the great posts. To tell you the truth, when I approached Loren with this article, I wasn’t sure that anyone would really take any notice, so the positive response has made me very happy indeed. All of cryptozoology is important to me, but this cryptid, the Honshu wolf, holds a very special place in my heart and is very dear to me. If I have raised your awareness of this little known animal, then I feel that I have done well to put this up here. I urge you to investigate further and I will of course always answer any inquiries to the best of my ability. Once again, I extend my appreciation to all of you for your kind words and insightful comments. Thank you all.

  31. DWA responds:


    What may be breaking down is the classic breakout of of “species” into animals that CAN’T (?) breed with one another to produce fertile offspring.

    It may be more like, animals that DON’T do that under normally prevailing conditions of nature. But that, under environmental stresses, do it readily, in many cases, particularly among canids. Look how the coyote nearly destroyed the red wolf. (Which itself could have been the result of earlier cross-breeding.)

    It’s been theorized lately that ape and human lines may have crossed, more than once, before finally (?) separating.

    Unless science has already passed me on that one.

  32. DWA responds:

    Oh. While we have experts assembled, I want somebody to tell me what the Carolina dog is. :-)

    I mean, I know the basics. But what IS it…if the dingo is Canis lupus?

    Mystery_man: maybe this won’t be the last one you start on what’s going on over there animal-wise, eh? Here’s hoping.

    And I somehow missed the line in your post above where you say how teeny this wolf was. Do I see “Japanese jackal” on the horizon?

  33. kittenz responds:

    Even some species of foxes have been bred with domestic dogs, and although not all of those offspring are fertile, some are. That kind of genetic plasticity is what accounts for the widespread success of canids. It’s probably also the reason that they are so adaptable to so many different situations and climates.

  34. kittenz responds:

    We humans are sometimes limited by our seemingly innate need to pigeonhole everything around us into neat little slots. The animal world is much more fluid than we have thought. We really have to keep that in mind when we look at the fossil record too.

  35. dogu4 responds:

    The level of discussion has been very rewarding. If a few of us leave a discussion with a more expansive understanding of the processes involved and a more precise handling of the terminology, it will have implications way down the road. Thanks for your contributions.

    As per this discussion, I wonder why this particular subject elicited the response it did?

    affinity for the specific subject such as your own
    affinity for dogs and their lupine lineage
    anything Japanese
    curiosity about recently extinct animals

    As for superspecies definition; I’m sure the question has been posed before, but were anthropologists from outer space to visit earth, would we humans be considered a superspecies? I’ve sometimes heard the term ‘race’ used for different populations of bears (coastal versus inland versus european). The special consideration we hold for ourselves, biologically speaking, has some impact on how we think of ourselves relative to our fellow critters.

  36. mystery_man responds:

    Canids really are a fascinating group of animals and are very successful pretty much everywhere they are found (when humans are leaving them alone, that is). They are extremely adaptable. As for canines as a “superspecies”, I can definitely see that line of thinking. They come in a mind boggling array of shapes and sizes and all of these are mostly capable of interbreeding. I have two pugs as pets and I often think “they could very well interbreed with a wolf or a jackal and produce… well, a very odd looking dog.” :) As Kittenz said so well, this genetic plasticity makes taxonomy kind of a headache in some cases. As I said before, people still debate on whether the Honshu wolf is a sub species or a distinct species, so it gets you to thinking what the definition of a species really is. The lines can be blurry at times with canids.

  37. kittenz responds:

    DWA, officially the Carolina Dog (or Shell-Heap Dog) is Canis familaris, or Canis lupus familaris. As you might guess, I disagree. I disagree with classifying dingoes as C. lupus, come to that. I think that C. dingo is much more appropriate.

    Mystery_man, thanks for the terrific information. No need to worry whether anyone would be interested. If it as an article about any carnivore, or any mammal for that matter, you will have at least one reader here :D.

    Oh, my … a Wolf/Pug … now THAT would be a frightening beast :)!

  38. MattBille responds:

    It’s my impression from reading on the topic that there is no documented proof of a fox/dog hybrid. I would be interesting to learn differently.

    Matt Bille

  39. DWA responds:

    I’d tend to agree, kittenz.

    We are funny in the way we tend to lump then separate then lump, we humans. Whether separating or lumping, we tend to pigenhole. And we need to watch that carefully, even if we simply wind up frequently re-pigeonholing.

    Bears, the evolutionary companions of the dog, “suffer” from this too. Or we do, when talking about them. Particularly the brown bear, Ursus arctos, which needs to be resplit, having been way overly lumped.

    Your way of dealing with canids sounds like the one I’d use, basically. The Carolina, the dingo, the New Guinea singing dog, and all those other guys across the “great arc of the red dog” need to be looked at again. As you say, there’s more than one species there, in terms of a population that, given no undue ecological stress, tends to mate with its own and pass down standard traits.

    Canis lupus dingo left a bad taste with me too. Maybe the Carolina – I mean, look at the genetic isolation! – should be C. carolinensis, hmmmmm?

  40. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- In response to your earlier question, I certainly hope that I can bring forth information on other Japanese animals in the future! The Honshu wolf ineed was very small and somewhat reminiscent of a jackal in appearance compared to North American wolves. The Hokkaido wolf was bigger and more resembled a grey wolf in appearnace than did the Honshu variety. No Japanese jackals, though :) The only other wild canid in Japan is the tanuki and although it is far from being a cryptid, it is an interesting animal in it’s own right. i have gone out in the field to study them and they are fascinating.
    Tengu- There actually are quite a lot of old myths relating to the Japanese wolf, especially from villages in the old days, where they were considered somewhat sacred. You might have to dig around a little, but i am sure you will find mention of them. As to why they became extinct, it is thought that diseases such as rabies contributed much to their demise. Reports at the time of large numbers of dead or sick animals support this theory.
    The dissappearance of the Honshu wolf has had a very negative influence of the ecology of Japan since it was a keystone predator. When it declined, populations of deer and boar have skyrocketed and this in turn has had repurcussions for plant species and so on down the line. The tanuki that was mentioned before was unable to fill the biological niche left by the wolf and so there are problems to this day. This is one reason that it has been discussed to possibly reintroduce wolves into Japan but although this would be good for the overall ecology, it could be devastating for any remaining Honshu wolves if they are still out there.
    An interesting little story I remembered that wanted to share is that in the 1970s, there was supposedly a carcass of a Honshu wolf brought in for study, but it dissappeared and was never seen from again. Nobody seems to be sure what happened to it. It was allegedly turned over to researchers, so it makes me wonder where they may have misplaced it.

