DEBORAH AMOS, host:
The city of Tokyo isn't running out of money, but it's running out of patience. For eight years, it's been waging war on its crows. The campaign reportedly began after a crow buzzed Tokyo's governor as he played golf, prompting a declaration that he would turn crow meat pies into Tokyo's favorite dish. Well, that hasn't happened, but the battle continues today, with mixed results - as NPR's Louisa Lim found out on a recent trip to Tokyo.
(Soundbite of footsteps and crows cawing)
LOUISA LIM: This is the sound that makes Yumiko Kono's heart beat faster as she pounds around Yoyogi Park in central Tokyo. She's a long-distance runner, who covers at least seven miles a day. She's highly sensitive to sound, since she's blind. She runs with the aid of a companion. A year and a half ago, she was attacked by a crow in the park, an experience that has traumatized her.
Ms. YUMIKO KONO (Long-distance runner): (Through Translator) A crow landed on my head just for an instant while I was running. It was like it was using my head as a jumping board. I was surprised, then scared. Now, when I hear crows cawing and their wings flapping, I still get scared.
LIM: She's not alone. Many Tokyo dwellers have been dive-bombed by the big black jungle crows that flap around the city. Everyone knows someone who has been pecked or pooped upon.
For Alfred Hitchcock fans, it's eerily reminiscent of his thriller "The Birds."
(Soundbite of movie, "The Birds")
Unidentified Man: I mean birds don't just go around attacking people without no reason, you know what I mean? Kids probably scared them, that's all.
Unidentified Woman: These birds attacked.
(Soundbite of birds attacking)
LIM: In that movie, flocks of birds victimized one small town, with hundreds of crows attacking the local schoolchildren.
In Tokyo, it's not that bad yet. But the big black bullies do cause technological havoc. They nest in utility poles and cause blackouts; they even steal fiber-optic cables to build nests, sometimes disabling parts of the broadband network.
Tokyo's crow czar, Toshimasa Uno, admits crow numbers are on the up. He blames commuter crows who fly in to feast on the capital's garbage.
Mr. TOSHIMASA UNO: (Through Translator) The crow number increased by 16 percent from the year before.
We think the reason is that crows fly into Tokyo from the suburbs.
LIM: He says the corvine population now stands or flies at an estimated 21,200. That's despite millions of dollars spent on the war on crows.
Mr. UNO: (Through Translator) The crow budget for 2009 was about $700,000. The year before, it worked out to around $50 for every crow killed. But we have to spend this money because people are complaining.
LIM: We're here with park manager Koji Takagi, and we're picking our way amongst the greenery. And we're going to see the crow traps the government has been using to try to battle the crows.
Mr. KOJI TAKAGI (Park Manager): (Through Translator) Most of the crows we catch with this trap are young ones that are inexperienced. But it's good to catch the young ones, so they can't breed and increase the number of crows.
LIM: Back in Yoyogi Park, birds are thrashing around inside the traps, which are enormous cages 10 by 20 feet, open in the middle. The crows are lured in by lard smeared on the ground. Once in, hanging spikes stop them from flying out. Park manager Takagi says every three days, the trapped crows are taken away to be gassed.
Mr. TAKAGI: (Through Translator) We do get complaints from people opposed to the crow extermination. But this is the policy of the environment bureau. People should also learn to deal with garbage better.
LIM: So we're now going to see a very unusual project here in Central Tokyo, in the swanky shopping district of Ginza.
(Soundbite of bees buzzing)
LIM: That buzzing noise that you can probably hear is 300,000 honeybees that are being kept in beehives, right in the center of Tokyo. Atsuo Tanaka, the co-founder of the Ginza Honeybee Project, says this project is actually helping keep the crows away.
Mr. ATSUO TANAKA (Co-Founder, Ginza Honeybee Project): (Through Translator) The bees become very aggressive when they see shiny black objects, because it reminds them of bears or hornets that might attack them. So whenever they see crows, a whole swarm of bees will chase them.
LIM: And although the honeybees chase away the black marauders, they're surprisingly friendly to humans.
Mr. TANAKA: You afraid?
LIM: You want me to touch these honeybees? Will they bite me?
Mr. TANAKA: It's okay. No, no, no, no, no.
LIM: Okay. I'm very nervous. Im actually touching the back of the honeybees. They are - it's really soft.
This may be an eco-friendly solution - and one which provides honey into the bargain - but so far it's unproven, and impractical on a larger scale.
The battle of birds and bees seems almost surprising in the setting of Tokyo's high-tech urban jungle, but the war on crows underlines that finding the right balance between man and nature isn't easy, even in a city.
Louisa Lim, NPR News.
AMOS: Scientists say crows can also hold grudges, even retaliate against people. Get that part of the story at npr.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
(Soundbite of music)
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