Relatively few dinosaur bones have been found in Japan. Those that have been found have been found in Hyogo, Hokkaido, Fukui, Mie, Kumamoto and Fukushima Prefecture,

Among the dinosaur species found in Japan were the Spinosaurus, a Tyrannosaurus-like carnivore that was 17 meters long and weighed six tons. A Spinosaurus was featured in the film “Jurassic Park III”.

The largest known dinosaurs that lived in Japan were Brontosaurus-like, herbivorous sauropods with names like “tanbaryu” and “mamenchisaurus “. The mamenchisaurus (titanosaurus) is thought to be the largest and one of the oldest dinosaurs that lived in Japan. It lived 120 million years ago and reached a length of 20 meters. Fossils of these creatures have been found in Katsuyama, Fukui Prefecture.

Tanburyu fossils been found in the in the Tanba area of Hyogo Prefecture. Other saurpod fossils have been found in Mie Prefecture. A number of fossils, including those belonging to the titanosaur family, have been found in 140-million- to 120-million-year-old Cretaceous period sediments in the Tanba area.

Possible Imprint of Dinosaur Skin Found

In August 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A possible imprint of dinosaur skin has been discovered in 98-million-year-old geological layers in Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture. The imprint, if proved genuine, would be the second such discovery in Japan, following a similar print found in Katsuyama, Fukui Prefecture. However, the Kumamoto discovery reveals greater skin texture. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun. August 2, 2012]

“The print is believed to have been created through the fossilization of skin imprinted on wet soil. It shows scales two millimeters in length. The imprint is part of an 18-centimeter-long, 11-centimeter-wide fossil discovered in Amakusa in 2001 by a fossil hunter. The Goshoura Cretaceous Museum in Amakusa has asked the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum to examine the fossil. "This is the first fossil in Japan that shows scales quite clearly," said Kazunori Miyata, chief researcher at the Fukui dinosaur museum. The imprint was possibly made by a member of the hadrosaur or choristodera families, although identification is difficult, according to the dinosaur museum.

An 85 million-year-old skull of a 7-meter-long, duck-billed, herbivorous dinosaur known as hadrosaurus was found in the a mountains in Mifunemachi, Kumamoto Prefecture in 2004. Most hadrosaurus fossils have been found in North America and Asia.

The oldest mammal fossils found in Japan have been dated to 136 million to 140 million year ago. They came from three small shrew-like species found near Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture.

Ancient Animals in Japan

Japan is close to the Asian mainland. Over the millennia, Japan has periodically been connected to Asia, allowing animals to pass back and forth between the two regions. During other perIods Japan was separate and isolated, allowing unique species and subspecies to evolve.

Animals such as black bears, wild boar and serow that are not found in Hokkaido are believed to have traveled from the Korean peninsula to Honshu and Kyushu. Animals native to Hokkaido are believed to have arrived from Siberia. There were elephants living in the Tokyo area as little as 12,000 years ago.

Bears, foxes and tanukis found in Japan are essentially the same as those found on the Asian mainland. Japanese macaques (snow monkeys) are indigenous to Japan. Some species such as the Amami rabbit are found on only a couple of small islands.

In prehistoric times wooly mammoths, brown bears and flying squirrels entered Japan from Siberia; giant elks and grasslands elephants, snow monkeys and black bears came from Korea and China and rare frogs and rabbits came from Southeast Asia. Many of them arrived when sea levels dropped and Japan was connected to mainland by land bridges.

The Elephas naumanni — a prehistoric creature better known as the Naumann elephant — lived 300,000 to 12,000 year ago in Japan. The “ Shuju Yaku Cho “ is a list of 60 Chinese medicines Empress Komyo dedicated to the Todaiji Buddha in A.D. 756. Among the medicines is a fossilized tooth from the Naumann elephant. Shavings from the fossil were used as sedative and painkiller. A statement attached to the medicines said they should be given to anyone in need of them.

Large Animals Ruled Japan Until 12,000 Years Ago

According to Heritage of Japan: “Mammoths, Siberian lions, Naumann’s elephants, moose, Great elks, Yabe’s giant deer, wild cattle, bison, asses, horses, bears, wolves, tigers roamed Paleolithic Japan until around 12,000 years ago and then suddenly disappeared. Five different species of elephants once inhabited Japan. Fossils of the Stegodon aurorae Matsumoto (Akebono elephant) and their tracks have been found at various sites in Japan. They and the other four species of elephants lived in Japan area between three million years ago until about a million years ago. Mammoths lived only in the north and was not found outside of Hokkaido and the Sakkhalin Islands. [Source:Heritage of Japan]

“The climate of Japan during much of the Paleolithic period was subtropical. The change to a colder climate may have contributed to the disappearance of some large animals, but also enabled others to arrive from the Asian mainland. From about 40,000 years ago Naumann Elephants (Paleoloxodon naumanni), big-horned elk or giant deer crossed over from the Asian continent during the ice age to Japan where it was warmer.

“Around 35,000 years ago, people followed the movement of the animals. Hokkaido, which is an island today, was still part of the continent then, and the Tsugaru Straight between the current Hokkaido Island and the Honshu Island was deep but froze in winter, thus enabling people to travel further south.

“Excavations show that prehistoric people who were living by the shores of Lake Nojiri in present-day Nagano Prefecture (west of present-day Tokyo) hunted the Naumann Elephants by driving them towards the lake or into the wetlands nearby. Furumi, at the foot of Mount Madarao, and on the shores of Lake Nojiri, has been a site of human settlement until about 30,000 years ago. Prehistoric people in Japan hunted with stone implements such as spears made from obsidian obtained from the area around Wada Pass in the Nagano area. They also collected fruit and berries such as hazelnuts and Pinus koriaiensis.

