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TRADING ‘LEFTOVERS’ : The dark side of zoos in Japan

Trading a 'leftover' animal by the barter system has been a common practice among zoos. Animals are typically treated as currency in such trades, 'It’s like one flamingo, or one zebra, is a monetary unit'.

MASAHIKO OHTA: At Hiroshima City Asa Zoological Park, a male lion cub named Earth once ruled like the king of the beasts, adored by visitors. But in reality, a lion is just a small-timer in the hierarchy of animals in Japanese zoos.

Earth was born in autumn 2018, about the same time as two other lion cubs at the zoo. The trio of adorable young lions quickly became popular with zoo visitors. But on March 31, Earth, about a year and a half old, was loaded aboard a freight truck. He was dispatched to the Zoo and Botanical Park in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, about 500 kilometers away.

At the time of his departure, Earth was the only of the three lion cubs remaining at the zoo in the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture. The other cubs had been fostered out to another zoo for free, followed by Earth. The lion cub was too young to even have grown a mane around his neck. The reason for his sudden departure? Earth overstayed his welcome.

“We have an excess of lions,” said Tsuyoshi Shirawa, an animal dealer who runs a company called Rep Japan in the capital of Shizuoka Prefecture. There are plenty of lions left over, Shirawa said. “If you say you want to have a lion, a lot of people would give you one for free,” he said. “If it’s not free, then you’d pay only around 200,000 yen ($1,900). They are cheaper than a cat.”

The dealer was not exaggerating. According to an investigation conducted by The Asahi Shimbun, during the five-year period from fiscal 2014, 14 lions were shipped out from public zoos nationwide. Eleven of them were given away for free. The Kumamoto City Zoological and Botanical Gardens in the capital of Kumamoto Prefecture in 2015 purchased a male lion from a private zoo for 100,000 yen.

The sale was not necessarily a bargain. According to a document produced by the Tokyo metropolitan government, the value of a lion is 100,000 yen. That compares to the cost of some cats in a pet shop, which can have price tags of 200,000 to 400,000 yen.

Lions are prolific, with a female lion delivering about three cubs in a litter, according to Shirawa. Many zoos are eager to breed lions because their cubs delight visitors. But once they grow older, the zoos have to deal with a high risk of inbreeding and fighting. Rearing lions in a pride also requires a large area and copious amounts of feed.

Teruaki Takeuchi, who is in charge of species preservation and breeding at Hiroshima City Asa Zoological Park, said, “Lions are big cats. When they grow, we have to let them go.” Takeuchi said the zoo had to say farewell to Earth for that reason. “We don’t know what is going to happen if we keep a lion too long. We wanted (Earth) to leave the zoo as soon as we found a new home and didn’t mind not getting paid for him.”

Animals are born at zoos across Japan every day. Their births are celebrated, but the honeymoon period does not last long. As they grow bigger and get older, zoos start looking for a new owner willing to take them in. In the zoo business world, these animals are known as “leftovers”…

Trading a “leftover” animal by the barter system has been a common practice among zoos. During the five-year period, 1,699 animals, or 34 percent of the animals that were moved out of a zoo, were involved in a trade. Animals are typically treated as currency in such trades, Shirawa said. “It’s like one flamingo, or one zebra, is a monetary unit,” he said. SOURCE…


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