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Land of the Rising Sun, 2016

Discussion in 'Japan' started by CGSwans, 31 May 2016.

  1. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    All Zoochatters' roads seem to lead to Japan this year. Well mine and Devilfish's roads, anyway.

    I arrived in Tokyo last week, and had intended to start my zoo-going with a visit to where it all began for Japanese zoos - at Ueno. But that proved to be something of a false dawn (false rising sun?). I hopped off the train at Ueno Park, looking to buy a Grutt Pass. This is one of those attraction combination tickets that many cities have, but I especially recommend it to zoo fans coming to Tokyo.

    The pass only costs ¥2000 (about $A26 for me) and it includes the price of admission to Ueno, Tama and Tokyo Sea Life Park. They have a combined price of ¥1900, but there's dozens of museums also included, either as full admission or discounts. I have used mine at the Tokyo-Edo Museum and the National Museum and have come out ahead, even though I won't use the majority of the things it includes.

    Before any of that, though, I had to get my hands on a Grutt Pass, which was not exactly easy. Ueno Park is a large public space that, along with the sporting fields and gardens usually associated with parks also houses the Zoo and a series of museums, all of them participating in the Grutt Pass. So I went to Ueno Park information counter to ask how to buy one. The man heard the word 'Grutt', said 'ah!', indicated that I should wait and fetched his colleague. She then proceeded to hand me a sheet of paper saying that they didn't have enough English to help me with the Grutt Pass.

    Fair enough, then. But if you're going to the trouble of translating a thing into English saying you can't help with the Grutt Pass, wouldn't it make sense to also translate and include instructions on where to get a Grutt Pass?

    So I toddled off to the zoo, theorising that a place that accepted Grutt Passes would either also sell them, or be able to tell me where I could buy one. Once there, I fronted up to the ticket counter and said the magic word 'Grutt'. Ah! the woman said, and produced a pass. But things broke down when I produced my MasterCard. 'Cash only', she instructed me. I was about ¥800 yen short for that.

    Upon further discussion, we determined that the nearest ATM was all the way back at Ueno train station. It was raining and I wanted my Grutt Pass and I was getting just a teensy bit frustrated but I went back to the station, looking for the ATM. I found it easily enough, but it came with a sign saying it only accepted Japanese cards.

    Sigh. The nearest ATM I knew of that accepted my card was back at Tokyo Station. I wasn't going to board a train there, withdraw cash and train back so I could finally get my benighted Grutt Pass. So I decided to try the other museums. The Museum of Nature and Science said it, too, was cash only. Damnit. The Museum of Western Art, however, had a little MasterCard sign right next to the cash register. Priceless!

    I asked for the Grutt Pass. 'Ah!' the woman said and produced the hallowed booklet. I produced my card. 'Sorry, no credit'. I pointed at the MasterCard sign, but she said the Grutt Pass was cash only. For everything else there's MasterCard.

    I gave up and abandoned Ueno Park, planning to come back tomorrow once I'd gotten some cash. The worst part? The next day I went to the Tokyo National Museum first, as I was hoping to let the rain clear before going to the Zoo. I had cash at the ready but they accepted my card without any difficulty at all.
     
  2. devilfish

    devilfish Well-Known Member

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    What a frustrating first day!
    Sounds like another very exciting trip - I can't wait to hear more! :)

    I'm eagerly anticipating your Tama review with mixed feelings - by not visiting that collection I know I've missed a lot!
     
  3. aardvark250

    aardvark250 Well-Known Member

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    Hope you have a great trip!I'm planning to go to Japan this August,so maybe you can give my some advise!
     
  4. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    Having abandoned my attempt to visit Ueno Zoo, I had an afternoon to make something of. My choice of Sunshine Aquarium wasn't really any more strategic than it being the one 'S' aquarium in Tokyo whose name I could remember (the others, it turns out, are Shinagawa and Sumida). It hadn't been on my must-see list, but I figured it would fit the time I had available (~2.5 hours) just right.

    Devilfish beat me here in February (see http://www.zoochat.com/2/devilfishs-year-adventures-428067/#post932494) so rather than do any sort of detailed commentary I'll just give some updates and provide my thoughts on a couple of things.

    The sea otter exhibit that Devilfish saw is gone, and isn't mentioned on updated maps. Going by where he says it was, it had previously been a sunfish tank (and a very miserly one at that), and the sunfish *was* still on the map I was given despite having died some time ago. So maybe the sea otter simply didn't last very long?

    It was, as Devilfish observes, a good place to see some rarities. I'd never heard of 'sea angels' before, but now I've seen them. I also thought the main tank was pretty decent, though much smaller than most main tanks at public aquaria. That's probably a good thing, as when I was going up in the lift I was wondering how on earth they could have constructed a big fish tank ten storeys up in the air. Water is heavy.

    Most of the fish tanks here are very nicely put together. Unlike Devilfish I did the internal sections first before venturing outside, so for the first 45 minutes or so my impressions of Sunshine were very good.

    The Baikal seal tank blunted that positivity, unfortunately. Unlike most Zoochatters if I know I'm going to a destination I have started to avoid reading any further about it until I get there, both so that I form my own judgments of things and I have the opportunity to be surprised. As such, I didn't know I'd be seeing my first Baikal seals until I saw them. And as exciting as that was, I wish I'd seen them in a tank that was larger than my apartment. My apartment is called a 'micro-apartment' for a reason. It's really small, but at least I have the option of going outside. I couldn't even tell for sure if the seals had a spot where they could haul themselves out of the water.

