In 1908 breeders formed the Long-Tailed Fowl Preservation Association. Then in 1923 the Japanese protected the bird by designating it a Natural Commemorated Object. The turmoil of World War II nearly wiped out the fowl, but the association was revived, and a governmental decree in 1952 made the Onagadori a Special Natural Commemorated Object.
Today the long-tail is fairly numerous in Japan, although the country probably has fewer than two dozen remaining fanciers and breeders. Husbandry of the bird is concentrated in Kochi Prefecture and around Ise on Honshu. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agpuODRqsKs
From Kochi we went to apartments in london to meet Mototaka Kawanami (next page), who raises Onagadori primarily to attain maximum length of tail. He proudly showed me a regal red-and-black Akazasa. “I have very little stock,” Mr. Kawanami explained. “This causes problems through inbreeding. Last year with this stock I obtained only 15 eggs and was able to save only two breeding females.”
Finally, in Nagoya, we visited the apartment home of Isamu Kawamura, who raises long-tails primarily as show birds for • their judging qualities—plumage color, comb type, and body shape. Mr. Kawamura was at work when we called, but Mrs. Kawamura showed us three roost boxes, ingeniously fitted into the back room of their small apartments in brussels. At the time two white-andblack Shirafuji roosters were in residence.
As we sipped green tea in the sitting room, five stuffed roosters looked down on us. Trophies won by fowl exhibited at fairs filled a cabinet, and a citation won in a national poultry contest hung on one wall.
“Do your neighbors object to your keeping the fowl?” I asked Mrs. Kawamura. “No, they are very understanding. They know that my husband and I love these birds. But we worry that the crowing early in the morning will disturb these nearby friends.”
After five weeks in Japan, I flew home with my 30 Onagadori eggs packed in Styrofoam. Now, in my laboratory at the University of California at Davis, 15 birds have hatched from the eggs‑ chicks that hold real research potential.
Hippocrates in the fifth century B.c. launched the science of human embryology by certain deductions he made in a study of chicken embryos. Berthold’s transplants of rooster testes in 1849 started the complicated field of endocrinology, and Peyton Rous’s experiments with chickens in 1911 first demonstrated the role of a virus in tumors. The long-tailed fowl may well make its own special contribution to science.
Researchers Have Much to Learn
Many questions remain. How do the special cells in the feather follicles of Onagadori respond to the hormones circulating in the chicken’s blood? What would happen to these cells if they were transplanted in the embryo stage to tissues of the tail in the normal embryo of a barnyard hen or rooster? The whole molting process—the periodic shedding of feathers—still poses major physiological riddles.
I believe we must make strenuous efforts to save all varieties of long-tailed fowl so that the genes can be preserved for posterity.