Hibernation exhibit for Japanese black bear Ursus thibetanus japonicus at Ueno Zoological Gardens



In April 2006, a new bear exhibit was completed at Ueno Zoological Gardens, based on a concept whereby three bear species, from different climatic zones, would be exhibited alongside small mammal species from each zone. Visitors would be able to observe the hibernation of both the Japanese black bear Ursus thibetanus japonicus and other small mammals during the winter. The Japanese black bear, a subspecies distributed from China to south-east Asia, is found on the Japanese islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. This bear hibernates in tree hollows in winter and, during this time, pregnant ♀♀ deliver and rear their young. To observe bears in hibernation, air-conditioning and illumination equipment were installed in the exhibit in order to create the environment of a mountainous habitat in winter. We first exhibited a Japanese black bear in hibernation in the winter of 2006/2007, when we observed induction to hibernation, hibernation and awakening from hibernation. We repeated this complete sequence in the winter of 2007/2008 and, as a result, we gained knowledge about behavioural changes and changes in physiological data for the Japanese black bear during hibernation. Meanwhile, the real-time hibernation exhibit promoted understanding of hibernation among visitors to Ueno Zoological Gardens. It also generated a lot of media interest: between 2006 and 2007, the exhibit featured in 69 media reports, newspaper and magazine articles.