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Fukuoka Pref. zoo gives its carnivores a taste of the wild with 'carcass feeding' initiative

Whitey the white tiger at the Omuta City Zoo is seen holding onto a piece of deer in her jaws, in Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Aug. 10, 2019. (Mainichi/Kimiya Tanabe)

OMUTA, Fukuoka -- A scheme at a zoo to feed predatory animals such as lions and tigers the corpses of deer, wild boar and other animals exterminated to avoid damage to farming activity is gathering attention.

Since about two years ago, the Omuta City Zoo in this southwestern Japan city has been working in cooperation with Kyushu University to give its animals a chance to reawaken their natural behavior in the wild and reduce their stress from captivity. It is also expected to make use of exterminated animals.

The feeding of a deer native to Yakushima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, also in southwestern Japan, to the Whitey the white tiger was opened up to park visitors on Aug. 10.

"Whitey can behave as she would in the wild, and it gives a helpful purpose to the life of the exterminated deer," explained zookeeper Kazuyuki Ban, 32, to the assembled crowd of some 40 people, including parents with their children. He then placed the carcass, which had its guts and head removed, into the enclosure.

Whitey seemed excited by the deer, which unlike the cuts of chicken and horse she normally eats came with its bones and hair included. The usually placid tiger took the animal in her mouth and started stalking around the enclosure.

After some 20 minutes of licking and biting on the deer, she peeled the skin off it and began eating the meat. Several hours of leisurely consumption later, she finished her meal.

"It was a valuable experience, because we got to see it (the tiger) in a state close to nature," said Nagisa Ide, 41, who brought his elementary-school aged sons to see the feeding.

"Some say it's cruel, but for a tiger this is essential. I want people to think about it from various points of view," said Ban. He says the majority of respondents to a survey conducted on the visitors were favorable of this feeding method.

In the wild, big predators typically bring down their prey, peel off the skin and push past the bones among other ways to get at the meat. They then spend an extended period of time consuming the whole thing.

In recent years at zoos in Europe and the United States, the practice of "carcass feeding," in which livestock is presented to carnivorous animals almost as it would appear in the wild, is apparently becoming more widespread.

Ban found out about the reported effect carcass feeding treatment has on reducing animals' stress from international papers on the subject. With cooperation from people including Tadatsugu Hosoya, an associate professor in biodiversity science at Kyushu University, the zoo began giving its animals carcasses from deer and wild boar exterminated on Yakushima Island and the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Itoshima.

According to Hosoya, who works on issues relating to nuisance species, only about 10% of the animals killed are used in game cooking, with the vast majority being disposed of.

Damage caused by wild animals has become increasingly serious especially in Fukuoka Prefecture, meaning there are greater expectations placed on measures to make productive use of the animals.

But there are concerns around cost. If the carcasses are given to animals in the state they were obtained in, there's a possibility they will pass on infectious diseases and other dangers to the predators. Therefore it's essential for the meat to be sterilized using freezing temperatures.

Compared to cheap feed, carcass feeding techniques cost around 10 times as much. Hosoya said, "We want to eventually create a structure where animals that are local pests are consumed (by animals) in local zoos.

(Japanese original by Mayu Suenaga, Kyushu News Department)

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