Saturday, June 21, 2014

Ueno Zoo Part I: East Garden Entrance

Japanese zoos generally don't have great reputations when it comes to quality animal care, especially compared to many of the world-class zoos we have in North America, but Ueno Zoo has modernized decently. A number of enclosures for larger animals felt a tad small and sometimes drab, but most of the small animals (which I tend to be more interested in) looked like they had adequate homes.

The zoo is sharply divided into East and West Gardens (connected by a long bridge), the main entrance leading into the East Garden. Among the first exhibits one can visit upon entering is a series of aviaries containing native Japanese birds. I tend to like exhibits that showcase native fauna (and have been to one zoo/museum that does almost nothing but). The inhabitants are not always the most charismatic of species, but I find that the general public doesn't always have the best understanding of the species it share its own neighborhoods with. On top of that, many species exhibited in these displays can be highly unfamiliar to foreigners (like me) and thus make for interesting sights by that simple virtue alone. This bird here is a Lidith's jay and, as it happens, it's not a species I would expect even a Tokyo native to know, as it's found in the wild only on two of the Ryukyu Islands.

A white-breasted waterhen. I've seen these in the wild before, but in typical rail fashion you're more likely to hear them first (in spite of their bold color patterning compared to most other rails).

A rock ptarmigan.

An azure-winged magpie. I'd hoped to see these in the wild on my trip because my field guide to Japanese birds claimed that they were "common" in Tokyo, but I didn't have much luck there. The field guide was published in 1982, so it is understandably dated in some respects. For instance, a pamphlet I received at the Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park had many discrepancies from the field guide in terms of bird distribution and abundance. (The azure-winged magpie is said to be "fairly common", for what it's worth.) Yet, from a cursory Google search, it appears that my book is still among the best when it comes to English field guides to Japanese birds.

A Eurasian jay.

Its cage was also accessible by fellow acorn lovers, Japanese squirrels.

The wire tunnel leading to the main squirrel enclosure.

A few of the other aviaries exhibit smaller passerines, but most of those birds proved too active to be easily photographed.

There was a little island with waterfowl inhabitants (and big flocks of wild Eurasian tree sparrows that would take their share of food). From left to right: Canada goose, swan (I do not remember the exact species), and emperor goose (partially hidden behind foliage).

Some prairie dogs. They have a tunnel system cross-sectioned by a viewing window so guests can see inside, but they were content to stay above ground on my visit.

An example of the zoo's more subpar enclosures with this cramped- and drab-looking exhibit for colobus monkeys. Sad to say, this was part of a row of monkey displays that didn't look much better than this.

Off in another corner near the zoo entrance is another series of aviaries, this time centered around gamebirds and pigeons. This is a bare-faced curassow.

A pied imperial pigeon, rather conspicuously colored for a forest bird.

A Palawan peacock pheasant. Neat.

Green pheasants (considered a subspecies of ring-necked pheasant by the zoo signage and my field guide), a Japanese endemic.

Australian brush turkeys, which are really megapodes and not turkeys.

Oh right, there is a giant panda exhibit in this part of the zoo as well. In general, I've never been much taken with charismatic megafauna to begin with, but giant pandas are even less of a draw when I can visit what is considered to be one of the best giant panda displays in the world for free a good chunk of the year. Giant pandas are interesting animals to be sure, but I find that they very much have a "seen them once, seen them all" quality. While crowdpleasing creatures may be important for overall zoo attendance, I've always been of the opinion that if you want to see some true rarities (in terms of ubiquity in zoos rather than in the wild, though both can apply), you go look at the smaller animals in the collection. That's not to say there aren't plenty of large animals that could use more representation in zoos, but space that could be spent on them are often used for more commonplace (again by zoo standards, not wilderness standards) crowdpleasers, whereas smaller clients are easier to accommodate with limited room. So skip the pandas I did.

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