“The climate became progressively colder until 12,000 years ago. Many experts believe animals such as the Naumann Elephants and giant deer were hunted to extinction.

Wooly Mammoths and Japan

The Japanese are fascinated with wooly mammoths. Well-preserved ones that have been found in Siberia are often brought to Japan to be studied or displayed. A frozen mammoth foot and other mammoth body parts were displayed at the 2005 World exposition in Aichi and were seen by millions of Japanese.

A frozen 1.2-meter-long, 50-kilogram baby mammoth, named Lyuba, dug up Siberia in May 2007, was seen by tens of thousand when it was displayed in Tokyo. This mammoth though to be a 6-month-old female lived 37,000 years ago and was found almost perfectly preserved in the permafrost. Ludya is so well preserved body hair on its front legs, body wrinkles and even its eyelids were intact. Naoki Suzuki, the director of the Institute for High Dimensional Medical Imaging conducted 3-D mapping of the mammoth.

Reproducing a Wooly Mammoth, See Science

Lake Nojiri, Home of the Naumann Elephants

In 1948, fossilized Naumann elephant teeth were discovered at Lake Nojiri in Shinano, Nagano Prefecture. About 83,000 fossils and other items have been unearthed over the years during excavations that have been dubbed the "Lake Nojiri method," in which anyone--including children--can dig for fossils of the elephants that lived in the glacial age but have been extinct for thousands of years. About 24,000 people have participated in excavations at the site since 1962, and about 230 people, aged between 5 and 78, are scheduled to take part in the 19th dig. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 26, 2012]

“Excavations started in March 1962 with the support of paleontologists. In the 50 years since then, many fossils, including those of Naumann elephants and elks from 40,000 years to 60,000 years ago, have been discovered. Tadao Kobayashi, a former middle school teacher who is now an adviser for the excavation and research team, has participated in every excavation. Kobayashi, 75, from Sakado, Saitama Prefecture, said he could not forget the emotional moment when his students who were with him on an excavation found some Naumann elephant bones. Kobayashi has brought about 100 students to Lake Nojiri over the years.

Zoo Animals in Japan

In June 2008, a zookeeper was killed by a 150-kilograms Siberian tiger weighing 150 kilograms while cleaning the animal’s cage. The zookeeper lured the tiger from his cage with a chicken and entered the cage to clean it with the tiger entering through a door that the zookeeper failed to firmly close The zookeeper sustained injures to his face, head, neck and hands. The tiger had bloodstains in its mouth. The zoo was closed down after the incident.

In November 2008, two polar bears sent from a zoo in Sapporo to zoos elsewhere in Hokkaido to impregnate female polar bears were discovered to be females.

Rare amur leopards have been bred in captivity at the Hiroshima City Asia Zoo. Rare snow leopards have been bred in captivity in Japan.

An elephant has never been born in a Japanese zoo. But this not for a lack of trying. The drought is blamed on the shortage of space and partners.

Zoo elephants are rented from Thailand for about $10,000 a year. Because food is so expensive in Japan the cost of feeding an elephant is around $600 a day.

The Japanese firm Michi Corporation produce paper made from elephant dung from Sri Lanka and use proceeds made from the paper to help elephants in Sri Lanka.

Pandas in Japan

Ueno Zoo’s panda Ling Ling died at the age of 22 in May 2008. The zoo had had pandas since 1972 when a pair of pandas was given to the zoo by China. China said it would loan the zoo a pair of pandas.

Japanese-born panda Rauhin gave birth to two twin cubs at Adventure World in Shirahamacho Wakayama in September 2008. She was the first Japanese-born panda to successfully give birth. Rauhin was born in the same place in September 2000. She was mated with a panda on loan from China.

Meimei, a panda at Adventure World in Wakayama, gave birth to 10 cubs in Japan and China. She died in October 2008 at the age of 14.

The Red Data Book, a guide of endangered animals, lists 370 endangered species in Japan. Japan founded an environmental agency in 1971 but took 20 years to put together an endangered animal list. As of this time 47 animals have become extinct in Japan and another 303 are in the danger of extinction.

Some species of plants and animals have been designated as “natural monuments,” cultural assets of the people protected by special laws that make destroying them a crime. Among the 200 species that rank as monuments are red-crowned cranes, Blakiston fish-owls, and goatlike serows. But while such designations protect the animals protection of their habits is often overlooked or neglected.

Japan’s first national parks were created in 1934 not for the benefit of wildlife but to provide recreational areas for visitors and money for local people. Today Japan’s national parks and quasi national parks are administered by the Ministry of the Environment whose mandate is to secure “the coexistence of people and nature.” According to ministry literature the management of parks “requires consideration of people’s property rights and various industrial activities in the areas concerned.”

In August 2010, a panda at Adventure World in Shirahama, Wakayama Prefecture gave birth to twins. It was the second pair of twins for the mother who also gave birth to twins in 2008. In 2012, a baby panda was born in Tokyo's Ueno zoo but it died.

Man Fatally Mauled by a Tiger in the Tokyo Area

In February 2000, Associated Press reported: “A Bengal tiger at an animal rental company mauled a 25-year-old employee to death during feeding time, police said. Masaru Watanabe was left bleeding from the neck for three hours because rescuers were afraid the tiger would leap from the open cage, said police official Koshi Nishino. A zoo official called to the scene in Machida, just outside Tokyo, shot the animal with an anesthetic blowgun. Watanabe was then rushed to a hospital, where he died from loss of blood, