Zoos are moving to reduce stress for animals in their care

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Giraffes eat food from hanging baskets at Tama Zoological Park in Hino, Tokyo on Aug. 9.

Zoos and aquariums across the country are increasingly exploring how to display the animals in their care and how visitors should interact with such animals to reduce the stress of the animals in captivity.

This mindset stems from the concept of animal welfare, which emphasizes that animals should live in their natural habitat.

End of Animal Shows

In early August, when a dolphin jumped and splashed back into the water at the Shinagawa Aquarium in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward, families crammed into the auditorium for their summer vacation screamed with delight.

The aquarium’s dolphin show has been a popular feature since the aquarium opened in 1991, but the department decided in May that the show would be discontinued along with the aquarium’s renovation in fiscal 2027.

An animal protection group had sent out a petition, accompanied by many signatures, complaining that it is insulting to keep the animals in the narrow and shallow pool for a show.

“There were many who regretted the decision to end the show, but we took the concept of animal welfare into account,” said Tomoyuki Takanashi, head of the district’s parks department.

In June, Sapporo passed the country’s first municipal zoo ordinance following the death of a female sun bear in a fight with a male at Maruyama Zoo, a popular zoo in the city.

The regulation called for the creation of a breeding environment in which animals could live without stress or pain. As a general rule, visitors are not allowed to touch the animals in the care of the zoo.

Extend service life

Zoos and aquariums have recently created more opportunities for visitors to interact directly with animals, not only through observing animal exhibits, but also through touch and feeding experiences.

However, the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria, headquartered in Switzerland, issued guidelines in 2015 declaring the need to ensure the psychological well-being of animals, as animals can exhibit threatening behavior due to discomfort or stress.

In light of the fact that insufficient efforts by zoos and aquariums in Japan could hinder the procurement of animals from abroad, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums also set standards in September 2020 for appropriate facilities for each animal.

Tama Zoological Park in Hino, Tokyo, which built new homes for three Asian elephants last August, has adopted these standards, creating an area five times larger than the previous one and separating the areas for females and males. to conform to the habit of the females to form groups with their offspring.

Gravel has been laid in the park’s zebra enclosure so that their hooves can be trimmed naturally. The park also hangs giraffes’ food baskets at a height so they can stretch their long necks and eat in comfort.

“Providing a comfortable living environment can extend the life of the animals,” said Shoji Toyoshima, director of the park’s education department.

Looking for balance

On the other hand, animal shows and interactive experiences also serve to deepen children’s understanding of living things. Zoos look for ways to make the experience more enjoyable for visitors without burdening the animals.

In August 2018, the Kyoto City Zoo banned visitors from picking up guinea pigs. Instead, the zoo allows visitors to pat the backs of the guinea pigs, which now have plastic tubes in their boxes so they can escape the tubes at any time.

“We want to come up with ways to increase the educational impact while integrating the animal welfare mindset,” said a zoo official.

In April, the Osaka Tennoji Zoo renovated a facility where visitors can feed and interact with sheep and goats, and then it introduced a new system that allows people to feed sheep and goats only three times a day and by appointment only, as the sheep sometimes sick after eating too much food.

“The emphasis on animal welfare is now a global trend. The number of facilities in the country that are proactive in the field of animal welfare is increasing. I think this trend will only get stronger,” said Yoichi Sadotomo, a professor of zoo science at Teikyo University of Science.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Gravel will be placed in the zebra enclosure to allow their hooves to be trimmed naturally, at Tama Zoological Park in Hino, Tokyo, on Aug. 9.

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