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Explore for a day: Ueno Zoo

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Michael Washburn
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Under cover of thick brush, leaves and a large log that branches out in multiple directions, a tiger patiently stalks his prey, who happens to be a small child.

The tiger's pace quickens as he gets closer to the still oblivious child. Just feet away, the tiger stops at the one-inch thick slab of Plexiglas separating him from the young boy, who waves at the tiger and continues his visit at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo.

Ueno Zoo, the oldest zoo in Japan, was founded in 1882 and has since expanded in size to roughly 35 square acres. The zoo is located inside of Ueno Park, which also houses numerous other buildings of interest such as the Tokyo National Museum, Sogakudo Concert Hall, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art and National Museum of Nature and Science.

Split into two separate sections - the East Garden and West Garden - the zoo groups species of animals into themed areas.

At the East Garden, there's the Nocturnal House, which features creatures of the night, such as bats and dholes. At the West Garden, the Animals of Africa section consists of hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, giraffes and okapis. The vivarium houses crocodiles, snakes, turtles and other reptiles.

Making up a large portion of the West Garden is Shinobazu Pond. Visitors can cross over walkways in the pond to get a better look at cranes, pelicans, geese and swans, before heading to the attached Aye-aye Forest, where lemurs lurk in a blanket of darkness.

Along with the themed areas, the zoo is full of more than 2,600 animals from 464 different species. The diversity of the animals comes from a partnership between other zoos in the U.S., Mexico and China.

Another popular spots are the giant pandas and the polar bear areas. At their enclosure, Ri Ri and Shin Shin - who both arrived at the zoo in 2011 - can be seen by visitors relaxing and munching on bamboo.

The polar bear part looks like the arctic. The walls and surrounding areas are built to look like chunks of ice. The enclosure is also complete with a pool of crystal clear water for the polar bear to cool off with.

For families with kids, the children's zoo in the West Garden is a major attraction. They can visit the petting zoo featuring goats, horses, llamas, donkeys and other domestic animals.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of Tokyo lies the serenity of Ueno Park and Ueno Zoo. It's a nice way to spend a day seeing all types of animals from all over the world that most people will never have the opportunity to see. There's so much to see that it warrant multiple visits.

The zoo is closed on Monday, and Tuesdays following a Japanese holiday. On Oct. 1, the admission will be free for Tokyo Citizens' Day.