Ezo Brown Bear Enclosure opens at Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa
Asahiyama Zoo in the city of Asahikawa opened for the summer season on April 29, with the Ezo Brown Bear Enclosure attracting the attention of visitors. Hokkaido’s natural environment – in which the bears live – has been recreated in the free-range enclosure, the first large-scale exhibit to open in nine years. The enclosure houses a female bear named Tonko (estimated to be 23 years old, 165 cm long, and weighing 140 kg), who lives alone.
Tonko was taken in by the zoo after her mother was exterminated, and the facility is expected to serve as a base for reconsidering coexistence with humans, amid a string of brown bear sightings in urban areas.
■Reproduction of the natural environment inhabited by wild brown bears
Tonko walks leisurely in the outdoor part of the Ezo Brown Bear Enclosure. In front of the visitors watching the bear stands a guardrail, by the side of it a yellow sign reads ‘Beware of Wild Animals.’
The zoo designed the enclosure with the image of a person walking along a road and encountering a brown bear, in mind. “In Hokkaido right now, the brown bear’s world is just one step away. The bears are surprised by humans, and we have been spoiled by the fact that they have continued to back away,” said zoo director, Bando Gen.
The outdoor area is covered with soil and contains a stream in which freshwater fish live, as well as a pond, a waterfall and natural trees that resembles the actual natural environment. The enclosure also features a bay window and artificial trees on which food can be placed. According to the zoo, by coming into contact with water and soil, “The bears will be able to exercise their natural potential and abilities, such as bathing and digging holes.”
The indoor part of the facility features a picture scroll (150 cm × 3 m) created by the Shiretoko Nature Foundation in collaboration with Akashi Nobuko, a picture book author from Asahikawa, as well as a life-size model of a hibernation den to introduce the ecology of brown bears, and also introduces daily measures to deal with bears.
■Tonko was raised by humans after her mother was exterminated
Tonko was taken in by Asahiyama Zoo in April 1999 when he was still a cub, after her mother was shot dead.
In 2011, she gave birth to two cubs, fathered by Kumazo. Since Kumazo died of old age in 2014, she has lived by herself. As Tonko has been at the zoo since she was a cub, she is not afraid of humans and has a curious and mischievous personality. In order to attract the attention of visitors, she suddenly shows her face at the windows or sticks her paws through the gaps in the cage.
In recent years, the number of brown bear sightings in human habitats has been increasing in Hokkaido. In June last year, a brown bear seriously injured four people in an urban area of Sapporo. Bears also frequently appear in Asahikawa. Now that the ‘distance’ between brown bears and humans has decreased, the human-reared Tonko, whose mother was exterminated by humans, can be considered a symbol of coexistence.
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