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Japan's Bear Parks

Fusako Nogami,
ALIVE (All Life In a Viable Environment)

ALIVE News December 2001

Japan’s first bear park opened, inside a national park, at Noboribetsu in 1956. This park is set up in the way to make the maximum profit possible with the minimum operating cost. Bear cubs, orphaned as a result of spring ‘pest control’, given to or purchased by the park with small amounts, are used for public attraction, with which the park makes profit. Leftover food at nearby hotels and hospitals is given for free to feed bears. Bears are not fed during the day so they stay hungry and visitors are encouraged to buy bear food to feed them, and starving bears would beg for food, which visitors find cute. Some visitors also find their fighting, caused by stress resulting from being kept in overcrowded conditions, amusing. New bear cubs are born every year as there is no breeding control and surplus individuals are sold for meat or gall bladders. Once solid enclosures of concrete have been built, it does not cost much to keep bears in them.

Other bear parks followed suit and there are currently eight such bear parks in Japan; Noboribetsu, Showa Shinzan, Jouzankei, Kamikawa in Hokkaido, Ani and Hachimandaira in Akita, Okuhida in Gifu, and Aso in Kumamoto. Noboribetsu, Aso, and Hachimandaira are located in national parks. A lot of package tours and school trips include a visit to those parks in their itinerary. Recently increasing number of tourists are visiting from Korea and Taiwan as well.

In 1991, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) investigated and exposed the inhumane conditions in which bears were kept at Noboribetsu as well as their slaughtering bears at a nearby wildlife abattoir and selling the gall bladders. Also some young cubs were sold alive to bear farms in Korea. As this exposure coincided with the Kyoto meeting of CITES, WSPA’s report prompted international protest and as a result Noboribetsu and Aso allegedly stopped gall bladder trade. Still, since there is no effective legal restriction on zoos and animal dealers in Japan, it is hard to obtain sufficient information of the conditions of those bear parks. This is why the relevant laws and annexed standards need to be improved urgently.

Japan’s bear issues include sport hunting and pest control, commercial trade, and care and management of captured individuals, which require integrated approach that involves many areas of social structure.

Protection of Bears and Relevant Laws

There are three animal-protection-related laws, all of which are relevant to the bear issues.

Wildlife Protection Law

Every year as many as 1,500 wild bears are hunted either as game or as pests.

'Wildlife Protection and Hunting Law’, which regulates hunting of wildlife and pest control, permits elimination of this many individuals from the already dwindling population of Japanese bears.

Bears are game animals except in the western Japan and they are also culled as pests for they cause agricultural damage or hurt or kill someone.

Preventive pest control, in which bears are culled when no damage has been done but because a possibility exists that they might, is also permitted.

This law needs to be revised as follows.

·Banning of sport hunting of bears that are endangered.

·Strengthening appropriate measures to prevent agricultural and other damages caused by bears.

·Monitoring pest control of bears to detect false claims of damage for the purpose of obtaining gall bladder, bear meat, or bear skin.

·Banning of snare traps, which injures and kills unintended wild or domestic animals as well as bears.

·Training experts who work specifically on the issues of wildlife protection including bears and stationing them to every municipal government.

·Developing administrative procedure to reflect public opinion on the policy of protection and management of bears, as a part of natural resources that all citizens share.

Animal Care and Management Law

When bears are captured from the wild and put under human care, ‘Law Concerning Care and Control of Animals’ becomes applicable. This law covers all mammal, bird, and reptile species that are under human care and proposes to protect such animals from abuse. It also provides that when ‘an animal must be destroyed, the animal shall be destroyed by methods that cause the

animal the minimum pain possible’. But there is no regulation on animal display facilities including bear parks and zoos, and overcrowded and inhumane conditions in which animals are kept have been an issue.

This law needs to be revised as follows.

·Specifically defining that keeping animals in ways that disregard their natural behavior and ecology is a form of animal abuse.

·Making it mandatory for zoos and other animal display facilities, and animal dealers to have a license to operate so, in case of any violation of law, the license can be suspended or revoked.

·Killing of captured wild animals, when necessary, must be done humanely.

·Making it mandatory for animal display facilities where animals of wild-origin are kept to employ a zoologist who specializes in wildlife and an expert on nature conservation in addition to a veterinarian.

Species Conservation Law

Japanese black bears that inhabit in the mainland are an endangered species that is listed under Appendix I of CITES, which prohibits international commercial trade but there is no law to restrict domestic commercial trade of them or of their parts. And there is no system to protect isolated area

populations in the wild, such as the one in the western Japan, either.

This law needs to be revised as follows.

·Widening the target of law to include individual area population of a species as well as a species as a whole.

·Establishing effectual systems to conserve and protect bear habitat.

·Banning of domestic commercial trade of bear products.