  41. mystery_man responds:

    Tengu- One thing that I will mention here since you asked about myths is the “Okuri Ookami” or “Sending Wolf” stories that were prevalent in mountain villages. In these stories, often when a traveler was walking along alone, a wolf would follow nearby and then disappear when the traveler reached his or her destination. It was thought that the wolf was sort of a guardian helping the traveler get home safely. The interesting and ironic part about it is that there was also the warning that when being followed in this way, one should never look back or fall down lest they provoke the wolf to attack. But nevertheless, it was seen as a sort of guardian. As a matter of fact, if you look at the scientific name of the Honshu wolf, you see it is Canis lupus hodophilax and this itself kind of ties to these old legends. “Hodo” means “way” or “path” in Greek. Philax means “guard”, so “guardian of the way”. In these old villages, the wolf had a powerful image as a protector. To this day, these stories are told in some places and some villagers claim they have been seen safely home by the wolves. Sorry to go into the realm of myth, but it is an interesting insight into the way the Japanese viewed this animal.

  42. DWA responds:

    Mystery_man: this is interesting and cuts to one of the most intriguing – to me – aspects of the “plasticity” (thanks, kittenz) of canines:

    “The dissappearance of the Honshu wolf has had a very negative influence of the ecology of Japan since it was a keystone predator. When it declined, populations of deer and boar [skyrocketed]…”

    Now would you think this, given the apparent size of the animal? I sure wouldn’t! But wait a minute here.

    1. Eastern coyotes – having in general some size (and maybe some wolf genes) over their western counterparts – seem to be pretty effective predators of deer, frequently (I’ve seen more than one photo of this) taken in solo chase. And lone Yellowstone coyotes – very large for western members of the species – have been observed attacking full-grown bison. (Not bringing them down. That I’ve heard. Yet. They seem to be trying to figure that out.)

    2. The red wolf was once considered little more than a taker of small game – opossum, raccoon, turkey. When they were introduced to the Cades Cove area of Great Smoky Mountains NP, everyone was surprised when they started going after cattle. Now the English naturalist Mark Catesby had recorded pack hunting of deer in this species in the mid-1700s. But we “rediscovered” the animal after its pack way of life had been essentially destroyed by unrelenting hunting and trapping. The individuals initially observed were doing just what lone gray wolves and coyotes do – catching what they can on their own.

    3. The Carolina dog had been observed using an unusual cooperative pack technique to hunt small animals – mice, rats, rabbits and voles. So the fellow who discovered them, I. Lehr Brisbin, Jr., thinking about this one day, introduced a wild boar/domestic pig hybrid to the penned enclosure – a huge enclosure, mind you, but an enclosure – in which he was keeping the pack. Most of the pack ignored the pig. A couple of males, though, didn’t, and started harassing it. They didn’t close, just “bayed,” keeping up the pressure, staying on the animal wherever it went. For whatever reason (he seemed to like the pig), Brisbin cut the experiment short, and withdrew the pig, which was in a very stressed, in fact overheated, condition. The dogs hadn’t suffered a scratch – just two of them, remember, and Carolinas are NOT big.

    So, let’s not underestimate the Honshu wolf, eh?

  43. mystery_man responds:

    Yes, DWA. They were small but quite capable of hunting deer and boar as well as smaller game. Their relatively diminutive stature should not lead people to believe that these only ate small prey. They were a top predator in Japan.

  44. DWA responds:

    OK, the whole Carolina dog link from which the anecdote I mentioned above is taken is worth a read – and I promise not to go farther afield from the Honshu wolf, which might want to consider this article a pep talk encouraging it to its potential as a species. 😀

    In fact, getting back to another thing mystery_man says, here’s the rub in “reestablishing biodiversity.” Japan might be able to use some wolves. Now…do you potentially eliminate the ones that might be there in attempting to accomplish this to all appearances worthy objective?

    They made a definite decision on that one in Yellowstone, where undisputed wolf observations – at least one backed up by a clear photo – preceded the reintroduction effort. Same species, yes. (And yes, we have to add, based on this conversation, “almost identical.” 😀 ) But reintroduction involves inflicting stresses on individual animals, as well as on the populations from which the pioneers are taken – stresses that might, over time, turn out to be unnecessary.

    Tough call.

  45. mystery_man responds:

    There is actually a very good reason why the Honshu wolf had evolved to be compact, with short legs and a thin, short tail. This build was ideal for navigating the rugged, heavily forested, mountainous terrain where they were found.

  46. kittenz responds:


    I have never seen a photograph of fox-dog hybrids, but I have read of them and apparently the breedings did take place and viable offspring were produced. Supposedly, dogs have been bred with red foxes, arctic foxes, and bat-eared foxes. I’ll try to find those references and when I do I’ll post them.

  47. kittenz responds:

    I think the Honshu wolf’s diminutive size probably has to do with it being an island species, and the sizes of the prey it evolved alongside. After all, the largest wolves in the world also come from rugged, heavily forested, mountainous terrain – but they are in mainland habitat hunting larger prey, and are not in a restricted island habitat.

  48. kittenz responds:

    I’ve gone back to this photo again and again; something about it made me want to keep examining it. Now I have put my finger on it: This animal looks more like a small, smooth-coated dhole than it does like a small wolf. It looks like it even had the black tail-tip that dholes have.

    Dholes are another canid that hunt in packs, fairly large packs, and they can take very large, dangerous prey – there are documented cases of them killing tigers (although several of the dholes in the pack are usually killed by the tiger before it is overwhelmed and killed).

