Yokohama to Kota Kinabalu: Zookeeper Bando Gen on the shifting relationship between humans and animals
When a shortage of work in the agricultural sector prompted newly qualified veterinarian Bando Gen to accept a job offer at Hokkaido’s Asahiyama’s zoo, the situation did not look promising. Zoos in Ueno and Yokohama had bought in exotic animals such as sea otters and koalas – the epitome of kawaii (cute) in popular culture – but Japan’s northernmost zoo in the city of Asahiyama, with its dilapidated enclosures and offering of mainly domestic animals struggled to compete.
The first year of Dr. Bando’s tenure, there were only 10 staff members; visitor numbers were falling and rumors of bankruptcy abounded. “We didn’t have any budget. At the end of the year we barely had enough money left over to feed the animals,” he said.
But for Bando – who as a child had filled his mother’s house with grasshoppers collected in transparent food containers, and nursed parakeets the local vet was unable to treat – the problems at Asahiyama went beyond economics.