    I really didn't feel Sunshine Aquarium was a good place to be a pinniped. I gather when Devilfish visited in February the three sea lion enclosures were connected, as would make sense. But when I visited they had been separated into three, with one sea lion in each. That meant one was doing laps of the elevated glass tube thing, without being able to beach itself. Another was in the pool portion, again as far as I could tell unable to haul out of the water. But given it was a hot sunny day they were probably better off in the water than out of it.

    The third sea lion was shut off in the landed portion of the complex. It did have water - a pool about 1.5m across, a metre wide and 30cm deep - which it was wading in. I'm not a pinniped psychologist but it looked frustrated to me - lots of rapid movement back and forth through the water, and reacting to teasing from visitors (which obviously just provoked more 'playing' from said visitors). There were also two other sea lions performing in a show at this time - I don't know where they went after it ended.

    I asked one staff member if they moved the sea lions around the different enclosures. She said the places were always the same, which just about ripped my heart from my chest. Unhappy with the answer, I spoke to another staff member. He had slightly better English and used a magic word - 'rotation' - without prompting, which gave me confidence that the sea lions are at least moving through the separate parts of the exhibit, and perhaps only spending one day in every three swimming laps of a dog bowl.

    Of course, if this was an aberration and what Devilfish saw was the more usual state of affairs, that puts a somewhat different complexion on things. It may be that some management issue has arisen in the past three months, forcing them to separate the exhibit into its current thirds. If so, they need to come up with something better because it's not currently an acceptable solution.

    The penguin and small-clawed otter enclosures are both pretty functional, and the bizarro-mix enclosure for kinkajous, ducks, turtles, cichlids, a tamandua and an armadillo is pretty good for everybody except the armadillo, for which it is blatantly inadequate. The pelican exhibit had a weird feature - an acrylic extension at the front of the enclosure providing a water area - that I have since seen used at other Japanese collections for other animals. I guess it's a good way to extend the usable area for aquatic species.

    All in all I think Sunshine Aquarium is a pretty good place as long as you're not a pinniped or an armadillo, but seeing that sea lion trying to swim in less than a bathtub of water really did colour my visit.
     
  5. devilfish

    devilfish Well-Known Member

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    Thanks, CGSwans! A very interesting review.

    The sea otter was in an enclosure opposite the main tank viewing window. On the map it's labelled as '5: Environment and life'. (http://www.sunshinecity.co.jp/campaign/cp/pdf/aquaguide_english.pdf)

    The sunfish tank housed a huge bowmouth guitarfish and a second species of mackerel (Indian?) when I visited.

    The Baikal seal enclosure has at least two platforms for the seals to come out on; given that they're quite small seals I think they could both fit on either one comfortably. Still, I agree that it's a small enclosure which needs a major revamp.

    A real shame to hear about the sealions - one of their most innovative exhibits sounds like it's turned into one of their worst.

    I actually didn't like the mixed tamandua/kinkajou/lemur/armadillo enclosure for any of the mammalian inhabitants - very little land area, mostly consisting of mock rock, and the rest of the enclosure was effectively a climbing frame built over water. I'd started to write a response on aardvark250's thread stating that this isn't a good place to be a captive mammal.
     
  6. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    As mentioned, I finally managed to obtain a Grutt Pass from the Tokyo National Museum the next day. However, because it was raining reasonably heavily I chose to begin the morning at the museum. For those of you whose travel interests extend to art and culture, I thoroughly recommend it.

    I ended up spending a good 3 hours or so there, meaning I only got to the zoo around 1PM. Ueno was a relatively small zoo, I thought, with lots of ABCs and it's open until 5. Should be pretty easy.

    Well, this is an ABC zoo where A is for aye-aye, B is for bushbaby and C is for crocodile lizard, so that didn't prove to be the case at all and I ended up very rushed after 4, when animals started to go off display and indoor sections started to close. I thus had to return later in the trip.

    Here's a link to the zoo map for those unfamiliar with the lay-out. https://www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/ueno/img/map_ueno_english.pdf . I'm writing this without having (recently) read any other accounts, so as to keep from being influenced by others. So my apologies if I cover a lot of the same ground as previous posts, but hopefully I at least have a different take to, say, Devilfish.

    I started at the main gate and turned left. The Eurasian otter enclosure is ugly but functional - a theme I will keep returning to in this and other Tokyo Metropolitan Zoos reviews. By that I mean that it was terrible to look at, but it provided a lot of usable features for the animals. Just like the pelican enclosure at Sunshine Aquarium, there is an extension at the front that provides access to water that's a good metre or so deep, and the original portion has more water and a range of rocks, logs and other furnishings to provide a complex environment.

    I wasn't expecting Ueno to be much to look at, but I felt this was a good start. The best zoos will be both attractive and functional for animals. Good zoos will, confronted with a choice, always go for functionality first. Ueno's part of the way there on both counts, though it does have further to go.

    After entering I turned left, thinking I could knock off the East Garden reasonably quickly. There's a run of new aviaries next to the otters that don't appear on that map. They're all wood-and-wire jobs with sparse vegetation, but hopefully that'll develop over time. I see now that I've neglected to note down the species, but I remember brush turkeys, a couple of different pheasants and I think pigeons and owls. Sorry I can't be more specific.

    The giant panda exhibit was actually pretty good - I've seen the ones in Adelaide, Singapore, Atlanta, Washington and San Diego now, and I'd put it ahead of Atlanta and probably San Diego too. The outdoor portions are quite similar to San Diego in size and furnishings.

