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A letter from Zoocheck Canada and the WHS to Japan's local government


January 29, 2004

Mr. Sukeshiro Terata
Akita Prefectural Governor
Akita Prefectural Government
Akita-shi Sanno 4-1-1
T010-8570, JAPAN

Dear Mr.Terata,

Zoocheck Canada and the Winnipeg Humane Society(WHS) recently learned of a Japanese zoo's interest in acquiring polar bears from Canada and their request to the Province of Manitoba for polar bear cubs from Churchill region. Please be advised that we are strongly opposed to any shipment of polar bears to Japan and have written to the Premier of Manitoba and other members of government expressing our opposition to this request.

As you know, polar bears are highly intelligent, far ranging, cold weather carnivores that usually do not do well in captivity. Even when they are provided with sizeable, complex enclosures, they are still prone to the development of aberrant behaviours, such as pacing, head weaving, rocking and stereotypic swimming, or sitting, lying and sleeping for abnormally long periods of time.These behaviours, which are the result of a poor environment and lack of stimulation, are often more pronounced in wild caught animals.

Zoocheck has several concerns about the shipment of polar bears to Japan. There are already dozens of polar bears housed in Japanese zoos, the majority of them in outdated, grossly substandard conditions. The suffering of one or several of those bears could be alleviated somewhat by their transfer to a new,more appropriate enclosure.From an animal welfare perspective, that makes more senses than importing additional bears from Canada.

Zoocheck and the WHS also believe the reason for the request to Manitoba relates more to visitors numbers and revenue generation than anything else. Polar bear cubs are very appealing and far more marketable to the general public than adult bears.Their economic impact on the zoo that brings them in however, may be short-lived. By the time the bears reach tow years of age,much of their appeal will gone. Utilizing bears for this kind of commercial purpose is not acceptable.

We are also concerned about Japan's very weak animal welfare laws. If at some point in the future, the zoo decides that new, younger bears are wanted, they could sell, trade or donate the Manitoba bears to another less appropriate facility. If the bears do end up in a substandard situation, there is little that concerned Japanese citizens (or Canadians) could do to address any welfare problems they experience. Zoocheck and the WHS are strongly opposed to any transfer of bears to Japan.Should this plan to acquire Canadian bears proceed, we will do everything possible to oppose it.


Julie Woodyer
Campaigns Director
Zoocheck Canada
Vicki Burns
Executive Director
Winnipeg Humane Society