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View from the zoo: The importance of coexisting with bears

Hokkaido brown bear Tonko is seen on May 28, 2016, at Asahikawa city Asahiyama Zoo, Hokkaido, in this photo provided by the facility.

ASAHIKAWA, Hokkaido -- A Hokkaido brown bear called Tonko mischievously knocks on her display window at her enclosure to the surprise of visitors at Asahikawa city Asahiyama Zoo in this northern prefecture.

    Despite her popularity, I think only a few people may know the background about how the bear presumed to be 19 years old was sent to our facility.

    On April 30, 1999, two Hokkaido brown bears, Tonko and her mother, appeared around the town of Nakatonbetsu. After hunters were forced to shoot dead her protective mother, they took measures to protect Tonko. Anybody connected to zoos knows that almost all bears at our facility have been taken into our care in similar ways or their descendants. However, there are many visitors who feel shocked when we tell them the truth.

    It might be inevitable to control bear numbers, but I think it's possible to reduce the risks of being attacked by bears by disposing of trash in appropriate ways to keep bears away from towns.

    I feel the significance of displaying Tonko at our zoo for these 19 years, rather than killing her as a cub, maybe to encourage people to think about coexisting with bears, rather than just highlighting their charms.

    (Japanese original by Toshifumi Onishi, zookeeper at Asahikawa city Asahiyama Zoo)

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    This is the first article in a new series in which keepers from the city of Asahikawa's Asahiyama Zoo, Yokohama Zoo Zoorasia in Kanagawa Prefecture and Toba Aquarium in Mie Prefecture will share their daily experiences working with animals.

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