Zoos are supposed to be bulwarks against extinction and exploitation of animals. Not part of the exotic animal trade. Yet the Asahi Shimbun accuses Japanese zoos of overbreeding lions and other animals. The leftover lions as they are called, are farmed out as soon as they grow up.
“According to an investigation conducted by The Asahi Shimbun, during the five-year period from fiscal 2014, 14 lions were shipped out from public zoos nationwide. Eleven of them were given away for free.”
Incredibly, lions can be bought for about $1,900, the paper said. Fancy breeds of domestic cats sell for almost twice that amount, according to the paper.
The paper gave several reasons the zoos ship animals out. One is that visitors prefer young animals over older animals. Another is that the zoos tend to be small and there is a risk of inbreeding and fighting. The third is cost. Food for zoo animals is expensive and many zoos are cash strapped. They are often poorly supported by local government. The paper said zoos tend to barter animals among zoos. Animals become a form of currency. But all too often they turn to “animal dealers” and the risk of involvement in the exotic pet trade. The paper believes more than half of animal exchanges involve an animal dealer.
For those leftover lions and other animals, leaving a zoo to avoid the risk of inbreeding and fighting is sometimes followed by a tragic outcome.
“In March 2016, a Grant’s zebra named Barron that had belonged to Osaka Tennoji Zoo in Osaka came in the possession of an animal dealer through a barter deal.
After being taken to an equestrian club, Barron jumped a fence and ran off to a pond on a golf course. There the zebra was shot with a blowgun dart tipped with an anesthetic agent, fell into the pond and drowned.
The animal dealer placed Barron in the equestrian club, thinking it would be the best way to familiarize the zebra with humans.
However, Barron, who grew up n the in the zoo throughout his life, was whipped into a panic when humans approached.”
The people the paper approached for comment on the issue all expressed remorse for the situation faced by the animals.
Japan underwent a “zoo boom” after World War Two. But in the intervening years attendnace has dropped off. Japanese zoos have embraced the idea of saving endangered species and educating the public. But they don’t fully understand that role, one professor says.
“Koichi Murata, a special appointment professor at Nihon University who studies zoos, sees an inherent structural problem in the institutions, which aim to preserve and study species but produce excess animals at the same time.
“People in the zoo industry need to stop for a moment and think about what it really means that the term ‘excess animals’ exists and has been used for a long time,” Murata said.”
The paper recently did an expose on the “dark side’ of Japanese zoos seeking to shine a light on the issue.
The island nation is currently having to face a number of wildlife issues beyond leftover lions. Demographic and other changes are resulting in more attacks from wild animals. Calls for re-introducing wolves are also increasing the debate on the relationship between Japan and wildlife. A growing conservation movement is calling attention to these issues.