1 Dec 2017

Cackling Goose

Making a Long-awaited Comeback to the Sky in Japan

Cackling Goose © HIH Princess Takamado
Cackling Goose © HIH Princess Takamado
By HIH Princess Takamado

'Through the Lens', Fujingaho Magazine, December 2017

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Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado

English Translation: Asia Club, a WBSJ Volunteer Group (UENO Naohiro and KASE Tomoko)

Cackling Goose © HIH Princess Takamado

Every year from autumn to winter, various species of goose migrate to the watersides of Japan. Their beautiful formation flight, the exchange of their pathetic call and their outstanding silhouette in the sky on a full moon night are really emotional. From olden days, the Japanese have been impressed by the way geese migrated from northern countries in the shape of V and/or a single file, and have been inclined to compose a haiku (Japanese 17 syllabled poem) and a tanka (31 syllabled poem) as well as to adopt them as a painting subject. Needless to say, geese are attractive photographic subjects, too.

Just in November two years ago, a symposium was held in Oosaki City, Miyagi Prefecture memorializing the 10th anniversary of Kabukuri-numa Pond as a designated wetland site for the Ramsar Convention, the achievement of recovering 1,000 Cackling Geese and the 30th anniversary since the launch of the ‘Friendship Association of Foster Parents of Geese’. There were scheduled a lot of events to celebrate at the symposium but the heavy rain damage on the 11th of September struck the local farmers who had cooperated in the conservation of geese. It happened when the farmers have been recovering peaceful days after four and a half years since the Great East Japan Earthquake, while the date of the symposium was approaching. Most of their houses were flooded and farmlands submerged by the heavy rain. I greatly appreciate that they made a declarative statement at the symposium despite of their severe situation that “We’ll do our best to preserve paddy fields for migrating birds to winter and to make efforts to coexist with them confronting difficulties with the persistent and patient spirit of Tohoku district (northern Japan)”. 

Canada Goose © HIH Princess Takamado

I observed the geese and took photos of them such as the Cackling Goose, Bean Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose at Kabukuri-numa Pond, Kejo-numa Pond and their neighboring places. This time I would like to show you some of my photos focused on the Cackling Goose which flies in the sky of Japan once again.

Formerly, a large number of Cackling Geese used to winter in Kanto and Tohoku districts. At the beginning of the twentieth century when the demand for fur rose, however, breeding traders began leaving foxes free in the Aleutian Islands and the Kuril Islands. The former is the breeding site for the populations of the goose which migrate to America and the latter is for those to Japan. These foxes became the threat not only to eggs and chicks but also to parent birds which could not fly during molting period.

Thus, the Cackling Goose suffered a huge damage by the act of breeding traders and it was once considered extinct. In 1963, however, to our gratification, it was confirmed that 200 – 300 birds had survived in Bal Deal Island of the Aleutian Islands. The US Government immediately started conservation activities and they finally announced that the goose got out of extinction in 2001.

In 1983, Sendai Yagiyama Zoological Park in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture and the Japanese Association for Wild Geese Protection (JAWGP), Miyagi Prefecture started the protection activities with the support from the US Government. In 1992, with participation of Russian researchers, Japan, USA and Russia proceeded with a plan to release Cracking Geese into the wild. From 1995, they released 119 breeding geese in fox-free Ekaruma Island of the Kuril Islands in six years and further 346 birds in the following six years, from which some of them began to come to Japan. The number of the Cackling Goose coming to Japan to winter has rapidly increased since 2005 and at last it exceeded 1,000 birds in 2014.

Cackling Goose © HIH Princess Takamado

The Cackling Goose in Japan has made a miraculous comeback from the brink of extinction thanks to the devotion of civil organizations which sincerely want to protect the species, the attitude of the US Government which dare to support even civil organizations if they judge that the project is worth to proceed and the knowledge and belief of Russian researchers. As a result, the Cackling Geese could have restarted their traditional migration from ancient times. The local farmers welcome the birds in autumn saying “Welcome home” and patiently watch over them entering fields, the birds’ feeding sites, and in spring they see off the geese saying “Come back again in good health”.

As a species of animal with a well-developed brain, we, humans, are often in a position to decide how to coexist with other fauna and flora. The success in recovering the number of the Cackling Goose is a valuable example to show that all possible efforts by a small number of people could lead to a success if they mobilize the force to the same direction which eventually creates a big wave.

Cackling Goose © HIH Princess Takamado

Note: The Cackling Goose had been classified as one of the subspecies of the Canada Goose, but in 2004 the AOU (American Ornithologists’ Union) separated them into two independent species, Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) and Cackling Goose (Branta hatchinsii). In 2012, the OSJ (Ornithological Society of Japan) adopted the same taxonomy.