Within the wide-scale pet boom that has steadily been growing in recent years, exotic pets have garnered considerable popularity in Japan. Particularly, birds of prey, such as owls and hawks, are becoming the center of a trend that has primarily been fueled via the internet, where social media has allowed the spread of appealing images and information of such animals, often depicting them in a “cute” manner.
Another major factor is perhaps the preceding “cat café” trend, a business that has already rooted itself in Japan and already stretched far into foreign cities. It is now not so uncommon to see “owl cafes” in various towns and cities where visitors have the opportunity to enjoy coffee while petting different owl species. One of the most, if not, the most popular owl to have gained fame is Fuku-chan, who became an internet sensation for being “best friends” with a cat, Marimo. Such news gave an adorable impression to wide audiences as the duo circulated across the internet and even on TV.
This demand for birds may appear harmless or even needed to some, as it allows people to come into contact with animals that are rarely seen. For many, touching one is a unique experience as owls are nocturnal animals and therefore do not come across humans. But below the “cuddly,” “exciting” surface, this popularity is only the beginning of a dangerous trend that is placing various animals in danger.
A major example of this trend is domesticated owls. As previously mentioned before, “owl cafes” are becoming popular with thanks to the media. Major cities that are popular with tourists, such as Asakusa and Ikebukuro, are home to such businesses and frequently advertise their collection of owls. Often the owls seem gentle when they are handled, both in real life and on the media, but much harm is already being inflicted upon the species. Importantly, owls are nocturnal and of course, fly in the wild. By “disrupting their natural sleep cycles, and typing their feet to perches,” this damages both their health and psychological well-being.
It is worth noting about the aforementioned duo, Fuku-chan and Marimo, that Fuku-chan “will likely never be able to live in the wild” and is rarely shown on TV without his feet bound – unable to move freely on his own. Since they follow nocturnal lives, owls are also vulnerable to bright lights and loud noises, which are common features of most cafes. To make matters worse, being touched and confined to small spaces places further stress and can lead to “neurotic behavior, such as pulling their feathers, pacing and rocking back and forth.” For owls, being placed in a café is a fatal experience that takes away their vital rights. For all pet birds alike, especially those that are displayed for guests, just being unable to fly is painful – their primary action suppressed for the sake of human entertainment.
Japan has a severe, under looked case of animal businesses, especially those like the owl cafes that involve exotic pets. Little is known about the animals’ needs and the harm they receive by their treatment by humans. The media has proved to be a problematic tool for aggravating the situation by popularizing the trend, as seen with Fuku-chan on the Internet. But the owl café boom is nothing new to the country; “Japan’s susceptibility to “booms” is well known” from the number of trends it has witnessed rising and crashing over time.
Taking a step aback, it is crucial to understand that the entire exotic pet industry is instigated by the desire to own. Although animals such as dogs, cats, and the latter are universally treated as human companions, that is only because they have long been domesticated and since then incorporated into human life. For animals such as owls, which have long resided in the wilderness and set with fixed lifestyles, it is insensible to force them into human lives. Why do we make such animals live under rigid circumstances just for the mere satisfaction of their owners? Wanting an animal in not enough of a reason to keep one – its needs and status are to be respected, not to be pushed into an ideal mold of a “friendly” pet. Taking away its basic living needs is nothing more than abuse.