    The Japanese bird house was made up of five aviaries with glass fronts, but only three were occupied - the largest, for wading birds, was empty and another was undergoing reconstruction. The others were actually very high quality little habitat aviaries. One had Lidth's jay and white-breasted waterhen (not seen). Another had ruddy and common kingfishers, Japanese robin (not seen), olive-backed pipit, red-flanked blue tail and Japanese bush warbler. The third had a whole bunch of little brown jobs - too many to write down although I was kinda amused to see tree sparrows not only in the aviary but listed on the boards, meaning they were actually an exhibited species!

    There's a few more Japanese bird aviaries outside (lists available on request, this post will be too long if I try to list *everything*). One had a jay mixed with Japanese squirrels - in addition to the main aviary there was an overhead wire tunnel linking it to a second space, enclosed around the base of a large tree. Cool.

    Next came prairie dogs - again, I really liked this exhibit. An active colony of perhaps 20 or so, and they had the burrow set up like a naked mole-rat exhibit, so you could see what was going on inside. At this point I was really pleasantly surprised with Ueno.

    That satisfaction took its first knock with a series of identical monkey cages, housing black and white colobus, De Brazza's monkey, Japanese macaque, white-faced saki and black-handed spider monkey. All are rectangular wire and concrete jobs - perhaps 4 metres across and maybe a little more high. They're ugly and will always be ugly, but more ropes and deep straw beds, coupled with scatter feeds would do an awful lot to improve the space for the monkeys. It's not clear to me why this hasn't been done.

    I expected the elephant enclosure to be poor, and it is. To be fair, it's no poorer than Melbourne's was 12 years or so ago, and as I will discuss later there's reason to hope that this isn't a permanent situation. There were either 2 or 3 (I forget) Sri Lankan elephant cows in one small concrete pen, and a bull in a yet-smaller pen. There's no real scope for Ueno to build a modern elephant enclosure on site, but I don't know if Tokyo residents are ready to accept the premise of an elephant-less zoo.

    It was around this point that I began to realise I would be pressed for time, so I bypassed the lion, tiger, gorilla and gibbon enclosures for the time-being (and ultimately only saw them with animals on display on my second visit. I did notice in passing that the Brazilian tapir exhibit was great - perhaps the best I've seen for the species. A moderately generous and lushly planted land section, and a long, wide and deep moat for swimming in.

    The tapir exhibit is part of the same complex. It turns out that this section is the best part of the zoo, and is clearly among the newest. All six of the enclosures (two for gorillas) would sit comfortably in a good quality Western zoo. Some *might* be renovated old grottoes - they were constructed out of concrete sorta-kinda-mock-rock, but there was again very lush vegetation. The gibbons (white-handed) were sharing with a peacock and Edward's pheasant, which was a new and interesting mix.

    Also in this area is a small nocturnal house, labelled on the map as 'bats'. There's nothing particularly special inside, just the bats (Leschenault's rousette), a leopard cat, lesser mouse deer, Bengal and Pygmy slow loris... oh yeah, and two Chinese pangolins. Almost forgot.

    The bird house is close to the same standard as the one at Washington, with a couple of exceptions. There are three large aviaries and several smaller ones on the second floor, which also offers canopy-level viewing into two of the three main ones. Letting down the side here was a tiny, pet store-style cage holding a red-shouldered macaw, and a weirdly out of place indoor enclosure for Southern tamandua. Happily, it moves (or rather, is moved) in and out of another small outdoor pen, so it's getting some regular stimulation between the two.

    Also in this area is a bird-on-a-stick style pen for obviously flightless citron-crested cockatoos, and another run of reasonable outdoor aviaries. Across a plaza is a series of clearly quite old cages that have several crane species as well as hamerkops and a Secretary bird. Nothing special here, but also not terrible. As an aside, there were very few parrots either at Ueno or the other two Tokyo-region zoos I have visited. Very odd.

    Rounding out the East Garden, we have a typical concrete mountain for Japanese macaques, a series of bear pits and the 'Corridor of Ice and Snow'. The bear pits house a Malayan sun bear, a Hokkaido brown bear and Japanese black bear - all solo artists. There's also a couple of small pens that have actually been carved out of the bear grottoes, for small-clawed otters and Japanese badgers. All of the bears here showed signs of stereotypy on my first or second visit - pacing in the black and sun bears (more pronounced for the black) and the brown was compulsively rubbing his back against the wall when I first went, although I didn't see this the second time.

    The Corridor is made up of an outdoor pool, for California sea lions (including a very large bull) and a common seal, and a large polar bear enclosure. Compared to the pinniped prisons I'd see at Sunshine Aquarium this was a pleasant surprise. Nothing spectacular but decent spaces for both swimming and basking. I was also happy with the polar bear enclosure, concrete monstrosity though it might be.

    It's a legacy of an older time, both for Ueno and for zoos around the world, but they've got an excellent deep pool (complete with underwater viewing) and a small adjunct to the enclosure has grass. The first time I visited the bears were in together, the second time one as shut in the grassy yard.

    Onto the West Garden. As mentioned, on my first visit I was very rushed here, so I lavished time on it the second time around. The first thing you see after making the somewhat gruelling, largely uphill walk via overpass above the road that bisects the zoo is a red panda exhibit. This is positioned so that you are still on the ramp down into the West Garden when you first get a tree-height view. Very good. There's also a small pen for crested porcupine down below.

