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Tokyo battles monstrous murder of crows

'They have returned', admits shaken crowfinder general

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Tokyo is renewing its bitter battle against crows which, despite the city's best efforts to wipe them out, continue to circle over its mean streets in search of unprotected rubbish and unsuspecting air-to-ground attack victims.

The war on the massed squadrons of jungle crows (Corvus macrorhynchos) began back in 2001, when one of the devilish creatures unwisely decided to attack governor Shintaro Ishihara while he was playing golf.

According to the Washington Post, Ishihara declared: "I intend to make crow-meat pies Tokyo's special dish."

By that fateful date, Tokyo's crow numbers had risen from 7,000 in 1985 to an estimated 36,400. The birds regularly ripped open rubbish bags, dive-bombed cowering locals and even menaced the high-speed internet system by making off with fibre-optic cabling.

Cue a concerted campaign against the beasts, including crow-proof tarpaulins to protect rubbish bags, and traps baited with lard or mayonnaise. Those crows foolish enough to be captured were gassed with carbon monoxide and consigned to the incinerator.

However, despite having lost 105,392 individuals at the last count, at a cost of $5.3m to the powers that be, the population of the Tokyo murder of crows still stands at 21,200 and rising.

The problem is that three years ago, the authorities' extermination programme began to run out of steam. Old crow traps weren't replaced, and budget cuts meant less lard and mayonnaise were available to bait them.

Residents, too, started to get a bit careless with their trash-protecting tarps, while older crows became increasingly savvy, learning to remove the tarpaulins and avoid the traps.

A shaken Naoki Satou, the crowfinder general leading Tokyo's anti-crow struggle, admitted: "Yes, they have returned."

In the end, experts reckon, the only way to tackle is the problem is sort out the rubbish issue. Hiroshi Kawachi, of the Wild Bird Society of Japan, said that when he observed the animals' habits in the upmarket Ginza district, their numbers declined by a half when restaurant garbage was collected at night, rather than in the late morning after a period of daylight which favoured corvine breakfast habits. ®

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