Japan’s Barking Trains: Saving Sika Deer with an Ingenious Approach

Written By Becka Keeley
in Tech

Mention Japanese trains, and most people will conjure up an image of the Japanese Bullet train or Shinkansen hurtling through the Land of the Rising Sun at breakneck speeds. Some of you might even wistfully recall the fabulously opulent Shiki-Shima train. None of you you, we repeat, none of you will be crafting imagery featuring barking trains. However, creative engineers at the Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI) have been making barking trains with a speaker set-up that blasts out the sounds of a snorting deer and a barking dog.

Let’s set the scene, then. It’s Friday night; you’re a hot-to-trot Sika deer with the whole night ahead of you. What’s on the agenda? Track licking, baby! Now, as weird and improbable as that all sounds, there is a good reason for this death-defying track-licking tomfoolery. Iron.

Barking trains

Sika deer crave iron in their diets and are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get their fix. In a move straight out of the book ‘Too clever for their own good,’ these canny deer have discovered that trains leave iron filings on the railway tracks. The iron filings are created by the grinding action between the train wheels and the metal tracks. The resulting carnage is predictable.

Undeniably cute but not the brightest. Barking trains could be the best friend a Sika deer ever had. (Photo: Wikimedia)
Undeniably cute but not the brightest. Barking trains could be the best friend a Sika deer ever had. (Photo: Wikimedia)

The Japanese government reported 613 train strikes involving deer and other wild animals in 2016. That is a worrying 43% increase from the previous year. Rail companies are desperate for a solution, with each collision causing significant network delays, which is why we’re talking about barking trains. Don’t believe they’ll try anything? They previously trialed rubbing lion feces on the rail tracks. A job we can imagine there weren’t too many volunteers for. The trial was short-lived when the lion’s feces washed off in the rain. So, barking trains look positively normal in comparison.

So why the barking dog sound? Japanese boffins at the Railway Technical Research Institute have discovered the perfect mix tape, 3 seconds of deer snorting to gain the endangered deer’s attention, followed by 30 seconds of a barking dog. This combination ensures the deer take flight and run for the hills. Trials have already shown that the new speaker system has resulted in a 45% reduction in deer sightings along railway tracks. However, the engineers aren’t stopping at barking trains. They’ve grabbed the deer by the antlers, and plans are also being made to introduce stationary speakers at known deer gathering points alongside the rail tracks.