Life Onboard
Fostering Love for Animals – Bando Gen, Apr 15, 2011
Bando Gen talks with Peace Boat participants about the behavior of penguins.
In 1967, visitors at the Asahiyama Zoo in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido had decreased to the point that closure of the zoo was a real possibility. Today, the zoo is world famous. Bando Gen, director of the Asahiyama Zoo, told an audience onboard Peace Boat how the zoo reversed its downward trend and became a place that fosters a feeling of love for the Earth.

"We didn't want to simply increase the number of visitors," Mr Bando said. "We also wanted to stay true to our principles. We wanted people to come to our zoo and see the splendor of life."

Rather than changing which animals could be seen at the zoo, Mr Bando wanted to show the same animals in a different way. To gather ideas, he visited other zoos as well as a variety of museums. The Asahiyama Zoo adopted the approach of allowing guests to see the animals engaging in their natural behavior, rather than using exhibits or shows.

In the past, people thought the leopards were boring, because they were usually sleeping in a tree, Mr Bando said. "Visitors would throw rocks at the leopard to try to wake it up and make it move," he said. So the zoo staff built a new exhibit in which customers could walk under the sleeping leopard and see it sleeping. People no longer thought it was boring. Mr Bando calls this type of exhibit a behavioral exhibit, because it allows people to observe the natural behavior of animals.

At the Asahiyama zoo, visitors can observe the penguins swimming under water. "It looks like the penguins are flying through the water," Mr Bando said. "A lot of older people didn't even know that penguins swim underwater because in the zoos they've been to they only saw penguins on land." The exhibit surprised people, and was successful.

Mr Bando also wants people to think about the environment where penguins live in the wild. "Think about what global warming is doing to penguins," he said. "What will happen to the penguins if there is no snow?"

Mr Bando hopes that his zoo is a bridge between animals and humans. "Many animals are disappearing from the Earth," he said. "Polar bears, who live in very cold climates, could go extinct in the next 50 years if the ice melts in the polar areas," he said.

Mr Bando tells Peace Boat participants how the Asahiyama Zoo increased its popularity by creating behavioral exhibits which allow visitors to observe the natural behavior of animals.
As Peace Boat participants prepared for a visit to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, Mr Bando spoke about an environmental issue facing Borneo. "Much of the forest has been stripped to make room for palm tree plantations," he said. The palm trees are used for palm oil, which is considered to be an ecological product, good for the environment and the body. Palm oil can be used for biodiesel, which reduces carbon dioxide. However, the clearing of forest to create palm tree plantations deprives animals of their habitat, Mr Bando said.

As well as directing of the Asahiyama Zoo, Mr Bando is also a Board Member of the Borneo Trust Japan. His zoo holds an "Agreement of the Conservation of Biodiversity" with the Malaysian state of Sabah, where Kota Kinabalu is located.

The Borneo Conservation Trust (BCT) works to conserve the biodiversity of Borneo through establishing a Borneo green corridor. The corridor would connect the protected areas that already exist in Borneo, allowing wildlife to move freely across a greater area. The total area will be about 20,000 hectares.

Another project of the BCT is building rope bridges in the forest canopy for orangutans. Usually orangutans swing from tree branch to tree branch, but now, since the forest is being cut down, the orangutans do not have enough trees to allow their movement. BCT is also building bridges over rivers so that the orangutans, who don't swim, can cross the rivers and have a larger habitat.

"Humans aren't the most important thing in nature," Mr Bando said. "Rather than protecting only the things that have been created by humans, we should protect the many life forms that exist," he said. He hopes that visitors to the Asahiyama Zoo will leave the zoo with a greater appreciation for animals.