An innovative approach to zookeeping at Asahiyama Zoo in Hokkaido has seen visitor numbers soar to 3 million per year, including thousands of visitors from overseas. Toshio Matsubara asked Director Gen Bando about the secret to the zoo’s success.
Asahiyama Zoo is a world pioneer of “behavioral exhibits.” What are the behavioral exhibits, and why did you decide to implement them?
What sort of things did you devise to get the animals to be more active?
To get the animals to act more animal-like, it’s necessary to create an environment that allows them to naturally display things such as their traits, physical abilities and thought patterns. For example, in the penguin pool, besides adjusting the depth of the pool, we also added several obstacles such as a reef and an underwater tunnel that visitors can look up from. Penguins turn at sharp angles when they swim, so by having many obstacles in the water, they appear to be bouncing around while they swim. When they start chasing each other, their movements become really quite something. Since penguins are carnivorous, they instinctively watch things that move, so they are always looking at the people passing through the underwater tunnel, and sometimes their eyes meet. This is also an implementation of the idea of using humans as toys.
The key to our zoo’s facilities is that they were built so that both humans and animals could see each other equally. The humans can see the animals from all different perspectives and places, and the animals also get to watch the humans. If you build an environment where the animals can act independently, then instead of viewing humans as a threat, they’ll watch them with interest. As a result, they can live normal lives without feeling stress about being watched by humans. That’s why behavioral exhibits are active exhibits.
Can you give us any concrete examples of your goals?
One of them is to more fully display animals from our locale, Hokkaido. Another is to undertake projects that give back to the places that the animals in captivity are from. An example of this is the preparations that are being made to establish a rescue center for orangutans and elephants in Borneo. If deforestation there continues, it is said that they’ll become extinct within twenty to thirty years. If the protective services of the rescue center are able to prevent the extinction of these animals, then I feel that gives meaning to the existence of our zoo.
|Asahiyama Zoo: http://www5.city.asahikawa.hokkaido.jp/asahiyamazoo/|
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