There are hundreds of captive wild animal facilities in Japan, ranging from bear parks, aquariums to shopping mall zoos. The demand isn’t decreasing and the number of captive facilities is most likely on the increase as Japan continue to develop more safari-like parks and aquariums. Animal welfare is still a relatively new concept within Japan. Historically, Japan has come under a lot of pressure from international criticism on animal welfare, namely in regards to the whaling industry, the Taiji dolphin hunts and the bear parks. More recently there is a growing animal rights movement within the country with a focus on individual species and similar to other Asian countries, the zoos are being criticised on their animal welfare, education and conservation conduct and are increasingly being highlighted within the national media.
The current Act on Welfare and Management of Animals (1973) revised in 2012/13 has little reference to welfare and no form of measurable enforcement. The Act is overseen by local prefectural authorities who have little or no experience in animal welfare. The Act devolves responsibility of zoo animal welfare to Prefectural responsibility, who themselves have little comprehension or experience in zoo animal welfare. Appropriate legislation, education and training is required to develop a comprehensive and strategic approach to improving captive wild animal welfare in Japan.
The regional zoo association, The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums has around 300 members. At present they have no guiding practices on animal welfare, however their membership requirements do include references to animal care. We have been working in Japan for a few years, gradually building up a partnership with JAZA, local NGO’s and authorities that develops trust and respect that will identify short and long term solutions to animal welfare. By working with these key stakeholders we have developed positive relationships and partnerships and are able to collaborate with JAZA and other authorities, develop capacity on wild animal welfare with the NGOs and meet with the government to discuss appropriate content for future zoo regulations. Our approach means that we can work with the key stakeholders and communities that can provide long term changes for animal welfare in Japan.
In 2015, Wild Welfare carried out a bear park welfare assessment in five of the parks around Japan. We believe there are over 400 bears now held in over eight parks. Bears in these parks live in very poor conditions and demonstrate a range of physical and psychological welfare concerns. Breeding of the bears continues and the parks continue to attract a large number of Japanese and Chinese tourists who can throw food at the bears, hold cubs or watch them in circus like performances. As a result of this assessment, Wild Welfare created a bear enrichment portfolio which has also be given to all the parks visited. Our aim is to use the issue of poor welfare in the bear parks to raise the concern over captive wild animal welfare in Japan.
In 2016, we gave a workshop to keepers and vets from Ueno, Tama, Saitama Pref, Chiba Ciry and Morika City zoos and staff from the Network of Zoo Enrichment and a director of NHK on captive wild animal welfare. We also collaborated with the Animal Welfare coalition to present a workshop on bear farms in Japan and were asked by the International Veterinary Association Students at NipponVeterinary and Life Science University in Tokyo to give a workshop on animal welfare. These workshops helped create partnerships that encourage engagement on the issue of captive wild animal welfare and in particular on the captive bear welfare issue, support the much-needed action from key stakeholders in the future.
Also in 2016 we we facilitated a bear welfare management workshop at Kuma Kuma bear park in Akita. We were joined by representatives from Noboribetsu Bear Park and the Japanese Bear Network, as well as staff from Kuma Kuma Bear Park. Finally we collaborated with the Animal Welfare coalition and the RSPCA and provide prefectural inspector welfare training. Through collaboration with RSPCA UK’s International team and the Japan Animal Welfare Coalition, Wild Welfare provided specialist welfare assessment training for zoo and aquarium facilities. In 2017 we have carried out two training workshops for JAZA and its members, hosted a seminar for Japan Association of Animal Welfare Tokyo, provided an assessment at one bear park and will be speaking at an animal welfare workshop hosted by a Bear Park.
Our aim is to provide continued support and advice to key stakeholders that will orchestrate a shift in animal welfare attitudes and activities for captive wild animals in Japan.