Japanese bear parks were first established in the 1950's to provide a home for bear cubs orphaned as a result of the spring bear hunt. These grew into public attractions but unfortunately they have lacked investment and expertise which has left many hundreds of bears languishing in squalid and often overcrowded and barren enclosures.
The public pay to throw food to the bears leading to regular fights amongst the bears, with dominant bears not allowing subordinates access to food, resulting in a constant state of stress and fear. The bear cubs are often trained for circus shows and used as photo props for the paying visitors.
These conditions are responsible for a significant amount of physical and psychological suffering for the bears within these parks.
There are currently eight bear parks in Japan: Noboribetsu, Showa Shinzan, Jouzankei, Kamikawa in Hokkaido, Ani and Hachimandaira in Akita, Okuhida in Gifu, and Aso in Kumamoto. Noboribetsu, Aso, and Hachimandaira are located in national parks. A lot of package tours and school trips include a visit to these parks in their itinerary. Recently an increasing number of tourists are visiting from Korea and Taiwan.
The AfA coalition has written to the Japanese government calling for the development of national captive animal facility standards which incorporate animal welfare concepts, and support for the bear parks to evolve from public entertainment facilities into sanctuaries for bears under the supervision of veterinary and behavioural management experts.
Hachimantai Bear Park
In May 2012, two workers at the Hachimantai Bear Park were killed when a number of bears escaped from their enclosure. A BBC report on this incident can be found here
Following the death of the two workers, the park was closed. Despite our requests for the bears to be provided with a naturalistic enclosure to meet their physical and behavioural needs, we were disappointed to learn that the Akita prefecture government has chosen to move the bears to the Ani Bear Farm.
In November 2012, the six Asiatic Black Bears were moved to Ani Bear Farm and two of these bears have since died. Subsequently the remaining 21 brown bears were also moved to the park and a new enclosure has been built for them.
The AfA coalition continues to liaise with the Akita Prefecture government representatives, offering advice on the veterinary and behavioural management of the bears. Disappointingly this offer has not been taken up thus far.