    The feature that dominates the West Garden is the absolutely massive pond. It takes up well over a hectare, I think, and I'm sure there's more the zoo could do with the space but I'd hate to see it drained. It currently houses Pelicans and cormorants, and is liberally covered with water lilies. It looks great. To the South of the pond is an area closed for construction, but I couldn't discern what is being built.

    The newest and, for me, most exciting part of the West Garden is the Aye-Aye Forest. The Madagascan complex actually starts on the opposite side of the pond, with a ring-tailed lemur island. It has a fake baobab tree that's pretty poorly executed, but hey, the thought was there.

    Outside the aye-aye building is a nice big aviary-style enclosure for ruffed lemurs and a smaller one for a fossa, with a weird gravel substrate. Inside is a glass-fronted enclosure for gentle lemurs, another for greater hedgehog tenrecs and radiated tortoises, and a small one for lesser hedgehog tenrecs. And no fewer than four exhibits for aye-ayes.

    At first it was a soul-crushing disappointment. Despite being inside, the first enclosure I saw was lit up like daylight, and the staff member there to enforce quiet indicated the aye-aye was in its box asleep. Damnit.

    Then I moved further into the building and found that the rest were nocturnal exhibits populated by very active aye-ayes! I love the way they constantly seemed to transition between being the right-side up and then upside down, seemingly just because they can. They're a lot bigger than I imagined. Another bucket-list species down.

    Despite being relatively new, this building has the same sparse, unadorned concrete construction as much of the rest of the zoo. I suspect that despite being government owned the Tokyo zoos don't have a lot of capital funding, and they are rightly emphasising usable spaces for animals over pretty adornments.

    After the aye-aye and I had had our moment, it was time for a very, very quick pace through the rest of the zoo (and a more leisurely one a week later). I'm going to start moving more quickly in this review as well, because this is getting very long and no doubt boring to read.

    Ignoring the children's zoo entirely, there are a couple of netted aviaries for African penguins, flamingoes and shoebill storks (at least three individuals). The flamingo aviary was labelled as housing greater flamingoes, but they were definitely not. I *think* they were Caribbeans, but I'm not an expert and could well be wrong.

    The reptile house is very good, with lots of interesting species. Like the new reptile house I saw in Atlanta, it's set up as a tropical greenhouse, with a tree canopy overhead. The first and most exciting exhibits are a pair of pools for Japanese giant salamanders. This is my first good look at the species and they are, indeed, giants. There's a very good amphibian collection here generally, including lots of Japanese species. There's a separate room specifically for natives that looks like it was added to the complex later.

    The small mammal house on this side of the zoo caught me off guard with its size, with a lower floor nocturnal house that I didn't expect. I have a list of species that will be provided on request at some later point, but the highlight is two spectral tarsiers.

    Finally, there's a bunch of small grottoes housing mostly large species in okay to manifestly inadequate conditions. A surprise here for me were my first aardvarks, which aren't listed on the map. They were in their night den (which is open to the public), curled up together, so it wasn't a particularly decent look but probably enough to count it, just. Maned wolves have two tiny cages and there's a mud pit housing a red river hog (which won't mind over much, I don't think).

    It's clear to me that Ueno is trying to grapple with the legacy of being (re)built in the 1950s, which wasn't a very good time for zoo design anywhere. They're also wrestling, I think, with how to be a small urban zoo and whether that's compatible with housing a full suite of charismatic megafauna. For now they seem to have hit on a compromise to try to maximise space for at least some of their animals: one river hippo, one zebra, one giraffe, one okapi.

    There are, however, still two black rhinos and about four Pygmy hippos, which together have arguably the worst conditions of any animals in the zoo. One of the Pygmy hippo enclosures consisted of the night den, about 5sq metres of outside land space and a putrid pool the size of a large bathtub. The rhino yards are similarly very, very small. The zebra is in with two Barbary sheep in a caged-in yard more appropriate for a mid-sized cat or dog species.

    These last enclosures are simply not good enough, and are pretty urgent welfare issues for the zoo to solve. The good thing is that I suspect the management know it, which is at least a start. I was, overall, happier with Ueno than I expected. It's a zoo with some features that are really inadequate and a lot that's average rather than great, but I am very encouraged by what I took to be the newest developments. It's a work in progress, but it is indeed in progress.
     
    Last edited: 8 Jun 2016
  7. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    Happy to answer any questions you have to the best of my ability. :)
     
  8. devilfish

    devilfish Well-Known Member

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    You're absolutely right - they are Caribbeans. A couple of paler birds may have been Greaters but I didn't get the chance to look properly - like you I was very short of time having underestimated the size of the zoo. :)

    I thought SwedishZooFan's list was still reasonably accurate - having not seen all of the zoo I didn't feel that I could absolutely rule out the presence of certain taxa; if you get the chance would you be able to post an updated list? I'd be happy to send a list of what I saw so that we can merge them together if you'd like? :)
    http://www.zoochat.com/241/ueno-zoo-species-list-july-2013-a-349232/
     
  9. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    I'm enjoying this thread CGSwans. This thread (and Devilfish's) have highlighted the impressive diversity of species in the huge number of Japanese collections, and I'm thinking that its probably the most important "zoo (and aquarium) country" I have not visited. So it has shot to #1 on my destination wish list... maybe next year. It sounds like the hardest part is deciding which collections to not visit!
     
  10. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    We'll get to it after my trip. :)
     
  11. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    After a point, yeah. I'm here for 3 weeks and I balance zoo visits with other things of interest so perhaps a bit easier for me. I also look for a minimum standard - I didn't come 8000km to spend my time at places I know will simply depress me, even if that means I miss out on a given species.

