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All Life In a Viable Environment

5-18-10-102, Honkomagome, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 113-0021

Anti Vivisection Action Network




New perspectives on captive bear management.

ALIVE News December 2001

Victor Watkins.
Director of Libearty Campaign.
World Society for the Protection of Animals.

The closest most Japanese people get to a real bear these days is in captivity, in a "Bear Park". But the captive conditions in these Bear Parks rarely provide the bears with any environmental stimulation and often keep the animals in poor conditions.

In Japan's Bear Parks their world is one of concrete and iron bars. Their diet is generally poor. Some bears are kept in solitary confinement while most are crowded into sterile concrete pits. A steel climbing frame cannot replace a tree and a small concrete pool is a poor substitute for the flowing rivers in the wild. Cubs are taken from their mothers at a few months of age, and may be dressed in human clothes and made to perform circus-style tricks.

In this artificial environment, devoid of stimulation, the animals are unable to express their natural behaviour. This causes a frustration which can lead to the bears performing un-natural behaviours such as stereotypic pacing and head weaving. The added stress of overcrowding the bears into such a sterile environment frequently leads to aggressive behaviour,

resulting in injuries, further stress and increased abnormal behaviour patterns.

Visitors to these Bear Parks learn nothing about the true nature of bears.

Bears are intelligent and powerful animals, and are not suited to captivity. However, in cases where there is little option but to keep them in captivity (where bears are already in some form of captive condition and are unable to be released back to the wild), they should be placed in enclosures which have a suitable habitat to enable the animals to exhibit their natural behaviour. This will also enable the visiting public to gain a positive educational experience from observing the bears.

Over the past decade, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has designed and funded the construction of bear "sanctuaries" in

several countries, to house bears which have been confiscated from illegal trade or which have been rescued from poor captive conditions.

In these sanctuaries - up to 50 bears live in a natural forested area of around 6 hectares, which is enclosed by high electric fences. The bears

have earth, trees, water pools and dens. They are fed a good diet. As a result, the animals show little aggression, and dig, swim, climb trees and behave much like bears in the wild.

Visitors learn more about bears in these natural enclosures and can leave with a new and real understanding about these magnificent wild animals.

Japan's Bear Park industry is currently projecting a disgraceful image of entertainment at the expense of animal welfare. Some of the Bear Parks need to be closed down, others need to improve the lives of their captive bears and still enthral tourists by creating new forested Parks for bears