A recently departed (for dear old Blighty, not for the next life) friend left me a season pass to Maruyama Zoo, the zoo that's actually in Sapporo. I've been meaning to go there since forever, so this was all the impetus I needed to finally head down. Of course, one of the things that had made me hesitate a great deal before was that almost everyone I talked to about it gave me the impression that it... pretty much sucked. I had this mental picture of something like the Edgbaston nature reserve that I used to walk past on my way to work; or possibly just a three legged giraffe leaning against a tall shack in a muddy field. Well, it should come as no surprise that people were sorely underselling the place. It's certainly not a patch on Asahiyama Zoo in terms of... well, being good, but it's got a lot to recommend it.
For example, at the moment it has baby polar bears:
They're the big star attraction since they were born recently, and their first appearance (yes, it does feel like a show) before the public was only a couple of weeks ago. They're impossibly adorable, and move like toddlers dressed up in bear suits. Which, y'know, isn't impossible. That photo also illustrates one of the things that people are bang on about with Maruyama Zoo - it's really pretty shabby. There are some shiny new areas, but on the whole there's so much chipped and peeling paint that it's a miracle the animals aren't filling their bellies with the stuff and dying off in droves. It looks like Otaru Aquarium in that respect, but I like both places, I can't say that the lack of a lick of paint is anything that bothers me too much.
One thing that does bother me about Maruyama though is that that animals' areas are nowhere near as big or well designed as Asahiyama. Before I went to Asahiyama I worried that I'd feel sorry for some of the beasts, which I did because they're in a zoo at all, but they were kept in big, well thought out pens so they didn't go crazy. In Maruyama, especially since some of the animals are cooped up inside because they can't hack the chilly Sapporo winter (which still hasn't died), they look really depressed and bored. They have some awesome big lizards and tropical apes, a much more interesting selection than Asahiyama, but they look really cooped up. I felt especially bad for the loneliest mandrill, alone in its cage and brooding on a branch. And the orang-utan quarters were just depressing in comparison with Asahiyama's.
Still one of the things that they absolutely nailed was the shiny new wolf enclosure.
That guy was just pacing back and forth the whole time until he was fed. He put his paws up on the glass too, as if testing it, and you just know that to him that viewing screen looks just like a microwave that never goes off. There are all these moving, edible things just on the other side of this invisible wall and he can never get to them. It was interesting to see the the wolves being fed, the girl would eat pretty much from the keeper's hand through the bars, but the guy wouldn't come close, the keeper had to hang the meat on the bars and the wolf snapped it up and carried it away. It was a bit weird to have the macabre wolf pelts up on the walls though.
All of the tropical animals were inside too because it's still too cold for them outside, so we went into this vast, cavernous animal house. I was so excited to see this next guy that I almost grabbed some old fella's coat thinking he was Yuki:
Fuckin' Tapirs man. They're awesome. My other favourites included the komodo dragons (which weren't man-eating size, but were still pretty awesome), the macaques and the sloth bear that looked like a huge matted ball of fur sleeping on the edge of a cliff.
Also there were tortoises. Y'know: