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One zoo to avoid

43 Comments
By Iain Maloney

I am ambivalent towards zoos. Part of me - the inquisitive, endlessly fascinated side - loves zoos. Seeing these creatures up close and personal, watching them move, eat and sleep at a proximity I could never experience in the wild is wondrous. Stop for a second and think about what it means: standing a few meters from a polar bear. Try this on the ice and it’ll be the last thing you ever do. Watching penguins swimming: in the Antarctic you’d need a submarine or some heavy-duty diving gear.

But I, like the animals, can never quite forget the bars, can never escape the feeling that it’s all fake, that although this massive creature is a polar bear, it’s not a ‘real’ polar bear, since it was bred in captivity, has never caught a fleeing seal and has as much experience of Arctic survival as I.

So I leave zoos ambivalent: exhilarated yet disappointed. I want to learn more about these magnificent beings, and I want to unlock all the cages and send them home. If it weren’t for zoos I would never see a cheetah, but I hate that the cheetah is in the zoo.

Higashiyama Dobutsuen in Nagoya is a much simpler proposition. Of all the zoos - nay, of all the tourist places I’ve been in the world - Higashiyama Zoo must rank bottom, last, worst. It exists to act as an example to other zoos.

Some of the animals are kept in appalling conditions. The elephant may be the largest land mammal but its home is no bigger than that of the average unmarried salaryman. The walrus is well known for its blubberous bulk yet it wallows in a few feet of muddy water. A plurality of primates scream rage at the indignity of their cage while greater apes point and laugh. The elephant vents frustration on a chained tyre - his only furniture - surely imagining it to be his captors. As for the polar bear, well ‘cabin fever’ doesn’t cover it. Hours he stands, feet rooted to the spot, head swinging sharply from side to side, for all the world like a tramp in the park, blasted on One Cup, or an extra from a zombie film: "Bear of the Dead." A few animals seem happy enough, but many look like Guantanamo detainees, particularly the big cats in their battery farm rows.

When I write these articles, I always try to be balanced, to give the objective good and bad, as well as my personal response. What can I say to balance this? It’s conveniently located on the subway system? It’s not too expensive? There are a lot of vending machines? It’s not enough. Quite simply, don’t go there.

There’s talk of the zoo undergoing a dramatic makeover. It’s notorious as the kind of zoo Donald Rumsfeld would create, and achieved international recognition as the only zoo in the world with green polar bears (algae left untreated). However I’m skeptical. I predict any money will be spent on improving facilities for the paying guests, rather than for the residents. Maybe a bigger gift shop and more vending machines. Of course, in this economic climate, I doubt any money will be spent at all. Recessions don’t just affect humans; even penguins get credit-crunched.

© Japan Today

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43 Comments
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There are great zoos. Two of them in areas that military people might have moved through in their career are in San Diego, CA and Colorado Springs, CO. Excellent conditions, many animals. The one in Colorado has the odd distinction of pumping out giraffes. They love it there so much that they breed like crazy. But they have eagles and polar bears. The whole thing. The population of humans in Colorado Springs, even when it was only 200,000 or so, supported a great zoo. I have not seen a zoo in Japan that comes close to it. What needs to be said about San Diego? A little too commercial? Definitely, but the conditions and the quality of staff are great, and it seems to be a going concern. I do not see any excuse for bad conditions in Asian zoos. If the land is too expensive, shut them down, lease the land, and build the zoo on a mountainside.

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The Ebisu Safari park in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture is disgusting. I go there because it has a motor racing facility integrated into the grounds. I always feel sick watching the malnourished white tiger pacing back and fourth in his enclosure, roughly the size of an 8 tatami mat room. I was somewhat impressed with Ueno Zoo, however.

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The Higashiyama Zoo is as bad as the article says. Probably because it's 99.9% concrete and utterly depressing. The pengiuns are situated in the middle of the park, surrounded by cement, which in Nagoya's heat and humidity can reach 39 degrees. A lot of the caged animals walk around and around and appear depressed or ill.

The polar bear has his moments: years ago when I was there, s/he would wait until a group of people were gathered around. Then s/he'd plop him/herself into the water and drench the on-lookers. That alone was worth the $5 to get in.

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Okayama Zoo is the pits.

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Never been there but having grown up in Milwaukee which has an amazing zoo for a smaller city, I find Japanese zoos pretty bad. Think Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, or the Brookfield zoo in Chicago, I've not seen sometghing comparable here.

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Tobu zoo isn't that bad ...

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Higashiyama zoo is old but my cousin was the head vet there and I know they spent a lot of money on a new extension for the reptile section. Yes zoos and circus are the same when you consider keeping animals under the control of humans but there is a lot of research and cooperation with other zoos world wide to breed and protect the animals there.

London zoo is another example of an old zoo where conditions for animals are poor. So I would consider a lot of places to be unsuitable for keeping animals (not just in Asia)... so don't just name and shame when you have not even asked the zoo for a comment.

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I'm totally with you Iain- I was traumatised for weeks by those poor polar bears who I only saw on my way to the botanical gardens. Couldn't bring myself to even look at most of the other animals there. I would add a general warning against Asian zoos and animal parks (with the exception of Singapore Zoo) if you have any sensitivity about seeing badly treated and deeply unhappy animals.

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Is this guy the spokesperson for a rival zoo or safari park in the area?

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dano, are you in prison? your logic would suggest that prison is better han reality where folks have to work and can be killed in traffic accidents. safer in prison so why is it a deterrent?

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Zoos should be forbidden worldwide. What fun can it be watching an imprisoned animal, it is far from being educational. Show the kids animals in their natural habitat!

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how do you know they are miserable? are you dr. doolittle?

Let's say you are a lion. You can go hunt every day or get food brought to you each day. I watch quite a bit of the Animal Planet and the big cats often go days without a kill.

Now, on the other hand, let's say you are the prey of a big cat. Are you happy to roam free in the open country only to have to worry about being killed every single second?

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dano2002 most animals think of two things; food and sex. at a zoo they get both.

I agree with Beaver, unless there's a disaster of some kind affecting humans the animals will get food, but sex? Unless they're part of a breeding programme most species are deliberately kept apart, and even then, as they weren't brought up by their own parents they have no idea how to behave towards their own offspring (cue another Knut).

I've only been to 4 zoos in Japan. Ueno is pretty good, although there'll never be a perfect zoo. Tama is also pretty good, although I can't remember which one of them it is that now has a new elephant enclosure. I know the one with the butterfly house has an Indian elephant that looks bored witless all the time, and while the tiger area is small but pretty reasonable (especially as there's a limit on how many animals will be there) it's still not a patch on the real thing. I went to Zoorasia once, but it was rather badly designed for viewing and I really can't say whether the enclosures were ok or not as I could barely see into them. Nogeyama is the poor cousin, free to enter but few animals. It is horrible to see the big cats in little cages, and the monkeys and all the others, but one thing I'd like to point out about Tokyo zoos is that they move the animals around. If you go to Nogeyama today the tiger/s will be different than the tiger/s that were there a few months ago. Not sure how often they do it, but at least it means not so many of the animals will just stay in a grotty cage until they rot and die. Maybe they do that with other zoos in Japan too, even the one in the article, but elephants are more difficult than the others and normally get left to rot.

Japanese zoos are far from perfect. But do you really think all the zoos in your home country are perfect? And of the bad zoos that closed down rather than revamping, what do you think happened to the animals? Sure some will have gone to other zoos, but not all of them.

One thing I don't understand is the price of entrance, in the UK London zoo adults £16.80 kids £13.30 (that's ¥2675 and ¥2118 at today's exchange rate on yahoo), Ueno zoo adults ¥600, kids free until 12 years when they pay ¥200 until age 15. Perhaps if they increase the fee at Japanese zoos a little they can use the extra cash to pay for some improvements? Of course, I daresay UK zoos get no help from any government body, and here they do. But even so it's a huge difference. And they charge a fortune for snacks and drinks in the UK zoos too I'll bet.

Personally I don't like the fact that zoos exist. I don't believe it's worthwhile keeping an otherwise extinct animal in captivity, they can't bring up their own young, often they're not even capable of mating successfully (or at all) in captivity, plus they're miserable. Why force new generations to suffer? Bring them up by human hand and they think they're related to humans. So why would they want to mate with that furry animal you're introducing them to? But they're interesting and educational for kids (up to a point) so while they do exist I'll occasionally take the little dammits to see the animals.

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I remember going to UENO zoo many moons ago to see the pandas they had at the time. It was in a cement floored cage with no where to roam except sit there and chew on a few bamboo shots. Boy didn't he looked bored!! Even the Japanese people were commenting on how pathetic it was before they squealed how cute he looked and reeled off a dozen photos.

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another zoo to avoid. Fukuoka.

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Zoo's should be banned altogether, safari are okay to a degree in the open wild, but anything with a cage and no sky should be abolished.

not all zoos are bad...

the really good zoos have large open air enclosures designed to be as close as possible to the animal's natural habitat. and they are not just tourist attractions- they are research stations where various species can be more closely studied, a base from which people can attempt to create breeding populations of endangered animals, and a place for injured animals to recuperate before being released back into the wild.

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its the kind of zoo Donaald Rumsfield

someone is stuck in 2003...

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" most animals think of two things; food and sex." really? Mammals are actually far more complicated that what you find in hamburgers. Ever watched a documentary before?

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dano2002-" most animals think of two things; food and sex. at a zoo they get both. so, while it make take them out of natural habitat they at least get to live their lives with their most important requirements. "

The food is a given. The sex is not. And whatever the animals may actually be "thinking" about, there are more requirements to leading a healthy happy life than just two that might be on an animal's mind most of the time.

I have seen footage of animals in the wild that was amazingly awesome! They beat the zoo hands down. Sometimes it was like the animal was right in your lap with the close-ups. You get to see them do what amazing things they really do, instead of doing the stir-crazy things they do in the zoo. And the TV never smells like an animal that has been rolling in his own feces and urine for weeks.

Petting zoos with domesticated animals can be ok though. But they are usually lacking as well.

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Toyohashi zoo is a nightmare! I couldnt believe how much concrete there was when I visited it my first and last time. Small and untidy quarters for the animals too. Doesnt surprise me though. Just take a look at the pet shops. Stacked with cages of dogs, cats, birds etc. Everyone just turns a blind eye to it though.

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Zoo's should be banned altogether, safari are okay to a degree in the open wild, but anything with a cage and no sky should be abolished.

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I always try to be balanced...It’s notorious as the kind of zoo Donald Rumsfeld would create.

This is your idea of balanced?

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It’s notorious as the kind of zoo Donald Rumsfeld would create, and achieved international recognition as the only zoo in the world with green polar bears (algae left untreated)

Really... Did you use Rumsfled in a ZOO metaphor. If you disagree with his running of the Iraq war or revamping of the US military.. call him a monster, immoral, evil... the fall backs for those of that ilk, but expecting us to imagine what kind of zoo he would create as a metaphor to explain the thoughts of those with whom this zoo has gained notoriety, is a painful stretch.

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Generally, I have not been happy with the zoos in Japan. I went to the aquarium in Osaka recently and it, too, was really over stocked. It's too bad because if they decreased the number of animals and created better habitats the zoos would be vastly more interesting. I think zoos in Japan (which generally don't have much space) should specialize, only keeping a few different animals.

Culturally, I have to agree that people here have less empathy with animals. But there is still a lot of interest. I think people shouldn't underestimate the "kawaii" factor. It's a short step from there to actually caring about the well being of the animals. When I go to zoos or aquariums with my Japanese friends I point out problems with the enclosures and health issue with the animals. I find that they are usually surprised that they didn't notice it before and become very animated that it should change. Little by little it can.

I want point out that not all zoos are bad here. I have a friend who works in an excellent bird park. The animals are all in very good condition and their needs are well looked after. So if you can, be sure to help your Japanese friends learn the difference between a good zoo and a bad one. One thing about Japanese culture is when a general consensus is reached, things can change very quickly (unfortunately, nothing happens until that point). So if you open somebody's eyes, it will make a difference eventually.

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one more zoo to avoid: tokyo

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Zoos are useless, immoral and cruel. Period.

Yet zoos may be the last refuge for various species as man exploits these "resources" (a word we hear a lot in the context of Japanese whale/dolphin/tuna debates.)

And I think that humane zoos are needed in Japan, since it seems few Japanese city dwellers have ever seen a squirrel, hedgehog, fox etc. These are all common sites even in London. Come to think of it, even in my excursions into the Japanese countryside I don't think I've ever spotted a wild mammal. Not even roadkill!

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most animals think of two things; food and sex. at a zoo they get both. so, while it make take them out of natural habitat they at least get to live their lives with their most important requirements.

zoos are great. the ueno zoo is quite good, especially for kids.

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Zoos are useless, immoral and cruel. Period.

They only prove us that human nature hasn't changed much and that mankind is far from being as "human" as it pretends to be.

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I avoid any discussion with Japanese about animal welfare, because I've only ever met two Japanese who've had any clue whatsoever (and I married one of them...) Amazing considering the number of times we hear that the Japanese 'love nature'. I put it down to a lack of empathy. I was amazed when a friend of mine saw some hopping bunnies is Izu and squeaked "Kawaiiii!" - she was wearing a rabbit skin jacket and carrying a rabbit skin bag.

"They are just animals" is not exclusive to Japan.

The difference is that in Japan, almost everyone seems to think that way. That's why zoos in Japan and zoos in (for example) the UK are completely different.

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A few animals seem happy enough, but many look like Guantanamo detainees, particularly the big cats in their battery farm rows.

BDS taken to newer and even sillier heights.

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All cultures are "speciesist": we favour some animals over others. Australians decry Japanese whaling, yet shark meat can be found on many a dinner plate, despite the fact that many species of shark are endangered

Zarusoba - your statement appears to claim that Australians fish for and kill endangered sharks, which can't be substantiated. One of the major threats to sharks in and near northern Australian waters is illegal fishing for shark fin, mostly by Indonesians who cut off the fins and throw the rest away for the animal to die.

To compare Australians fishing in Australian waters with Japanese whaling in Antarctic waters is hardly reasonable.

I haven't seen any zoos in Japan, so I can't really comment other than to hope that the Japanese equivalent of the RSPCA (if there is such a thing) take action. The aquariums I saw in Japan were amazing, but certainly the general attitude toward animals I observed was poor. I saw puppies left out in freezing conditions in a park to die and rescued them. Even the "sacred" deer in an enclosure in the local shrine were overcrowded and in poor conditions, kept for a supply of antlers.

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Good points, Zarusoba. I wouldnt visit a Japanese zoo ever though, by the sounds of things they are very grim and depressing. Fair call on the bullfights in Spain though...it is interesting how Spain could pass legislation aiming to protect animal rights yet continue that cruel and pointless tradition.

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On the opposite spectrum, some Western nations have implemented laws enshrining the "rights of animals" , such as Spain. I think there is a movement to ban zoos there and in other countries.

I guess that excludes bullfights...

All cultures are "speciesist": we favour some animals over others. Australians decry Japanese whaling, yet shark meat can be found on many a dinner plate, despite the fact that many species of shark are endangered.

Hindus venerate the cow, but when it comes to chickens, anything goes.

If you come from a developed nation, look no further than the factory farms which supply your local supermarket to find conditions far worse than those found in these zoos.

"They are just animals" is not exclusive to Japan. According to the Christians, God gave us dominion over the animals.

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It's a cultural thing: Japanese (and most Asian countries for that matter) don't have the same liberal view of animals - and "animal rights" - as Western people. Animals are simply playthings, or objects to watch for a few seconds - if they are cute. As GW pointed out, the saying in Japanese "they are just animals" is all pervasive in Japan, it is also used when questioned about eating some bizarre animals in places in Japan, such as bear (one of my students told me that bear "nabe" (kind of Japanese hotpot) is unbelievebly delicious...) On the opposite spectrum, some Western nations have implemented laws enshrining the "rights of animals" , such as Spain. I think there is a movement to ban zoos there and in other countries.

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It’s notorious as the kind of zoo Donald Rumsfeld would create

crow bar it in somewhere eh

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"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated" - Mahatma Gandhi

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I hate when Japanese say "they are just animals" point out to them that they are JUST animals & most are dumbfounded. The problem with poor treatment of animals is a huge problem in the far east & asia 99% just cant comprehend why anyone shud even think about it.

Most J-zoos make the animals live like they were Japanese, ie housed in tiny square rooms, pathetic

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Never EVER go to the Utsunomiya zoo in Tochigi,amazed they can actually get away with it.Perhaps no 'zoo law' in Japan ?

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Don't go to Asahikawa in Hokkaido either. Same problem, small cages. 3 large monkeys in a room you could jump across - without a run-up.

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someone once told me a very interesting thing. they said you can judge a person's character by they way they treat their dog.

watching the way some japanese treat animals gives me pause. is this a peek behind the curtain?

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Yeah, I am not surprised by this article. Once again it has to do with ignorance and people not saying anything about it. I had a friend who went to the safari parks in Japan. She went during the winter where it snows heavily. She showed me pictures on her cellphone of elephants and some other big cats in 2-3 inches of snow. I was like what the hell?! I told her they should be reported and fined. She said it was normal and it is OK because they are animals. Once again "What the hell?" Since when did African elephants adapt to the snow? You know they are suffering. Green algae! That is just pathetic.

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Try going to the monkey park on Mount Takao or seeing one of the trained acts that they parade around during cherry blossom festivals here. I'm surprised those monkeys haven't ripped the arms off their keepers yet.

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Yes, horrible. J-zoos are revolting usually.

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