Animal cafes have become a growing trend in Japan in recent years, with various establishments dedicated to cats, rabbits, goats, and even hedgehogs sprouting in different parts of the country.
In this on-going craze, owls have become the latest attraction, but such interests in placing the nocturnal predator in an owl cafe have become a cause for worry to animal rights activists, reports Reuters.
Patrons of such establishments are welcome to pet, cuddle and play with the birds as they please, even during the day.
According to Chihiro Okada of the Animal Rights Centre in Tokyo, most practices in such cafes constitute as animal abuse. The group is now calling for the closure of such cafes.
“When they think of animal abuse, people think of kicking or hitting animals, but it isn’t limited to that,” Okada was quoted as saying. “Confining an animal to a small space is certainly a form of abuse. Showing them off like products is also a stressful situation. They can’t move and drink freely.”
Okada says that simply disrupting their natural sleep cycles and restraining their feet are already forms of animal abuse.
Previous criticisms over the treatment of animals in many of these cafes have prompted owners to adjust their practices to consider the welfare of the animals more. Some cat cafes, for instance, have improved the “working hours” for their cats. Treatment for owls, however, are especially more difficult to set as they are more accustomed to living in the wild.
Owls also have a very keen sense of hearing and vision and forcing them into crowded cafes may cause extra levels of stress to the animals. Activists say that owls may develop neurotic behavior as a result of disrupting their environment.
“We were particularly shocked to learn that seven owls died in one year at an owl cafe,” Okada said.
Veterinarian Nobumoto Izawa explained that there wouldn’t be any problems if the welfare of the animals are placed above all else.
“Most importantly, we need to make sure the birds are happy and not stressed,” she said.
According to Aya Matsuda, manager of the popular Owl Village, the owls in their cafe are given frequent breaks to relieve them of stress. Interactions with customers are also guided by staff.
“In our cafe staff are able to enter the owl room with customers and explain how to play with them, and when the owls look tired, they can rest,” she explained.