    It used to be thought that dholes were only very distantly related to dogs and wolves; now it’s known that they are all part of a large group of wolf-like canids that are more closely related to one another than they are to foxes and other canids.

    Dholes are similar to wolves in another way too; there is a great variation in phenotype across the dhole population. Some dholes are very doglike in appearance, they look very much like chows did before they were overbred for the show ring. Others look a lot like jackals and yet others are wolflike in appearance.

    I believe that there has been a multitude of canine species, more or less related to wolves, dogs, and dholes, that evolve and disappear in reponse to environmental factors and prey, worldwide. I have never been a proponent of the idea that all dogs evolved from gray wolves – unless one considers the entire group of wolf-like canids to belong to Canis lupus – which I don’t.

    I’d like to see DNA analysis done on the Honshu wolf relics that remain too. It would be interesting to compare their DNA with those of other wolves and of dholes.

  49. Arctodus responds:

    More on the Shamanu or Okami.

  50. mystery_man responds:

    Yes, Kittenz the fact that it is an island species may have something to do with it as well. But the terrain where it was often found was very heavily forested and some zoologists over here believe that this contributed to its compact size compared to the Hokkaido wolf (Canus lupus hattai) which was bigger and coincidentally lived in less heavily packed, rugged terrain. The size may have just been the way this animal adapted to that. Also, the bears here are normal sized, yet they are in an island environment too. As far as the size of prey it evolved alongside, these are deer and wild boar that are just as big as deer and boar found elsewhere. I don’t think it was the size of the prey that neccesarily caused the small size in this particular case. It is interesting the comparison you made to the dhole because I also have thought on occassion that is exactly what they remind me of. Many people who saw them often thought the Honshu wolf actually looked more like a type of wild dog more than any sort of wolf.

  51. mystery_man responds:

    It is very interesting to think about the size of the Honshu wolf and consider that it’s range was larger than the Ezo (Hokkaido wolf), and it essentially subsisted on the same prey species, yet the Hokkaido vareity is larger. It really did not look much like your typical wolf at all. Also, kittenz rightly said that other canids in the world have evolved in thickly forested areas, yet they are larger. I personally think it was just the way this particular wolf evolved to deal with this obstacle. Some of the old growth forests were incredibly dense and the amount of underbrush and mountainous terrain on Honshu was pretty much impassable, so it might have been problematic for a larger gey wolf to get through some of it. So having this compact size could be an advantage in getting from place to place. The prey size is no different from what some of the larger varieties of wolf eat, so it is very interesting. It is also interesting to note that this wolf had a relatively thin, short, almost dog like tail and this is also often thought to have contributed to its ease in getting around. This is the main theory here on its small stature.

  52. mystery_man responds:

    The Honshu wolf also had short, dense fur which was well suited to its habitat. I wanted to add something about the extinction of the Hokkaido wolf. Although the Honshu wolf was thought to have died out due to disease and to some extent deforestation (a lot of modern Japanese forests are thin, new growth forests, very few of the old growth forests that dominated the landscape at one time left), the Hokkaido wolf died out in a different manner. During the Meiji era, which lasted up to 1912, there was an increasing abundance of western style cattle farms that sprung up in Hokkaido and the Ezo wolf came to be seen as a threat to livestock. Many ranchers engaged in active poisoning campaigns which many believe is one of the main reasons for the wolf’s demise.

    It may interest some to know that there were some active expeditions to search for the Honshu wolf in the 90s and during these expeditions to the deep mountains, the calls of grey wolves were blared over speakers in the hopes of some sort of response. Although many audio tapes were made during these expeditions, and these tapes were carefully examined, no wolf response was heard and the expeditions came away empty handed.
    On another note, I am interested to hear what the posters here think about the plans that have been tossed around to reintroduce some sort of wolf in Japan. DWA gave some of his thoughts and I am curious to know what others here think, as I respect your opinions.

    There was a time when i thought it was a good idea, but nowadays I am personally against the idea just because I’m holding out hope that the Honshu wolf is still out there.

  53. Tengu responds:

    Of course, I forgot that the Japanese name for wolf is OKAMI, (honourable deity) with all that implies, gomen.

    And thanks for the stories, I have a large collection of Japanese myth; some of them very rare indeed, but all in English, sadly.

  54. mystery_man responds:

    Tengu- Okami can also be seen to mean “Great God”. The Japanese wolf was also known as Magami (True God), and Yama no kami (mountain God). In Hokkaido, they were known by the indigenous Ainu people as the “Howling God”. Some other interesting folklore surrounding the wolf is that in some areas, the skulls or legs of wolves were sometimes hung up to ward against evil spirits of which, as I’m sure you may know, there were many in Japan. It is interesting to know that although the wolf was on occasion hunted, it was thought that anyone who killed one brought great misfortune upon themselves. There were also numerous stories of great historical figures who were said to have been raised by wolves.

  55. daledrinnon responds:

    On the Warra (sorry I took so long to get back to you guys!), the news notices during the Falkland Islands war were speaking of a living canid that preyed on sheep and which was supposed to be related to the Andes wolf. Unfortunately, that was the complete information I had from that source. I suppose sightings could be based on feral dogs; the name Warra was used elsewhere in South America for an unknown canid (not linguistically related, and a “Catlike dog”).

  56. DWA responds:

    I’m pretty fond of saying that evolution isn’t perfect. It’s good enough to reproduce.

    The Honshu wolf hit a place where it worked, and it kept looking that way. The Hokkaido wolf might have wound up looking exactly the same way it did on Hokkaido had it evolved on Honshu. But they were separated by water, and evolution is random. And as the dhole aspect of this thread raises, they might simply have been quite different animals converging to the same ends.

    Wolf, bear and sasquatch: similar habitat, broadly intersecting diets. Strikingly dissimilar body plans.

    Whatever works.

    That’s it.

  57. MBFH responds:

    mystery_man, I think that the (re)introduction of wolves into Japan should only occur if the authorities are pretty much certain that any native species are indeed extinct. There are other ways of controlling deer and boar populations, which I don’t necessarily agree with but in the absence of a natural method keeping the ecological balance is important.