    Anyway, on with the show. I'd visited Ueno on the Friday and where possible I avoid going to major paid attractions on weekends, to avoid too much competition with local residents. But I did have a vaguely animal-oriented day in Asakusa on the Sunday.

    When I said I haven't read Devilfish's accounts it's possibly more accurate to say that I have skim read them. Smoked but I didn't inhale, I guess. So I know that both Devilfish and I visited 'owl cafes' although they appear to be different ones. These things are everywhere, mostly for cats but also for owls, snakes and even goats.

    The one I visited in Asakusa was advertised as not only for owls, but also parrots. And it wasn't much of a cafe - no seats, and I didn't see any sign of people having a drink either. So it was more like a a very, very small walk-in aviary. It's in a small basement shop in the main Asakusa shopping strip. ¥1000 gets you in for 30 minutes and after that it's ¥300 for every 15 minutes thereafter. I stayed for about 40 but they mustn't have set their watches properly because I escaped with only paying ¥1000.

    I realise now that I've made a major strategic error for this thread. A lot of the time rather than write down species I've seen I've simply taken a photo of the sign. On my camera. Which I won't be able to download and review until I'm back home. Asakusa was nearly a fortnight ago so I'm not about to scroll through perhaps 1000 photos one by one on my camera's LCD screen. In order to keep the memories at least somewhat fresh, then, I shall push ahead using and post a species list for this place when I have an opportunity.

    There were two rooms and it was pretty crowded - people were waiting outside the door for others to leave so they could enter. The first room includes the payment counter, a rack of ponchos to put on (very prudent!) and the owls,managing from scops to an eagle owl, along with what if I recall correctly was a black kite. All these birds were tethered and lined up next to each other.

    You could ask to hold one (although you could only stroke the kite), but I didn't bother. I asked a staff member if the birds were given an opportunity to fly, and he said they got to fly around before opening time. Hopefully. I did notice that some of the smaller owls were being rotated in and out of the display area, so that's good.

    The second room is a free flight area where you can feed parrots. It's mostly a variety of conures, but also Senegals, caiques and a pair of galahs. And in addition to the parrots there's Von der Decken's hornbills, another hornbill species I've forgotten, a keel-billed toucan, Livingstone's touracos and even a kookaburra!

    Whilst the conures and to a lesser extent the caiques were all over the visitors, the rest of the birds weren't interested in interacting. The hornbills were reasonably bold, but you couldn't really approach the rest without them moving away. The conures were so fearless that I wonder why more zoos don't use them, rather than boring old budgies or messy lorikeets, for their feeding aviaries. But the rest needed to be somewhere else.

    There are photos from this place here, along with the revelation that the birds I saw were all for sale. :eek: Tori no Iru Cafe: Tokyo Asakusa

    I also had two other brief animal experiences in Asakusa. There's a chain of supermarkets/discount department stores in Japan called Don Quijote, which is of interest here only because each time I've seen one of their stores there have been a number of big saltwater fish tanks outside! The one at Asakusa had about five tanks, including displays for predatory fish (such as lionfish, moray eel and panther grouper), an anemone and clownfish tank and a full-blown coral reef tank.

    If Australian supermarkets want to win me over as a customer they know what to do. Although I suspect an outdoor fish tank wouldn't be safe in Australia - I gather mindless vandalism doesn't happen here in Japan.

    One other animal moment was a lot less pleasing. Whilst visiting the temple complex in Asakusa I saw a large gaggle of people laughing and applauding as they watched a street performer. Curious, I wandered over - and saw a shirted Japanese macaque being made to perform tricks by way of tugs at its leash.

    Taken together, my visit to Asakusa hinted at a bit of a paradox to me. This is a culture in love with animals. Despite much smaller living spaces I think there's as many dogs on leads here as in Australia. The success of the animal cafes makes sense - their target market isn't only tourists but people who want animal companionship and for whatever reason can't have pets. And supermarkets keep fish to attract customers. But often coupled with that adoration is either a naivety about, or indifference towards, the needs of many of those animals. It's weird.
     
  12. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    sounds like Ueno Zoo may have got you quite a few of your sought-after species? Hopefully you can get to Osaka and see the kiwi. Are you going to be able to see emperor penguins on this trip?
     
  13. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    Very few species left on my bucket list now. It's more about what zoos are on the bucket list.
     
  14. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    'Twas a cold and wet Monday morning, so I abandoned my initial zoo plans for something predominantly indoors: Tokyo Sea Life Park. Don't let the alarming name fool you. This is not a McAquarium but part of the same institution as Ueno and Tama Zoos. It's simple and understated - a little sparse, even stark - but I really enjoyed it anyway.

    The aquarium is located in a small bayside leisure district located a few kilometres from downtown Tokyo, on the way to Disneyland. The area has an aura of faded glory, like how Blackpool lives in my imagination as an abandoned memorial to holidays taken before the age of EasyJet. For my fellow Antipodeans, it might best be visualised as the future of Melbourne's Docklands precinct. The main Tokyo ferris wheel overlooks the aquarium, which itself overlooks Tokyo Bay. The view would have been wonderful, had I been able to see it through the mist.

    Devilfish has covered this place fairly comprehensively, I believe, in both literary and photographic formats, so I'll keep my post to a few simple observations.

    Little attempt is made at beautification of the displays, with a couple of exceptions such as the kelp forest tank. Most tanks have bare, painted concrete walls, which you can see in the background of Devilfish's pics. Even the coral reef tank is fairly minimalist.

