An ecological crisis is unfolding on Kyushu Island, Japan. Thousands of Japanese badgers (Meles anakuma) are being culled illegally without scientific advice or strategic planning. We urge the government to intervene and work with ecologists to establish whether this increase in culling is warranted. Justified culls should then be planned, regulated, monitored for effectiveness and subjected to animal-welfare controls (see Nature 543, 18–19; 2017).
Badgers are protected under Japanese law. Typically, some 200 are legally culled every year in Kyushu's Kagoshima prefecture to prevent crop destruction. But, inexplicably, local farmers killed 4,000 badgers last year. And because the Japanese name for badger — anaguma — is a generic term for all face-masked mesocarnivores, species such as raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus) and raccoons (Procyon lotor) are also being exterminated.
To encourage farmers to deal with problem animals, the local authorities offer the equivalent of US$25 for each badger tail or each carcass photographed. Locals therefore stand to profit from the culling. Another factor could be the trend for exotic bush meat in exclusive Tokyo restaurants.
In our view, formal regulation of this culling is essential. Proper meat controls are also needed to prevent food poisoning and the spread of parasitic infections to humans.