Corona and isolation have been hitting different business and stores with different challenges, particularly places that really rely on visitors like izakaya and cafés. Having my (very quiet) local Izakaya open up again has definitely been recent high point for me, but Japan’s many zoos and aquariums are still at risk, struggling with a drop in visitor numbers as well as a change in environment for the animals. So how have they been surviving during quarantine, and how are the animals handling the lack of fame and attention?
As always in Japan, technology has stepped in to deal with some of these issues. There’s been free livestreaming from a variety of different locations, with Enoshima Aquarium streaming live footage of its Balloon Lump Fish, Osaka Tennoji Zoo inviting everyone to join them for feeding time and showing off their Rhinos, and Ueno Gardens upping their online content with videos of the resident giant pandas. Having so many people chatting together about the animals in the live YouTube comments really helped to chase away the lonliness and isolation.
Over at Chiba’s Zoological Park things got even more technological, with a mobile robot named Rakuro equipped with a 360 degree camera. Users had one short minute each to control Rakuro and decide which parts of the park they wanted to roll around to. That has to be the closest you get to actually visiting?
In a turn of events both adorable and tragic, it seems like some of the residents of Sumida Aquarium actually started to miss their human visitors. A desperate call was put out for generous volunteers to livestream with the chinanago, tiny saltwater eels usually happy to poke their heads out from their tiny burrows. Without the constant influx of people the little fellows had suddenly become shy and started to duck below the sand and hide away from staff. I’ve been to give moral support to the chinanago nearest to me recently.
Of course, the zoos themselves are having problems due to the lack of visitors. One of my favourite ideas to combat this comes from North Safari in Sapporo, where they’ve been getting animals involved with merchandise creation. Their crowdfunding goal on Campfire has been super successful, and recently closed at 156% of the original target. Donors have been putting up cash to pick up rewards including paintings made by the animals, a chance to experience feeding the animals for themselves, and – for the top level donors – jeans which have been authentically ‘distressed’ by being literally thrown to the lions!
It’s nice to remember that things are still going on behind closed doors, and Tobe Zoological Park is a reminder of that, with a recently born bearcat as well as new baby zebra. Hopefully it won’t be too long before zoos and aquariums across japan begin to open their doors again, and we can meet the newest residents!