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Do As Tokyo Does Ueno Prison Zoo
(Entered Nov. 08, 2009)
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I'll come right out and say it, I don't like zoos. The idea of keeping wild animals in small, boring and ugly cages just for the purpose of entertainment is fairly repulsive to me. Having said that, I'm sure people will comment, maybe angrily, that zoos have an educational purpose as well, and I'll pay very slight homage to that, however just as much education, if not more, can be gained by watching a good animal documentary on TV. Watching how animals behave in zoos is hardly a reflection of how they act in their natural habitat anyway.

ueno zoo polar bear

All animals were not created equal however. Cage size, cleanliness and props (eg. things to climb, foliage, etc.) depended on the level of cuteness and popularity the animal has. The big winners (if you can call such a thing 'winning') were the polar bears, large cats and elephants. Elephants are generally loved, and I suppose need as much space as possible being massive animals, the lions and tigers got a fair bit of room owing to their general popularity, and the polar bears probably won out because they're generally considered cute and adorable, which I find amusing since they're probably the most dangerous and aggressive land carnivores on the planet.

ueno zoo elephant

All the animals, well the mammals especially, had that same glazed and dull look in their eyes. Sadness? Boredom? Just my imagination? You can be the judge.

ueno zoo lioness

The losers in the cage game were the probably the grizzly bears, the hippos, the rhinos... actually pretty much everyone else.

ueno zoo hokkaido grizzly

The worst off of all though had to be the American bison. The massive animal was standing forlornly in a cage only about 3 times longer than his body, plus he had to share accommodations with a bunch of wild boars.

ueno zoo buffalo bison

I went with the purpose of shooting the small, ugly cages as well as the animals in them, but my Nikon D80 (and brain) rebelled, I automatically tried to get good looking shots. I don't want to shoot ugliess.

ueno zoo spider monkey

Feeding time provides the one and only respite from the utter boredom of zoo life.

ueno zoo hippopotamus

Animals that were caged together did slightly better than the ones that were alone, and of course the more colourful and cute they were, the more space they had. The flamingos and penguins were the definite winners there.

ueno zoo flamingo

Most of the other birds were in cages that restricted flight to a single flap of the wings, enough to carry them to any corner of their narrow world.

ueno zoo snowy owl

The reptiles mostly lost out as well, living in pet shop-like conditions.
A crocodile dreams of lunch...

ueno zoo crocodile and child lunch

10 years in Japan and I'd never been to a zoo here until now. So why start? Well I had the idea of documenting what I thought must be the horrible conditions the animals were kept in. I assumed that any zoo located in the middle of Tokyo must be cramped and none too clean. Though Ueno Zoo did nothing to change my overall opinion of animals in cages, things were not quite as bad as I had imagined, and Kumi agreed that conditions had definitely improved since the last time she went years back. Still, it's not like Ueno Zoo is an animal paradise or anything. Personally, I won't be going back again.


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