    This utilitarianism is everywhere at the Tokyo Metropolitan Zoos properties, and whilst I'd probably hate it elsewhere it fits here. It reflects the brutalist architecture of Tokyo itself, making them places that are of their city's appearance and, necessarily, its history. 'Brutalist' does not have the same meaning as 'brutal', by the way, for anybody reading an animal welfare comment into that observation.

    The tanks are mostly generous in size, an impression which is no doubt exacerbated by the fact that they are for the most part lightly stocked. You can see this most clearly in the main tank, which is mostly empty, as well as being the starkest of the lot. Nothing to see here except grey fish and blue concrete, and more concrete than fish. Sound horrible? No doubt some would find it so, but to me it reflects a pelagic marine environment perfectly - vast, monochrome and at first sight almost empty.

    Curiously, there were two main parts of this tank, which is similar in design to Melbourne's big one, with the viewing space inside the circle so that you are surrounded on all sides by fish. The curious thing about is that the most interesting inhabitant - a sunfish - had the deeper half to itself, whilst all the tuna, bonito and other big grey jobs (BGJs, hereafter) stuck to the other side. Are sunfish aggressive tank mates, does anybody know, or was it just coincidence? Either way, this was my first sunfish - a major target species for my trip, and one that I've now seen three individuals of. They fall into the 'thought they'd be bigger' category.

    They are clearly very proud of their association with Monterey Bay Aquarium, as it's mentioned in 3 or 4 different signs that I saw. I quite liked the kelp tank, though I think the one at Georgia is probably better. I have a notion in my head of when I might see the mother of all kelp tanks, but it's still several years off unfortunately.

    There's a gangway above the row of Japanese habitat tanks, which allows you to view them all from above. I appreciated it because I often struggle with perspective when looking at tanks, and this enabled me to get a proper handle on the size of each one.

    I also like seeing the mechanics of tanks, which are usually hidden away in more image-conscious Western aquaria. Partly that's because I harbour a never to be realised fantasy of building a big (really, really big) coral tank of my own one day, so I'm plain curious. But the existence of this gangway leads me to another observation about Japanese zoos and aquaria - they are far more likely, in general, to let the public see the internal organs of an exhibit than Australian ones. This goes also for the often plain ugly night quarters of large mammals, the visibility of which probably doesn't help their reputation among casual overseas tourists.

    This was my second Japanese aquarium and I was starting to detect a theme; just as parrots aren't a key plank of a zoo's collection here, neither are sharks often the main game for aquaria. This is a much more difficult phenomenon to understand, as I'm used to sharks being absolutely central to an aquarium's marketing and an anchor around which the facility is designed. Not here. There's a moderately-sized shark tank that's the first one you see upon entry, but it only had a handful of mid-sized species.

    There are no mammals either. Few sharks, and no cetaceans or pinnipeds. How is this place pulling crowds? Answer: Japanese people must just really like fish, because there were plenty of people there for my Monday visit.

    They do have sea birds - penguins outside, puffins and murres inside. The latter is very much from the design school vilified in Happy Feet - fully enclosed and fully indoors. I liked the penguin exhibit, but the little penguins would benefit greatly from having their own space. As it is they have a small, fenced-off portion of the pool and shore area, and whilst I was watching the colony were fully occupied trying to access the rest. I wonder, is there any reason to assume that Humboldt's penguins and little penguins couldn't co-inhabit?

    Probably my favourite exhibit is the big tank for in-shore Japanese species outside, en route to the touch pools and penguins. As you keep walking out the water gets progressively shallower - from head height down until you find yourself standing, without barriers, looking down at the shallows just off the (hypothetical) beach. It's really well designed.

    Another area that's really, really good is the small freshwater walking trail outside. The pond and stream exhibits are excellent and there's also some wading birds and I think frogs. I suspect this area is seldom visited - it's not overly conspicuous on the map and a little hard to find. Incidentally, I *think* it's possible to walk right on in to the aquarium for free by using the unguarded exit from the freshwater trail. But I couldn't possibly encourage such a thing.
     
  15. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    I'm now over two weeks behind 'live' so I shall have to hurry up before the memories start to dim.

    My next stop was Tama Zoo. I only went here before Zoorasia because Tama was closed on Wednesdays and Zoorasia Tuesdays. Being a Tuesday, to Tama we would go.

    I knew very little about this place before planning the trip. The first I'd heard of it was in the book 'Zoos' by Emily Hahn, which I reviewed here. Hahn was visiting the then head of Ueno Zoo, who took her out to see his pet project on the outskirts of Tokyo, which is essentially the same age and concept as San Diego Zoo Safari Park. So to the extent that I had any real expectations of Tama at all it was that it would be a Japanese open range zoo, with better exhibits for large mammals than I found at Ueno, whilst having an overall less interesting collection.

    Both those things are true, up to a point. Tama still has its share of shockers, and it also has its share of surprises. Also, in one respect its more San Diego Zoo than Safari Park: the whole place is spread across a valley, with exhibits climbing up and down the hills. On a humid Summer day it's a challenging place to cover physically.

    After catching the train out to the Tama area - the furthest I'd been from central Tokyo since arriving in Japan, it took as long as some of my subsequent inter-city Shinkansen trips - and initially going the wrong way on the monorail, I finally found the zoo. Upon entry, I turned right and found my way to the insectarium.

    Now, take a look at the Tama Zoo map and find the insectarium complex at the bottom. See how big it is? Yeah. The map's pretty much to scale. I've never been to the hilariously-named Monsanto Insectarium in St Louis, but whilst I imagine it has a better overall quality of exhibits, I'd be amazed if it has Tama covered for size or diversity. It's a celebration of spinelessness across three buildings.

    I'm going to disappoint some people, I fear, because I'm not much of a bug guy. I enjoyed wandering through, but if I've seen one species of stick insect I've seen 'em all, and I wanted to allow plenty of time for the rest of the zoo. So sorry guys, no species list, but if you can think of it, they probably have it here.

    Rhinoceros beetles and water beetles. Locusts and leaf cutter ants. Spiders and centipedes, scorpions and cicadas. There's even something called an ant lion. I've never paid enough attention to invert collections to know if it's full of rarities, but my recommendation is for anybody who is a fan to find out for themselves. For the most part they're not very well presented - just a series of dusty terraria behind a glass wall. But it's certainly comprehensive.

    The butterfly exhibit - the centrepiece of the complex - is a massive glass atrium that's several storeys high and filled with mostly Japanese species. It leaves Melbourne's butterfly house in its dust. Another feature exhibit is a dark room that apparently houses glow worms, though I didn't see any thanks to a heaving mass of school children roaring through the area at the same time.

    Japanese school groups are cyclones in miniature human form, as an aside. When one comes your way there's nothing for it but to lay in some emergency rations, sandbag your immediate vicinity, batten down the hatches and wait out the cacophony. This is a very geologically active country and I can't help but think school zoo groups play havoc with their earthquake detection equipment, because they are loud enough to register on the Richter scale.

    Anyway. Back to the zoo. Continuing counter-clockwise, I headed for the African section. The most notable thing here is an enormous pit-style enclosure for what I think we're about 14 lions, including three adult males with full manes. I've heard of two adults jointly leading a pride, but three? Although the pride is massive, they've got plenty enough space.

    The exhibit is probably somewhere between an acre and a hectare, and there are roads criss-crossing it because they offer lion safari tours through the enclosure as an up-sold attraction. Lions were distributed through it in twos and threes, and a litter of cubs that were maybe 6-9 months old were running amok and making almost as much noise as the school children.

    The night quarters here take the form of a four or five storey imitation Indian palace. Because why not? Unfortunately, Tama clearly has more lions than they know what to do with. I could make out at least three males - two adults, one adult, confined to absolutely tiny off-show spaces in a building adjacent to the main exhibit. I don't think they could be rotated through the exhibit, either, because the night den for the main pride is fully contained within the yard. Confiding them whilst having rivals directly outside sounds like a recipe for war. This issue aside, it's a wonderful lion exhibit.

    The rest of the African zone is pretty unremarkable. The flamingo exhibit, in the style of every other one I saw in Japan, was a fully enclosed aviary with a good 50 or so birds. I've already forgotten which species though. The African elephant yards are small, but not entirely concreted over so that's something. The obligatory mixed-species savannah is fine, although I found pelicans sitting in the middle of a field surrounded by giraffes a touch weird. The chimp enclosure is really quite good, though, with lots of climbing opportunities, some decent foliage cover and a lively group of I think a dozen or so. Generally speaking, great apes do much better in Japan (at least places I visited) than I would have expected, and much better relative to most other large animals.

    There are two cheetahs, one with a lovely spacious and grassy yard and the other with a terrible, tiny one with gravel and mud. I found a staff member and asked if the cheetahs rotated. 'No', he said, they were always in their respective spaces. Why not, was my unspoken rejoinder. What frustrates me about Japanese collections is that they get a lot right, and then there's something that they don't do that would cost virtually nothing but greatly improve the welfare of their animals. Add this to the lack of straw beds for Ueno's primates on the list of easy fixes not made.

    Things get much patchier elsewhere in the zoo, with some of the best exhibits of their type I've ever seen mixed with the worst. Many look to date from the 1960s but could well be quite younger. Most of the smaller hoof stock enclosures - for deer, goats, etc - as well as kangaroos and emus are small pens heavy on the concrete. There's just not much to write about them - or other exhibits I am about to skip - without this post taking far too long to say far too little.

    I've already noted in this thread that in Japanese collections parrots seem out of favour. Eagles, owls, storks, ducks and wading birds are in fashion instead. Tama's bird collection follows this template almost exactly, along with a handful of pheasants, pigeons, Bali mynahs and kookaburras. There are Oriental white storks poked everywhere - they must have at least 30, probably a good deal more, with multiple breeding pairs. Across various aviaries and species the ibis collection must reach triple figures. The walk-in aviaries (which are geodesic domes, by the way, which pleases the nerd in me) are made up almost exclusively of aquatic species, although there are some smaller side aviaries for other birds.

    And they have a remarkable eagle aviary. At a guess I'd say it's about 50m across at its widest point, and it has (I counted twice) 17 birds of prey living in it. 11 were Japanese golden eagles (which can also be very easily seen in urban areas outside Tokyo, by the way), and the rest were a mix of bateleurs, Steller's sea eagles, turkey vultures and I think there were white-tailed sea eagles as well. I was amazed to see so many large raptors in the same space, large though it was (it's the only eagle aviary I've ever seen that really allows for meaningful flight), but I didn't really see any signs of aggression. Is this a surprise to anybody else?

    Also featuring in the best-of category is the main orang-utan complex. This is one of those 'not quite beautiful, but beautifully functional' exhibits I've kept remarking on at the Tokyo Metro Zoos parks. The skywalk featured on the map stretches for a good 100m, perhaps more, and ends in an enormous yard full of mature trees to which the orangs appear to have full access. They are deciduous trees, rather than tropical evergreens, so they don't have that classic "orang-utan forest" look the exhibit would need to win an American design award. But I reckon it's just fantastic. Incidentally - as this area is a cul de sac and it is possible to see one of the orang groups in a smaller, more traditional pen next to the gibbons, I suspect many visitors ignore this gem of an enclosure. It was also next to the gibbons that I saw my first Siberian tiger. Another one off the list.

