In the case of the Ezo wolf it had a more traditionally wolf-like appearance than its southern cousin, the Honshu which had a more dog-like appearance. The skull of the Ezo wolf was large and formidable, with long, curved canines, and the body dimensions were similar to that of grey wolves. The Ezo wolf was typically grey in coloration, and significantly larger and more fearsome looking than the wolves of Honshu. That writ, both had common ancestry in the Siberian wolves of the Asian mainland.
The Hokkaido wolves were at one time fairly common and were, as I noted, far from hated beasts. They were highly venerated by Ainu people of northern Japan and were considered to be powerful gods -along with bears and owls and featured highly in Ainu myths, folklore, and poetry. The Ainu called the wolves by various names such as Horkew Kamuy (Howling God), Yukkoiki Kamuy (The God Who Takes Deer), Horkew Retara Kamuy (White Wolf God), and Horkew Kamuy-dono (Lord Wolf God). And to this very day many landmarks bear Ainu names pertaining to the wolves.
When it came to the Ezo wolves they were highly regarded for their hunting prowess. There are many accounts of the Ainu seeking to domesticate them and this practice was confirmed by several surveys by the Hokkaido Development Agency, which found some Ainu villages actively raising wolf cubs. After being raised among the villagers for around two years and becoming accustomed to people, the Ezo wolves were then used as hunting companions and even released to go hunt deer for the village on their own.
Basically, humans and wolf working together and sustaining one another.
After the collapse of feudal government in 1868, Japan unfortunately started to turn to the West for help in "modernizing" the nation. It was now that the government became convinced that ranching was the key to Hokkaido’s future agricultural prosperity. Horse and cattle ranches began popping up all over Hokkaido, throwing humans and wolves into contact with growing frequency. It was not long before tensions rose and the wolves were seen as a threat to the booming ranching industry taking hold of Hokkaido.
With negative attitudes towards the wolves soaring, strychnine poisoning campaigns were launched against them and a bounty system was also put into place by the Hokkaido Development Agency to speed along the extermination process. The days of human and wolf living together were over.
The wolves were so actively slaughtered that the number of Hokkaido wolves plummeted with frightening speed. In 1889, within just 20 years of the start of the poisoning campaigns, the Hokkaido wolf was considered extinct.
(c) Respective copyright holder. Apologies but this is from an old file so I have no idea who to credit -anyone knows please let me know.
The Ainu have long held that the wolf existed well past this date, and even to this day sightings reports come in occasionally. On rare occasions, ranchers in modern times have complained of mysterious killings of their livestock caused by some kind of wild animal. Hikers and hunters have reported wolf howls as well, and there are occasional reports of wolf scat or remains being found in the frigid wilds of Hokkaido.
Could the Ezo wolf still be out there?
The wolves of Hokkaido story and that of the thylacine are almost a match. In fact, anywhere that humans want to start raising sheep, cattle or even game, the same story follows. The old tales of "wolves hunting down humans and slaughtering animals" are churned out and the press and media are quite happy to take the sensationalist attitude -fear and scary stories are "sexy" -they sell newspapers and magazines and boost viewer ratings (look at the "out of control, killer foxes" stories in the UK.
The image of the Falkland Islands Fox ("wolf") is always within site of where I work. In 2016 it will become the emblem here on the AOP Blog. I hope the above explains why.
Too many animals have become extinct because of butchery by a minority of humnans. But a minority that the majority allows to get away with it.