Q: Do you exchange animals between zoos in order to preserve species?
Komiya: For example, people often ask, "Who has the ownership of a giant panda's cub?" but nobody has the right. Animals are universal properties. A gorilla which was born in the Netherlands briefly stayed in Australia, but no mate was found there, so the gorilla has now stayed in the Ueno Zoo. There are many brothers of it in Australia and the Netherlands, so it is good for all gorillas across the globe if its offsprings are produced in Japan where its sibling does not exist.
Giant pandas had been presented to the Ueno Zoo in order to promote international goodwill. However, this time the Ueno Zoo paid for it because we do not want pandas to die out. We think that we pay money for pandas, not for China, in order for the precious animals not to die out. If we continue to display pandas, it is also necessary to conserve them. We provided financial support for China, and have displayed pandas in return. We want visitors to know there are only about 1,600 wild pandas in China. In Japan, 5,000 Asiatic black bears were killed five years ago, and 4,000 last year because they were considered to be dangerous. If pandas attack human beings in China, they would soon become extinct.
Q: I heard that people have lived with bears in Hokkaido.
Komiya: Generally, a bear, which appears near a human settlement, is killed when it is captured two times. In Shiretoko, school-commuting roads and schools are surrounded by electric fences. Considering that bears were wiped out several centuries ago in England, it is wonderful that people have lived with bears in small Hokkaido.
Q: Did many animals become extinct due to excessive hunting and other reasons?
Komiya: The extinction of the Japanese wolf is well known in Japan. The introduction of Western-style stock farming in the Meiji Period led to its extinction. Westerners, who came to Japan in order to teach Japanese the Western-style farming, taught Japanese how to efficiently kill wolves, so the Japanese wolf became extinct. In the United States, wild bisons became extinct due to excessive hunting, but the number of bisons has been increased by breeding those remaining in zoos and reserves. European bisons also became extinct, but pedigree registration of 50 European bisons or so that remained in zoos was conducted, and the number of them had been increased over about a century while carefully avoiding inbreeding. After that, they were returned to woods.
Q: Do visitors come to the zoo because they want to see rare animals?
Komiya: Albrecht Dürer drew a rhinoceros that had never been seen, but it is clear whether he drew it from what people said or from actual observation. For example, tigers were brought to Japan in ancient times, but lions were in the Keio Period, so both male and female lions have manes in some pictures because they were painted from imagination.