    It further raises the question though, if it was indeed a form of rabies that wiped out the Honshu wolf this was a natural event (unless it was introduced) and maybe things should be allowed to take their course. That isn’t the human way though, best to interfere 😉

    I’m all for the reintroduction of wolves into the UK though!

  58. daledrinnon responds:

    I would be interested to know that, if the actual Honshu Wolf is extinct, is it possible that its genes are still circulating in persisting wolf-dog hybrids? The classification could have a bearing on this: coyotes interbreed with feral dogs more readily than actual wolves do.

  59. kittenz responds:


    The several native dog breeds of Japan are probably descended at least in part from the Japanese wolves. The Shikoku breed, called Shikoku Inu, especially, resembles a small, slender wolf, and breed legend has it that the Shikoku Inu is a direct descendant of the Honshu race of wolf.

    This is a link to a website devoted to the Shikoku Inu.

    There are several photos of Shikoku Inu on the website. While the Shikoku are obviously dogs and not wolves, the resemblance to the wolf in the article here is striking.

    The Akita Inu, better known here in America simply as the Akita, is thought to have been derived from the larger of the two subspecies, the Hokkaido wolf that mystery_man also mentioned. Akitas in Japan still have a more wolf-like appearance than do American Akitas.

    I don’t know if any detailed DNA studies have been done to compare the dogs’ DNA with DNA of the Japanese wolves.

    The descriptions I have read of the Hokkaido wolf describe a much different animal than the Honshu wolf. I have not been able to locate a photo of one, other than a photo of some poorly mounted museum specimens. The descriptions I have found of it all mention that the head was very large, as were the feet, and that it had very long, curved canine teeth.

    I’m on the fence about the reintroduction of wolves to Japan. Since the Japanese native wolves seem to have been so distinct from other Canis lupus subspecies, I think it would be best not to introduce wolves from other areas unless it’s fairly certain that they will not be competing with any native wolves that may have survived, or diluting their small gene pool even further.

    Thanks again mystery_man, for turning us on to this article, and of course to Loren for posting it.

  60. DWA responds:

    Well, here’s my strategy:

    1. A two-year effort to document remaining Japanese wolves of both subspecies.

    followed by (if no evidence is found)

    2. A crash breeding program for Akita Inu and Shikoku Inu, for potential release into the wild.

    Let’s see if that’s still a good idea after coffee in the morning. 😀

  61. mystery_man responds:

    Kittenz- You sure do know your Japanese dog breeds! Those breeds are indeed thought to maintain at least a bit of the wolf’s DNA. I am not sure of the veracity of those claims though. The Hokkaido wolf was indeed quite a different animal than the Honshu wolf and was a seperate subspecies (or species, depending on who you ask!) Unfortunately, there is even less remaining on them than there is on the Honshu wolf. I will see if I can dig up any photos on them, there are very few out there. You bring up a good point and I’m kind of curious myself now as to whether a comparative DNA analysis has ever been made between those dog breeds and the wolves.

    MBFH- As far as the rabies goes, it is thought that this was not a natural occurrence but was caused by domesticated dogs in which case it WAS caused by humans in a way. There was also canine distemper that hit the wolves pretty hard. Interestingly enough, Japan now has some of the strictest controls against rabies in the world. Cases of rabies are pretty much unheard of now. There was a Japanese man recently who came back from the Phillipines with rabies and it was front page news. As for the deer and boar, there have been other measures to control their populations, but unfortunately it often involves poisoning, which could be bad for any wolves remaining as well. Deer and boar still are a nuisance in many areas. The boars in particular can sometimes be downright dangerous and they often wander into suburban areas in some locales. I’ve always been partial to letting a healthy ecosystem take care of itself. :)

    DWA- What do you think after that coffee? :) I don’t think breeding the Akita inu or Shikkoku inu would be the way to go. Although these dogs maintain a rather primitive appearance, and may contain some of the original DNA, they are still domesticated dogs separated by their ancestors by many generations of selective breeding and interbreeding. The idea being proposed is the reintroduction of wolves from other areas, such as Asiatic wolves or grey wolves.

    Thanks to everyone here giving their opinions on the reintroduction idea. The people on this site, DWA, Kittenz, MBFH, and others, have a lot of good things to say and your opinions and comments are much appreciated. I personally feel that there should be more of a concerted effort should be made to locate any remaining Honshu wolves and if they are found, they should be bred for later release into the wild. If foreign wolves are introduced, I fear the results could be disastrous for any Honshu or Hokkaido wolves remaining and it would be the killing blow. Unfortunately, so far all efforts to properly document their continued existence, such as those expeditions I mentioned from the 90s, have met with failure. I still hold out hope though as there are still sightings, and evidence such as wolf kills and spoor being found to this day.

  62. mystery_man responds:

    Sorry, I meant to say Asian wolves above when talking about possible species to reintroduce, as in wolves from the Asian mainland. Not Asiatic wolves, which is what the Iranian wolf is sometimes called. Sorry, I had been reading an article on them and that slipped in there!

  63. mystery_man responds:

    FYI- The Asiatic wolf is also called the Indian wolf and it is Canis lupus pallipes.

  64. daledrinnon responds:

    Yes, I know of a website concerning the Japanese dog breeds you are talking about. This site calls the whole series pariah dogs, like the dingoes and basenjis. I would certainly be looking foreward to any definitive DNA evidence for the wolves in question as related to other wolves and other dogs. It looks like the classification is anybody’s game at this point.

  65. kittenz responds:

    I have also seen the Japanese breeds referred to as pariah dogs, but I disagree. My definition of a pariah dog is a type of dog that develops as a scavenger on the fringes of human habitations, without human intervention or selective breeding. The Japanese breeds have been selectively bred for function, and more recently for show, for centuries. Of course, “pariahs” and strays exist in Japan, as they do everywhere that there are dogs. Probably most breeds living today were originally selected from pariah types; the domestication of dogs may very well have begun around prehistoric rubbish heaps.

