In the Palace of Pandas

This is the proud father, calmly munching on bamboo.


In case you haven’t heard, there was a panda cub born not to long ago at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo.  Pandas are notoriously difficult to breed which contributes to their declining numbers in the wild.  With this in mind it was a rare opportunity to be on hand when one was successfully born in captivity.  According to all reports the panda cub, yet unnamed, is doing well.  However the mother and cub are not on display at this time, due to the delicate nature of the early months.  The tendency is to put them out after six months if everything is going well, but by then my transportation specialist will have returned to his home university.  Hopefully this will provide incentive for a return trip sooner rather than later.

The Ueno Zoo was founded in 1882, making it the oldest in Japan.  It has been renovated many times over the years, adding new exhibits and improving living conditions for the animals.  Although with the crowded living conditions that have plagued all of Tokyo for centuries, there is always more that can be done.  It currently covers over 35.2 acres and houses over 3,000 animals from more than 400 different species.  As with many zoos, it is too much to take in in one visit.  For our purposes, I will be presenting my visit in two stages.  First I will present the living animals we visited with, and next week I plan on presenting a photo shoot of the zoo’s copious statuary collection.

Here’s a map of the zoo gleefully swiped from their website.

It may be hard to see, but just above my fluffy left ear is a Lion.  It was very hot outside, so like everyone else he moved as little as possible.  I would apologize for the reflection in the glass, but instead like any responsible adult, I blame my photographer.  He’s still learning, but I think the balance of the pictures are better than when we started this project.


The Tiger cooperated a little better by walking around for the people to view after taking a dip in his water pool.  It still took a number of passes before we got the right picture.  It was interesting to see exactly how creative the zookeepers here are when it comes to giving the animals space to run around using different levels instead of more straight acreage.

And bear, oh my.

There’s a polar bear in Japan.  It’s somewhere between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius today (that’s scientifically known as really, really hot in Fahrenheit).  There is a polar bear in Japan.  I mean there is a pool, and even a ball to play with, but do you see the complete lack of ice around this bear?  He sticks out like an arctic hare in Ireland.  I’m pretty sure if I bothered to look up the facts I’d find out why the bears do okay is such warm weather, but let’s face it, I’m a lazy hippo and I’d rather be watching anime. [Editor’s note: there seems to be a lot of effort expended to ensure the animal’s comfort, but as with many divisive topics, opinions very with a wide range of reliability.  If you work at a zoo, we’d love to hear your opinions in the comments.]


Yes, the panda ice cream is cute.  No I didn’t get to try any.  

A wise man said that one who fails to feed his sled dogs will one day pull his own sled.  With this thought in mind, I directed my transportation specialist to one of the air-conditioned eateries in the zoo complex.  While he stuffed his face full of panda based confectioneries, I furthered the cause of international relations by waving at a nearby group of Japanese senior citizens who were also taking refuge from the heat.  My Japanese is still less than desirable, but but fortunately, fluffy cuteness transcends language barriers.

Finally after our brief respite, it was back into the heat for a last sally to visit the rest of the zoo.  We visited the giraffes, flamingos and the ever-present kangaroos, but the mammal highlight nearest my own heart was the full size hippos.

Don’t blame me.  The camera chose to focus on the cuter hippo. [Editor’s note:  Modest too!]
While there appeared to be adequate facilities to keep the hippos moist and cool, they did not have the large swimming tank I’ve noted at other zoos.  There also seemed to be little space where the hippos could touch actual ground instead of concrete.  This made me somewhat sad.

And this brings me to my own conflicted feelings about zoos in general.  While they preform an important part in conservation of endangered animals and education of the public about the animals that share their world, both near and far, many times limited funding from local government and public donations force them to make difficult decisions about what animals they can care for and in what manner they can maintain them.   In places that experience Tokyo level overcrowding this can reach critical levels.  There may not be a good answer here, all this hippo can offer is observations, but it’s not something that can or maybe should go away soon.  In the meantime, I’ll see you next week.

Until then, Hippo, Hippo!


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