Friday, February 9, 2007

16. Zoo Review: Tama Zoological Park (Hino City)

The Tama Zoo is a must see! Located in the Tama Hills suburbs of Tokyo, the zoo exhibits are set inside a forest of oak and deciduous trees, which make up 60% of the zoo area. Paved 'trails' run throughout the zoo, up and down hills, around ponds,... You'll not only view animals, you'll get lots of exercise and fresh air as well!

The zoo is very large, the guide map said '52.3 ha'? Almost all of the animals are in very natural habitats, and they all looked very happy and healthy. It is always a good sign when you see a large number of babies. I was especially impressed with the effort made to explain how a zoo operates and why animals are kept the way that they are (unfortunately, these explanations are only in Japanese). For example, there is a single Asian elephant in a smaller, all concrete enclosure. I remarked that compared to the rest of the zoo, it was rather sad.

My husband then read me a sign that explained why. She was alone because her partner of many years had died and she did not like any of the elephants the zoo tried to introduce. She wanted to be alone. The habitat was concrete because elephants feet are very sensitive. If a habitat is not large enough, bacteria builds up and infects their feet. So, concrete is sometimes better than actual dirt. There were signs like this all over the zoo. The only animals that I felt truly sorry for were the rhinoceroses. And, compared to Ueno, they were living in luxury.

There are four zones in the zoo. First, the 'Asian Habitat', with a number of Japanese native animals, tapirs, red pandas, snow leopards, orangutans,... The Orangutan habitat is especially impressive. Huge towers have been constructed, connect by ropes, on which the orangutan can travel from one end of the park to the other. I also was impressed by the birds of prey habitat. Injured birds are brought in and they are given a chance to heal before being released back into the wild. They have a huge cage/dome in which to fly around in. Second, the 'African Habitat', with elephants, zebras, chimpanzees, giraffes, cheetahs, lions,... Special care was taken to keep animals that are naturally in groups together. In this area, the lion exhibit is a standout. It can be viewed from above, or guests can ride the 'Lion Bus' to get an up close and personal look (like driving through a safari park). There is an extra charge for this bus (adults: 350 yen, children 3-15: 100 yen, adults 65 and older: 100 yen). This bus operates from 10:00 - 16:00. The third zone is the 'Australia Habitat', with emus, kangaroos, koalas, kookaburras, and more.

The fourth zone is the 'Insectarium', an indoor natural environment of streams and flowers where butterflies fly freely in front of your face. If you look closely, you might also find beetles, and other bugs hiding among the greenery. We saved this for last and we loved it!

Kids will be thrilled with this zoo, and so will adults. My husband and I were there all day long. We had a great time hiking up and down the hills, waiting to see what was around each corner.

I would recommend bringing a stroller for small children, and parents should be ready for some steep hills. I would also recommend packing a picnic lunch. There is some food available, but there are picnic tables everywhere, if you bring your own lunch, you can just stop whenever you get hungry.

Tama Zoological Park
7-1-1 Hodokubo, Hino-shi, Tokyo 191-0042

Hours of Operation: 9:30 - 17:00 (last entry at 16:00), closed on Wednesday (closed the next day if a national holiday or Tokyo Citizen's Day) and December 29 - January 1.

Admission: Adults: 600 yen, 65 and older: 300 yen, Children 13-15: 200 yen.
*Admission is free for Jr. high students who live or attend school in Tokyo, children 12 and under, the disabled and their helpers.
*Admission is free to everyone on Green Day (April 29), The Zoo's Anniversary (May 5), and Tokyo Citizen's Day (October 1).

**Free entry with Grutt Pass (#55)

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