Hiroshi Yagi was 19 when he first heard a strange howling in a beech wood forest on Mount Naeba. He knew then that it was no ordinary dog. With heightened curiosity, he later began a what-would-be 40-year search for an animal that has not been seen in Japan since 1905. Since then, Yagi has transferred from one job to another, assembled sophisticated monitoring equipment and climbed and trekked mountains in hopes of finding this creature called the Japanese wolf.
According to the Japanese Red List of the Environment Ministry, the Japanese wolf is an extinct species. Its most prominent physical features are its sharp face and its curled tail tip. In Yagi’s earlier searches in the Okuchichibu mountains, he saw plenty of shrines honoring the wolves and learned of eyewitness accounts from climbers. He was hopeful of the place, so he visited it at least once a month. In October 1996, he came across an animal that had uncanny resemblance to the wolf. The photos he took made headlines when a zootaxy expert said that it “is possibly a surviving descendent of the Japanese wolf.”
In 2010, Yagi put up a nonprofit organization called Wanted: Canis hotophilax, which is the Japanese wolf’s scientific name. He said they get about 10 reports of sightings every year. Most reports come off as doubtful, says Yagi; but they consider it nonetheless. “If we ignore them we could never find the wolf.” A once senior official of the National Museum of Nature and Science, Iwao Obara, said that many people are attracted to the wolf probably because of the mystery of its disappearance, among others. And while it is admirable of a man to have such dedication in finding this creature, Obara says that he doubts the existence of the Japanese wolf.