Elephant tramples keeper to death at Shizuoka safari park

An elephant trampled its keeper to death at a zoo in Shizuoka Prefecture on Tuesday as he tried to stop the gigantic animal from attacking its new-born calf, police and reports said.

Inthavong Khamphone, who was from Laos, had watched the elephants overnight with other keepers at Fuji Safari Park after the mother gave birth on Sunday, police said.

“Khamphone entered the cage with another keeper because the mother started attacking the baby,” a local police officer said. “The mother then started attacking Khamphone.”

The 30-year-old was an elephant specialist who had been working with the creatures for around 15 years. He had come to Japan from Laos with the mother elephant in July last year, said Jiji Press and the Sankei daily citing the zoo.

Reports said the keeper had died after the two-ton elephant stood on his chest at the park, which is near Mount Fuji.


Raccoons take big bite out of crops

ASAHIKAWA, Hokkaido (Kyodo) Raccoons caused ¥164 million in damage to agricultural produce in 16 prefectures in fiscal 2006, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said Monday.
News photo

A raccoon is trapped in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, in September. ASAHIKAWA CITY PHOTO/KYODO
Hyogo Prefecture reported the most damage, saying ¥43.42 million worth of grapes and other produce was ruined. Hokkaido followed with damage reaching ¥27.82 million, centering on corn and melons.

Saitama suffered damage of ¥19.6 million, Osaka ¥18.7 million, Wakayama ¥16.6 million and Kanagawa ¥10.6 million, the ministry said.

Raccoons were blamed for damage when evidence such as tracks suggested their involvement, the ministry said. In fiscal 2004, raccoon damage was observed in only Hokkaido and five other regions.

Japan imported North American raccoons as pets in the 1970s when they became popular on an animated TV show. Many ended up being discarded or they ran away.

At the peak, Japan was importing more than 1,500 raccoons a year. The government has since banned importing them or keeping them as pets.

A nationwide study by the Environment Ministry has confirmed that raccoons live in at least 36 prefectures.


Japanese Cat Lovers Snarl at New Law

TOKYO (Reuters) - Times are looking tough for Tokyo's cat cafes, where feline aficionados can drop in for tea and some time with a cat.

At most such establishments, it's the post-work rush that brings in the most cash, with tired and harried professionals dropping by on their way homes to pet and play with the animals as a way of relieving stress.

But now the purrs of delight may be getting quieter.

A revision to Japan's Animal Protection Law, due to come into force on June 1, will slap a curfew on the public display of cats and dogs, forcing cat cafes to shut up shop at 8 p.m.

"There's this new revision which says we should be open from eight in the morning until eight at night. After 8 p.m. we have to put the cats in the back, away from the customers, and close," said Hiromi Kawase, the owner of one Tokyo cat cafe.

"Everybody knows cats are really happy in the evening, with their big, cute eyes. So I just can't understand why the people at the top are ignoring this. It's really strange."

Cat cafes have long been popular, catering to the many cat lovers who can't keep the animals at home because of strict housing regulations that forbid pets in many apartments.

Visitors to Kawase's cafe pay about 1,000 yen ($12) an hour to play with any of her 24 cats, who dart around the room chasing toys or sleep in baskets set on tables. Drinks are priced from around 300 yen each.

The government says the real targets of the tighter animal protection law are late-night pet shops, which often sell dogs and cats around the clock. The animals are kept in small cages under bright lights that are never sitched off.

Kawase's establishment is far from a 24-hour operation. Her doors close at 10 p.m., but she says many of her customers only arrive around eight, after work, and stay through to the close.

"If I can't see the cats, well, I won't come. Of course I come here because they have cats," said Tatsuo Karuishi, 41.

Karuishi visits the cafe at least twice a week, usually checking in at around eight, as does fellow feline fancier Ayumi Sekigushi.

"It's a great place, it calms the stresses of working life," said Sekigushi, 23. "If this law goes, through that enjoyment is going to disappear. It's a real shame."

While Kawase says the lost business hours will take a toll on profits, it's what that might mean for her cats that worries her the most.

"If our business hours go down and we lose two hours of profits, of course it's going to affect us, but it'll also affect the cats," she said.

"You know, in getting them all the things they need, like the correct amount of food and proper nutrition."


5 youths ordered to apologize to monkeys, clean pen for throwing fireworks

Five youths have apologized to the director of Kyoto Zoo after admitting to breaking into the premises early one morning in January and throwing fireworks at the zoo’s monkeys.

As part of their punishment, the five were ordered to apologize to the monkeys and clean their enclosure, according to a Fuji TV report.

Police say the group, all 18 years of age, consisted of high school students, construction workers and beauticians. According to police, the group had been drinking alcohol before they illegally entered the zoo on Jan 3 and threw lit fireworks into the monkey enclosure, Fuji reported.

CCTV camera footage showed them entering the zoo by scaling a wall at around 6:20 a.m. They then proceeded to terrorize the 26 monkeys for around 15 minutes. Zoo keepers reported that one animal sustained a burn to its face.

After police made the video footage public, the youths turned themselves in, Fuji reported. Police said they will likely press charges for breach of property damage and animal cruelty laws.

At the time of the incident, the director of Kyoto Zoo, Toshikuni Nihonmatsu, said the zoo discourages visitors from throwing anything into the enclosure, even food, due to the danger that the animals will lose trust in people, Fuji reported. “What was done to the monkeys was incredibly cruel,” he said.

The accused were taken to Kyoto Zoo on Feb 10, where they bowed and apologized to zoo staff, including Nihonmatsu. They were then told to bow and apologize to the monkeys, Fuji reported. They also cleaned the monkeys’ enclosure for around an hour as punishment.

Nihonmatsu told the group that he wanted them to understand how the monkeys must have felt and reflect on what they had done. He added that he wanted them to go on and be productive members of society, Fuji TV reported.