    I believe that there have been several species of dingo-type animals, closely related to wolves, and also several species of wolves and wolflike animals, many of them no longer existing as separate species, which have become assimilated into the gene pool of the domestic dog. I think that many of the “wild dogs” that exist in small numbers, such as the Carolina dog, are descended from animals such as that.

    Mystery_man, my sister is the Akita person. My breed is the GSD :). One of my sister’s dogs, a big 138 pound black sesame pinto Akita, lived with me for a few years. We researched them thoroughly before she ever bought one. Akitas have large, blocky heads and big feet. They’ve got some wicked-looking canine teeth too, and they are very independent-natured, a lot like a chow.

    I guess the true origins of the Japanese breeds are lost in the mists of time. I want to learn more about the Japanese wolves. The description of the Hokkaido wolf in particular, sounds like an animal that could have been ancestral to a dog like the Akita.

    DWA, in one of your posts you discussed some of the different types of pack behavior that have been observed in various wild canids. There is another wild canid that has an unusual lifestyle: the Ethiopian wolf. They live in small family packs, but the packs do not hunt together as a group. Instead, the adult animals split up and hunt individually for small game, then regroup and den together. The terrain over which they hunt is a sort of alpine type terrain, and the wolves hunt mostly rodents. Possibly the Honshu wolf, which was also small and coyote-like, used similar hunting techniques.

  66. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: after further coffee, I should reveal that at the time of my proposal to breed domestics for wild release, I was having a bout of tongue/cheek insertion. It has gone away. :-)

    Although, if a predator pick a predator any predator is what you need, stray dogs forming spontaneous packs all over the world seem to indicate that this might actually work. I do agree that reintroduction of any kind should only be tried after the most thorough reasonable search for each subspecies has turned up nothing.

    It almost seems to me that if we could ever get to that place where DNA could be used to reproduce “vanished” species, the first place to use it might not be bringing back the wooly mammoth, but “reintroducing” species that may not be totally gone (like the Japanese wolves and the thylacine).

    kittenz: your definition of pariah dogs squares with what I understand. The pics I’ve seen of the Inu breeds show strict breeding for clear characteristics. Although the Carolina dog has been accepted as a breed by a couple of associations, it looks more like a mutt in the wild state – which is why it was overlooked as one for so long. Taking your thought about rubbish heaps a bit further, there’s a pretty strong theory out there now that man didn’t domesticate the dog so much as the dog domesticated itself – moving, as life tends to, into a newly-created ecological niche.

    I can’t remember whether the Ethiopian wolf shares its range with larger animals that it might take in pack efforts. If such animals are there – and I’m sure there are a few such, antelopes perhaps – I’m sure they’re occasionally taken too. If not, that would surprise me.

  67. mystery_man responds:

    Well, Kittenz, that is interesting info on the Ethiopian wolf’s hunting techniques. Although small, the Honshu wolf was the top predator in Japan and was typically taking down large prey such as deer or boar. I’m sure they could have gone off and hunted small prey as well, but taking down animals the size of the ones they were required pack hunting and this is backed up by the fact that they were routinely seen hunting in packs. Their hunting of large prey belies their size, but it seems that they hunted in very much the same manner as most other wolves or wild canids. It’s the Japanese tanuki that fits in more with the hunting for smaller prey niche in Japan and this is the reason why the tanuki was unable to fill the ecological niche left behind by the Honshu wolf.

  68. Ceroill responds:

    A married couple I know had a couple of Akitas, one was the offspring of the other. Very different personalities. The older one was an excellent guard dog, but not very friendly. They felt they had to contain her in the basement when company came over. Her daughter, however was very friendly, and seemed convinced she was a tiny lapdog. Wonderful animals.

    As to various wild dogs, I recall seeing a documentary about the Carolina Yellow Dogs, and it was brought up by the person doing the study that he had noticed superficial similarities between them and a number of apparently ancient types of wild dogs (dingoes, etc.). He had the idea that many of the general characteristics- coat color, etc., could be ancestral traits (not sure if that is the proper term) for dogs in general. I know I’m not using all the right technical terminology, but I hope I’m getting my ideas across well.

  69. mystery_man responds:

    Just for a sec, since we are on the topic of Japanese dog breeds, there is a very formidable one called the Tosa inu, which was bred for dog fighting. Dog fighting is a sport I detest, but it is interesting the reverance with which even these dogs are treated nevertheless. These are very un wolf-like dogs though and I doubt there is any close ancestry from wolves. The Japanese Chin is another that most likely has very little relation. If you’ve ever seen one, it looks like a shi tzu more than anything else. I find it interesting that most of the popular Japanese breeds showcase a sort of wolf-like look. My breed is mostly pugs, which is strange since I love wolves and they are probably the least wolf-like of all. :)

    I would be curious to see how closely the Akita and Shikkoku inu are related, if at all, to the Honshu or Hokkaido wolves. As was said in Kittenz’ post, these are certainly not pariah dogs. Akitas and Shiba inu and Shikkoku inus are highly prized and have been carefully bred for a very long time. It is a shame because it is most likely escaped feral dogs that contributed to some of the epidemics that wiped out the Honshu wolf.

    Kittenz- I am happy that you want to learn more about the Honshu and Hokkaido wolves. Information on them, unfortunately is not as easy to come by as other wolf species and indeed many have never heard of them. But I hope I have been giving you all good information and of course if you have any questions, I will be happy to try and answer them.

  70. mystery_man responds:

    And DWA, I also often think about how very nice it would be to be able to use DNA to bring back some of the species we have lost. Nothing like Jurassic Park velociraptors, mind you, but animals that, through our malice, exploitation, or ignorance, have been wiped off the face of the Earth. It seems like the least we could do for them. I wonder when or if that kind of technology will ever be available for this purpose.

    Right now, I am very worried about the Japanese ecosystem. There are a lot of problems with not only population explosions of unchecked prey species and the effect they have on the fauna, but also the scourge of introduced species. Quite a few indigenous species have been pushed to the brink by these introduced species either by direct predation, competition, or like the Honshu wolf, disease. The one reason why I once advocated the reintroduction of wolves in Japan is because a keystone predator is really needed here.