    As an Australian abroad, I absurdly take a greater interest in Australian fauna at overseas zoos than at home. One of Tama's feature exhibits is the koala house, which was apparently built and populated by the NSW Government and Taronga Zoo to celebrate Tokyo becoming a sister city to Sydney. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about it - I just find it odd to see indoor koala exhibits behind glass. The same building also has nocturnal house-style glass boxes for tawny frogmouths, a couple of possum species and a bettong.

    Extending Tama's quite extensive Australian collection outside are the emus, kookaburras and various macropods, including a yellow-footed rock-wallaby (no rocks for it to inhabit, alas). The map also claims Tassie devils, but if I saw any sign of this it's completely exited my mind.

    The very worst the zoo has is its Asian elephant exhibit. This consists of two enclosures, each of which looks like a short stretch of road - narrow, concrete and on an incline. I'm struggling to describe it but while most of the other elephant exhibits I saw on this trip (a total of five others) were small and full of hard surfaces, they were all far ahead of this elephantine highway of horror.

    But. There's good news. The map features an absolutely enormous section of the zoo, at the bottom of the valley, that is undergoing construction. It looks like it must be the biggest project in the organisation's history since the initial construction of Tama and Tokyo Sea Life Park. And I spent much of my visit puzzling over what it might be and what animals would benefit most from a new exhibit.

    There were a few contenders but the moment I saw the Asian elephants I knew who it had to be. And, I later learned, Asian elephants it is. I eventually found the site drawing on one of the walls of the construction area and it looks great. From what I could tell the buildings are being built into the hill, and the public access areas will mostly be on top of them. Excellent way to maximise space for the elephants if I interpreted it correctly.

    It's also way too big to be only for the two poor sods I found in the existing enclosure. This leads me to hope that the elephants from Ueno are moving to the country.mthst would have some great knock-on impacts for other animals there - the rhinos could move into the existing elephant yard, the river hippo could take one rhino yard and a pygmy hippo the other, and so on down the chain. It all hinges on whether Tokyo residents accept the notion of Ueno not having elephants.

    I also wonder if the new exhibit will have the same utilitarian aesthetic I've seen elsewhere. I suspect so. The newest construction is the area shown on the maps as holding grey wolves, Przewalski's horses and domestic horses. This is billed as 'Asian Highlands' and I reckon it must date to the past couple of years. But there's a tunnel affording views into the wolf dens, and it still looks like a remarkably clean walking path in a 1970s subway station. It's just the look they're happy with, I think, and that's perfectly fine. The wolf enclosure itself looks great.

    As I did during my visit, I've left possibly the most interesting part of this post to the very end. For all I know the mole house at Tama is Zoochat-famous. But I didn't have any real notion of what I was heading into until I opened the door... and saw overhead plastic mesh tunnels running in every direction. There are two parallel mole exhibits in here and they are made up of various plastic spaces for feeding and burrowing and what-not, all connected by those overhead tunnels. So rather than having animals you literally never see, they've turned *moles* into an active and fascinating exhibit, with the animals rattling around above you. I spent a good ten minutes in here. A creatively conceived and well executed exhibit.

    I'm uncertain whether I would consider Tama a 'must-see' or whether I'm prepared to say it's a good zoo, though it's not a terrible one either. Certainly I think it has the potential to be very good, though what I've probably glossed over here is that there's a real lot of small, barren pens. Its harder edges remain harder than Ueno's. And the collection - the insectarium possibly aside - isn't really anything of note. But hey, Devilfish, if you're reading and reflecting on your failure to visit... the moles were one of the highlights of my entire trip, just sayin'. :D
     
  16. aardvark250

    aardvark250 Well-Known Member

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    Did they still have king cheetah? Also,the tassie devil is on displayed in 11th June, so you just miss it.
     
  17. devilfish

    devilfish Well-Known Member

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    I was managing well until I got to the last two paragraphs. :p
    The mole house sounds impressive though.
    So was it only one species displayed in the house? Do you know which?
    Was there no king cheetah on display?
     
  18. FrancoiseLangur

    FrancoiseLangur Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Unfortunately it seems that the staff member did not give you a full answer. There is a timetable on the wall of the indoor exhibit showing which cheetah(s) will come out to which exhibit at what time. Usually the opening hours are divided into three or four. Tama Zoo currently keeps 13 cheetahs, so that makes it possible to let most of them have the chance to come out at least once a day (except for the old female). I have seen the king cheetah Nadeshiko both outdoors and indoors, and also the other king cheetah Ibuki with his brother both outdoors and indoors.

    Did you see at least one of the king cheetahs at Tama (I really hope you did!)? Unbelievably beautiful animals - the biggest reason why I recommend the zoo.
     
  19. FrancoiseLangur

    FrancoiseLangur Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Tama Zoo owns four king cheetahs. Two are currently away on breeding loan, but you can still see the other two almost every day.
     
  20. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    I've heard about the mole house but never a description of it. Did you take any photos of the set-up?

    I'm like that with NZ and Australian animals in overseas zoos too! I always like to see how they are displayed and often pay more attention to them than I would over here.

    As others said, you just missed the devils by about two weeks. I'm sure you're disappointed.