If you’ve ever watched the Dreamworks’ movie “Madagascar,” you may remember the team of penguins led by the super-strategic, nonchalant leader Skipper. Those penguins are the opposite of our perception about how penguins are. Skipper and his gang are smart, fast, cunning, and know how to look cuddly, if needed.
Wait a minute. Know how to look cuddly if needed?
Well, we thought that the penguins are cuddly.
But are they really? What do we really know about them?
Gen Bando, the Chair of Asahiyama Zoo once wrote in his book “動物と向き合って生きる(Live with animals),”
“Humans expect animals to look cuddly….and expect even wild animals to look cuddly…..But wild animals don’t live to be cuddly: they have to adapt to the harsh environment to survive. I want to show how great animals and their true potential are. I strongly believe that it’s our job to unleash wild animals’ natural potential so as visitors can feel it. And it has nothing to with exaggerating cuddly side of animals.” (translated by the author)
Bando is the key person who transformed a small, budget-constrained municipal zoo in a Northern town of Hokkaido, Japan, into one of the most popular zoos in the nation that attracts millions of visitors from around the world.
Before the transformation, Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa City, Hokkaido, Japan was a small zoo in far North which would be buried under the snow during winter. It did not have “star” animals such as pandas, koalas or sea otters that would attract visitors. Like many other municipality-owned zoos, it was suffering from chronic budget cuts. Bando was facing dilemma: “I know that our animals are great. I know that penguins and seals are great. But no one cares about them unless they are pandas or koalas.” Even though he wanted to run campaigns or make improvements to the facilities to attract more visitors, he never had enough budgets. How did he flip the situation?
Penguins at Asahiyama Zoo. Visitors can see them swimming passing by above their heads. Image courtesy of Asahiyama Zoo
Because of the budget constraints, Bando and his colleagues couldn’t spend money on expensive animals, luxurious facilities or paid ads. When they kept reducing unnecessary elements, what was left was the fundamentals of a zoo: potential that animals naturally have — and of penguins and seals. It turns out that we didn’t know anything about penguins or seals, until they showed us how agile and active they are when their real potential is revealed. And it is amazing.
Find their inspiring story how they unleashed animals’ natural potential to fascinate millions of visitors without relying on more expensive animals, luxurious facilities and attractions.