  71. dogu4 responds:

    Wow…what a great topic. Who’d a thunk it? 69 replies…and such great observations shedding much needed light on the subject. I wonder if some of these extirpated lineages have left us samples for genetic mapping. I’d be surprised if some of the most closely held notions of dogs and their origins and behaviours aren’t shown to be truly incredible but for completely different reasons than we’d ever imagined once we have a more fully developed understanding of how these genetic complexes (super species) and the processes (races) that comprise them are related.

  72. Loren Coleman responds:

    Thanks to everyone with all your good comments. Cryptozoology, indeed, is about “hidden animals” that may be out there, even if the less sexy cryptids slip under the radar in more sensationalized media treatments of Bigfoot and Nessie!

    I find the Honshu wolf a compelling animal mystery.

  73. daledrinnon responds:

    I am sorry about the term “Pariah Dogs” myself. it is something of a misnomer. In this instance it was being used as a general classification of persistingly-primitive dogs such as dingoes. My own preferential theory is that the first dopmesticated doghs were bred from Ethioian wolves and moved with the first modern Homo sapiens out of africa: some of their closest descendants would be the Dingoes and the Pariah dogs of India.

    ‘Pariah dog’ describes both the living habits and a particular breed. I was using the latter sense, as was my source. They are basically “mutts” but with a specific series of recognizable traits and in general are Dingo-like: The Carolina dogs, Basenjis and the New Guinea Singing dogs are included, as well as the Japanese breeds according to the source I mentioned. I have a geneological tree based on DNA comparisons in one of my yahoo groups dealing with the Out of Africa theory–dealing with the domestication of dogs as one of the topics of discussion in that group.

  74. kittenz responds:

    I think that wild canids of various kinds were domestcated all over the world, and probably many thousands of years earlier than is commonly thought. As humans ebbed and flowed into various regions, their canine companions went with them, to mingle and mix even further.

    Humans and dogs have evolved together almost like a symbiotic organism. We’ll never know the whole story; it’s lost in time. But I welcome every discovery, and I find the study of the evolution of the relationship between dogs and their people utterly fascinating.

    What a terrific discussion this has been!

  75. kittenz responds:

    BTW, mystery_man, Tosa Inus, which are ranked among the giant breeds of dogs, are a much more recent breed than the other Japanese breeds. The breed was developed after Japan began trading regularly with European countries and their colonies, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Larger types of native Japanese dogs were crossed with English mastiffs, Great Danes (then known as Boarhounds), bull terriers, bulldogs (which at that time were larger, leggier dogs, resembling today’s American bulldog breeds) and even Saint Bernards (for more size). The goal was to produce the canine equivalent of a sumo wrestler: a huge dog that would fight silently and be invincible in a fight. Tosas certainly are formidable; in some countries and some localities they are banned (I strongly oppose breed bans). So, although Tosas were developed in Japan, they are much more European in their ancestry, and probably are only distantly (if at all) related to the indigenous ancient Japanese breeds.

  76. daledrinnon responds:

    Thank you, Kittenz, on your reply to my last posting. I think that we are basically close in our general assessment of the domestication of dogs. Genetic studies have suggested that some types of dogs were domesticated over 100,000 years ago, but the whole category of “dog” has been blended among many local types so that actual origins are hard to sort out.

    Yes, this has been an unusually fruitful discussion.

  77. daledrinnon responds:

    I should make it a point to say that when I introduced the question about Honshu wolf-dog hybrids, I was suggesting that resurfacings of the type after its presumed extinction could be the result of accidental recombinants of the original DNA in hybrid wolf-dogs, or otherwise throwbacks. If the animals’ DNA continues, it cannot be said to ever really be extinct.

  78. dogu4 responds:

    I’m not sure that many population biologists would agree with that definition of extinction, but it is interesting how suites of characteristics seem to emerge and resemble previous populations. I was just checkin’ out a fossil web-site for a fossil site in Indiana and they listed a canid: borophagus. The name sounded interesting and as I suspected it was for a now extinct species of canid with jaws like a hyena and a bulging forehead…sorta looked like a mastiff skull.

    I recalled reading an old story about early travelers crossing the buffalo lands who reported a type of wolf that seemed to be particularly adapted for taking bison. The story related that they were big and so slow a horseman could gallop next to them and dispatch them with a blow from a club. Seems apocryphal, but then again, the borophagus canid had jaws that seemed ideal for the big bones of bison and the other megafauna of the late Pleistocene and early Holocene.

    And speaking of all things dog, one may want to take notice of the ongoing experiment in canid evolution via competition of the fittest which is currently taking place in Alaska; the Iditarod. You’d be surprised at the kinds of genetic admixing that’s gone on to achieve the instinctive drive and other characteristics found in these incredibly athletic dogs being developed for this very interesting effort.

  79. kittenz responds:

    I have to disagree on that point, daledrinnon. I see what you mean, and I agree that an animal’s DNA lives on, even in hybrids, but if the entire population becomes hybridized, then the species is extinct. Animals resembling the original species can be selectively bred together over several generations to try to create an animal identical in appearance to the original species, but whether that animal is truly of the original species is debatable.

    There was a discussion along those lines about quaggas. There are ongoing efforts to recreate them, using related subspecies of zebras. There have also been attempts to recreate tarpans (a type of horse, one of the ancestors of domestic horses), and aurochs (giant wild cattle, the primary progenitor of European cattle breeds). Animals known to be descended from them have been crossed and recrossed, with the goal always being to select the offspring most like the extinct species for inclusion in the breeding programs. Animals have been produced that greatly resemble the extinct species, and in the case of the tarpans, they look identical to tarpans in some of the historical reference material, and in ancient cave art. But even though they look identical, I don’t think they can be considered to belong to the extinct species.

  80. kittenz responds:

    That being said, I still applaud the efforts of those dedicated people who are carrying out these breeding programs to try to recreate extinct species. There is a point in livestock breeding where, in most breeds, after a given number of backcrosses back to an animal of one of the parent species, a crossbred animal can be considered purebred. The regulations vary from breed to breed. It’s still worthwhile to preserve hybrid populations of endangered animals, especially if the hybridization is between subspecies.

  81. kittenz responds:

    I’ve always been interested in borophagids, too, dogu4. They were the Canidae’s answer to the hyaenids. I doubt they survived past the early Pleistocene, but it’s an interesting idea.

    I’ve often wondered whether some of the big, heavily built wolves that preyed on the large herds of American may have been dire wolves, Canis dirus. The link here is one of many good sites with more information about dire wolves. They certainly had the musculature and dental equipment to deal with large, aggressive herbivores. But then again, the modern species of grey wolf excels at that, too.

  82. mystery_man responds:

    Well, I agree with Kittenz on the definition of extinction. Parts of the original DNA may remain, but if a species has been absorbed into another or been hybridized to a certain degree, it for all intents and purposes is extinct. Although there is a chance that the Honshu wolf’s genes live on in some of the modern breeds of dogs, it is still as far as we know extinct. I repsect efforts to bring back animals such as the quagga, but I’m afraid the only way the Honshu wolf is likely to be brought back is if there are more efforts made to find pockets of survivors. Kittenz- yes, I know about the Tosa inu, that’s why I doubt it has any lineage with with the wolf. It is an interesting story, the Tosa inu. Again, you know your Japanese breeds! Thank you for posting that information for everyone. I’m suprised that the borophagids have been brought up, but I guess it should be expected!

  83. kittenz responds:

    lol, mystery_man, one good canid leads to another :) !

  84. dogu4 responds:

    In considering the resurrection of a lost species, whether its the Honshu wolf or one of its cousins, or the quagga, or the wooley mammoth, or one of our other recently exterminated cousins, I think it’s worth considering that in order for it to stand as something other than simply an example of technical wizardry, the resurrected species would need the habitat for which it had been genetically adapted. I think most wildlife biologists these days would consider the wolf something other than just the total accumulation of its genes in particular because we know so much about wolves…but we’d been living with ’em for thousands of years. Yet up until the 1920’s and 30’s when Olaus and Adolph Murie were able to observe wolves under protection from hunting and in the open visible world of the taiga and tundra of the Denali Alaska region, we universally thought of wolves as simple killers possessed of an evil nature. It wasn’t until natural behaviours in natural environments were studied that we begin to understand the implications of what it was to be a species in a more modern sense, and of course we see that definition continue to metamorphose into the suite of modern meanings we give it today. And of course we see how the behaviors of wolves in particular feed back into the system which is then modified and reaches a new state of equilibrium that in turn provides for the animals which we find actively engaged in the process of living and adapting to the kind of changes typical to the living system in which they are living. The recent re-introduction of wolves into the Yellowstone region is a great example of how this works with wolves predation on elk resulting in elk leaving the creek beds and so willow other pioneer species of plants are taking hold where previously they’d been browsed away, providing habitat for birds…and so it goes. In some ways, the Honshu wolf, were it to be resurrected would luckily have a semblance of it’s original habitat thanks to the foresight of Japan’s intelligent leaders back in its feudal history. Let’s hope ourown leadership inherits that respect for the contributions the natural world makes and of our dependence on it.

  85. mystery_man responds:

    I am all for reestablishing a healthy ecosystem in Japan. It sure could use one right about now. A lot of people just don’t realize how important every component of an ecosystem can be and thank you Dogu4 for pointing out some important things. I can always rely on you to make some good comments here. All things have an effect on everything else and we are not necessarily exempt from that. The wolf is certainly more than the accumulation of its genes, it is an integral part of any ecosystem, a keystone predator. It has an effect on all creatures all the way down the food chain. Many people do not realize the variety of life forms that can be affected by the loss of such a species. The disappearance of the wolf from Japan was not just unfortunate for the wolf, it had a negative impact on other lifeforms within the environment as well. Take it away, and the equilibrium gets thrown out of whack. The destruction of a species is not merely just that, but it is the destruction of a key component in an intricate system that we can not even always predict the ultimate effect of. Sometimes the unpredictable effects of this sort of modification of the ecosystem, be that by an extinction or an introduced species, are not known until years down the line. To me, it is quite obvious that the Honshu wolf had an important role to play, its loss was profound, and sadly many people even in Japan are unaware that it ever existed.

    There is another thing I wanted to bring up about the Honshu wolf, if nobody is sick of hearing about it yet :) . Although there are those here in Japan, like me, who think it may survive out there in the deep mountains, this belief is thought of as a fairly fringe idea here. Most zoologists do not seriously consider the possibility that it is still out there and that is how they can confidently make plans for the possible reintroduction of wolves. People who think the Honshu wolf still exists are regulated to the fringe minority for sure, I can personally attest to that. You can see even with this article posted here that for the mainstream scientific community, the disappearance of the Honshu wolf is an open and shut case. It disappeared in 1905 in Nara, and that’s that regardless of evidence, such as I provided here to the contrary. As long as nobody high up is convinced, the Honshu wolf is effectively extinct whether it is lucky enough to have hung on this long or not. No laws are there to protect it. There seems to be no real willingness to entertain the possibility of its continued existence despite the amount of sightings and circumstantial evidence out there, except for a few researchers without the resources to make anything happen. Sound like any other cryptids you know? It is frustrating to say the least.

    There is still a lot of good habitat out there for the Honshu wolf. Whether it still roams out there remains to be seen.

  86. dogu4 responds:

    While considering habitat, consider the internal aspect of it.

    We don’t just live in it, it lives in us.

    Reference today’s NYT: Epic of Human Migration Is Carved in Parasites’ DNA

    And of course the latest on primate lice from last week, how germane.

    Again, really great thread here. It stands in stark contrast to the kind of blather that characterizes a lot of the internet. Not that I don’t enjoy that too, but it’s satisfying to read these posts.


  87. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: it’s safe to say there’s no way to underestimate the impact of the loss of a keystone predator.

