There are three main zoos in Tokyo, as well as a number of sea life parks. This is a quick introduction to Tama Zoo – one of the nicest zoos I have been to in years. Entrance price to the zoo is 600¥, but you can get a combined ticket for the zoo and the Tama Monorail which costs 1,000¥ and includes the monorail journey there and back. The combined ticket is good value, and entrance to the zoo is free for kids under 12, students who live in Tokyo and disabled people. Tama Zoo is divided into four separate areas: the Asian zone, the African zone, the Australian zone and the Insectopia.
A greenhouse that is shaped like a butterfly houses Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) in their masses. It’s nice to step into the warm, humid conservatory – especially if it is cold outside. In the domed area of the conservatory, there are scores of butterflies flying around, weaving through the planted areas. The cavernous enclosure allows them all the space they need to flutter about at ease. Some of the butterflies sit placidly fluttering their wings while others dart about energetically. For budding photographers – prepare to be teased. They will appear to pause on a flower or leaf but momentarily before soaring off again. If you visit on a busy day, the room will be filled with the sounds of children shrieking with delight as papery wings tickle their skin and dazzling colours flash before their eyes.
The Insectarium Centre has a glow-worm cave, as well as a series of tunnels stuffed with leaf-cutter ants, busy at their leaf-cutting work. There is a table in the ‘hands on’ area where you can pick up the insects for a closer look – be careful your little ones don’t try to pocket the insects to take home as pets!
The lion enclosure is the most popular exhibit of the African Zone, and you can pay extra to ride on the ‘lion bus’ and get close to the lackadaisical beasts. In the middle of the enclosure there is a building that is inexplicably decorated like the Taj Mahal. The lions had a reasonable amount of space, but they didn’t look overly joyful; perhaps they were just lethargic after having eaten their morning meal. Also in the African zone were three African elephants, zebras, servals, giraffes, ostriches, flamingos and some moody cheetahs.
At the Australian zone, everyone flocked to the koala house. There were two koala bears slumped sleepily on bare tree branches, which were the single decoration in the otherwise concrete homes. Other animals in the Australian zone: womat, laughing kookaburra, wallaby, wallaroo and, of course, kangaroo.
For any Western visitor, this was the prime attraction of Tama Zoo. The snow leopards are an endangered species, and it’s very rare to see them in the wild. The series Planet Earth showed some of the first footage ever taken of wild snow leopards in 2006. There are three snow leopards at Tama Zoo. For a while they were just lazing about, but every so often they leapt into action with one pouncing on-top of the other one in an elaborate play-fight, chasing one another up the rock face and tumbling down in the grass. They have magnificently thick tails and large paws – a trait which helps them to balance and grip in snowy and rocky environments.
Other animals in the Asian zone of Tama Zoo: the red panda, chamois, golden takin, Pere David’s deer, wild horse, gray wolf, orangutan, Japanese serow, Himalayan tahr, macaw, greater one-horned rhinoceros, brown bear, mouflon, Japanese giant flying squirrel and Japanese macaque. Macaques are funny creatures – with bright red faces and bright red behinds they are comical from either end.
Some of the enclosures at Tama Zoo lacked inspiration and didn’t seem to be very natural, but on the whole I felt that Tama Zoo was animal-friendly and that the exhibits were quite comfortable. A very nice zoo and great escape from the bustling metropolis of Tokyo – a highly recommended day out!