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News Navigator: Is it illegal to keep a sparrow as a pet?

Sparrows are fed at Ueno Park in Tokyo's Taito Ward, on March 23, 2018. (Mainichi)

Recently, a television personality made news for receiving a warning from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for saving and keeping a weakened sparrow as a pet. The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about keeping wild birds at home.

    Question: Is it prohibited to raise a sparrow?

    Answer: Under the Protection and Control of Wild Birds and Mammals and Hunting Management Law, it is not legal to capture or keep wild birds or other animals without permission from a resource management and danger prevention standpoint. Not only is there a risk of contracting infectious diseases, but if a large number of people capture and keep wildlife, it could possibly do damage to the ecosystem.

    Q: Are there any exceptions?

    A: Yes. One example is game birds or other animals that are included in the hunting system. Another is the capture of wild birds or other animals with the permission of the prefectural governor for either preventing animal damage or for academic research purposes. The sparrow is considered a game bird. A hunting license and registration is required to hunt the bird and it has a set hunting season.

    Q: How about the "mejiro," or Japanese white-eye?

    A: There are many mejiro enthusiasts, and it used to be allowed for one bird per household to be captured and kept. However, this became prohibited in April 2012, in principle, as there were many cases of the bird being sold at high prices or poached.

    Q: How about feeding sparrows in a park?

    A: Please refrain from feeding wild birds. If you do, they will get used to getting food easily and come to like the taste of human food. As a result, there is a possibility that the birds could start to beg for food and even attack people.

    Q: What should you do if you find an injured sparrow?

    A: Please contact your municipal government and follow their instructions. How these cases are handled differs by prefecture. Sometimes, officials will send the bird to an animal hospital or a private volunteer organization will accept the animal. Spring to summer is the breeding season for wild birds, and it is common to see chicks that have fallen to the ground. However, these birds simply can't fly well yet, as they have just left the nest. There is a high possibility that their parents are nearby. It is best to stand back and observe them for a while before getting involved.

    (Answers by Hidenori Yazawa, Lifestyle News Department)

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