    As John Muir put it: when one tugs on anything in the universe, one finds it connected to everything else.

    As I once put it, on a much more specific level: aquatic ecosystems in Yellowstone are recovering at the rate they are because wolves scare elk.

  88. kittenz responds:

    Native peoples around the world, who live a nomadic or semi-nomadic existence (in my opinion, that is the true natural way of life for our species), have always lived in harmony with wolves and other predators. They recognized the predators’ importance in their world. Because those nomadic or semi-nomadic people tended not to overwhelm their habitat, they got along well with all predators, from the smallest to the largest. That’s not to say they don’t kill a few, and the predators sometimes kill a few people, too, but there was a basic understanding and tolerance between the two.

    It is the so-called “civilized” (read: agriculturalized) people, who forced their agriculture, and their massive herds of livestock, and later their (our) industries, into permanent, unnatural residence in relatively small, confined areas who began to see wolves and other predators as “simple killers possessed of an evil nature”. Of course, those people (“we”) are the ones who overran the world, and we also decided that the nomadic and semi-nomadic native peoples were also “simple killers possessed of an evil nature”, and therefore (since our agriculture and our livestock and our industries required more land to replace that to which we had already laid waste), we thought it was just fine to wipe them out right along with those bloodthirsty predators.

    Thank goodness that the latter half of the twentieth century saw our kind beginning to look up from wantonly destroying wildlife, and listening to the saner minds among us, from John Muir and Adolph Murie, to Rachel Carson and Dian Fossey, and continuing with George Schaller and Jane Goodall. Even though habitat and wildlife destruction continues at an alarming rate around the globe, I am an optimist. I think there is hope for our kind yet, and just maybe there is hope for animals like the wolves too.

  89. kittenz responds:

    Well, I’ve searched through books on top of books and scoured the internet and I cannot find any legitimate, verified references to successful fox/dog matings. I know I have seen that somewhere but maybe I am mistaken. I’ve found several references to successful matings between different species of foxes, but I’ve been unsuccessful (so far) in finding the literature on fox/dog matings. When I find it I’ll research it and if it looks to be true I’ll post it.

  90. dogu4 responds:

    I feel sure I’ve seen referrence to it as well. In the mean time I saw this new speculation the canid/wolf transition, early today on linkfilter, and thought of the discussion on this subject, wonderin’ if it were still active…

    We didn’t go to the dogs – canines went to the people

    New evidence means new theories, which is always exciting.

  91. Ceroill responds:

    kittenz, I know it’s not quite the same, but I saw a documentary a couple of years back about a Russian man who did experiments in domestication of canids by raising foxes as if they were dogs. They lived in cages, but they were fed rather than having to hunt, and in other ways treated as a dog would be. In just a few generations they began to show ‘dog-like’ attributes: ears began to flop, coat became multicolored, etc.

  92. kittenz responds:

    I agree. The Russian experiment with the fur foxes is what got me started thinking that some dogs are at least partially descended from foxes. One of my friends had a pet store and from time to time they would have fox kits. The foxes are called blue foxes but they are really a color phase of arctic foxes. The kits behaved in every way like the puppies of small dogs. Small fox-like dogs (notably Pomeranians but several other types as well) even have the same kind of sheen and texture to their coats that foxes do, and there is a definite difference in their coats and those of wolf-like breeds such as shepherds and Mals.

    I’m going to keep looking for those refs. I believe that I saw the references to dog/fox matings in one of my books, but so far they have eluded me.

  93. Ceroill responds:

    kittenz: Another theory I’ve seen in the past about dog breeds takes the position that in many ways different breeds have essentially become frozen at different stages of maturity. The more ‘wolflike’ or ‘agressive’ breeds, like the German Shepherd types, Dobermans and such have been allowed to more fully mature, in a way. While the more cuddly looking dogs, like sheepdogs, Newfoundlands, and such have been bred for their puppy-like characteristics.

    I’m sure I’m not using all the correct technical terminology, but I feel certain you understand what I mean.

  94. dogu4 responds:

    In the mean time; here’s a scientist in Korea who’s cloning wolves.

  95. dogu4 responds:


  96. kittenz responds:

    The term for the retention of juvenile characteristics in the adult animal is neoteny, and I agree that domestic dogs – indeed domestic animals of all kinds – show neoteny to various degrees. For instance many dogs have drop ears, which is an adult manifestation of the folded “larval” ears of newborn puppies. All wild dogs have upright ears, usually by the time they are weaned.

    I don’t think that the evolution of domestic dogs is nearly as straightforward as some would have us believe. When dogs are left to their own devices, in long-term feral situations for instance, their overall appearance never reverts to a wolf-like appearance, but always begins to approximate the appearance of a dingo-like animal. Some multi-generational offspring of feral dogs look a bit like the Honshu wolves shown here. And so-called “Irish spotting” (the kind of white markings typically found in collies, for instance – white toes, tail tips, central facial blaze, and sometimes white throat or collar – is found in the wild in Arctic foxes and dingos, as well as in pariah-type dogs, but not in wolves. I believe that there are many, many missing pieces to the puzzle of canine evolution.

    In a somewhat related story, I read today at this link that some Korean scientists, who claim to have already succeeded in cloning dogs – specifically Afghan hounds – reported today that they have successfully cloned an endangered species of wolf. The article did not say what species it was. I am a bit skeptical since one of the people associated with the project is Hwang Woo-Suk, who is now an object of international disgrace because of fraud and other ethical issues. But if the news is true, it may mean that the numbers of some “extinct” or highly endangered species and subspecies could be increased in this way. It’s not a solution to the problem of extinction; only through protection and habitat preservation can we hope to prevent endangered animals from going extinct. But used judiciously, cloning could possibly help to prevent the total loss of critically endangered animals, or even to resurrect recently extinct species and subspecies.

  97. Brian Derby responds:

    I believe that the Honshu Wolf still exists because one just walked through my backyard (Saturday 2:00 July 2nd 2011).

    I have a house in the hills in Abeta village, Nabari City, Mie Province.

    es, something should be done to protect what is left of the species.


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