Distressing captive conditions resulting in poor health and welfare continues for hundreds of bears held in bear parks in Japan.
Historically, these parks began as centers to care for orphaned (as a result of hunting and encroachment) cubs, but the centers found the young bears to be popular with the public - with the result that breeding the animals was encouraged over a number of generations, providing a regular supply of cubs for what was also a profitable enterprise. However, this program rapidly got out of control in the sense that bears, being long-lived and relatively robust animals will survive these poor quality environments to the point where several of the parks are keeping literally hundreds of bears in rows of simple, stark, concrete "pits." Today a number of these bear parks continue to exist across the country, mostly as tourism-oriented leisure facilities.
In 2005 an investigation was carried out at three of the parks by international investigators from theWorld Society for the Protection of Animals and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The findings from this report indicated extremely serous welfare issues. Overcrowding and poor vet and keeper care, resulted in obvious health concerns such as lacerations, limping, torn ears, skin conditions and chronic conjunctivitis. There was little or no behavioral enrichment, resulting in lethargic or stereotypical behavior, and begging when the public threw food. Breeding of the bears occurred, with the parks admitting that this encouraged visitors and circus acts with bears dressed up and riding bikes was evident.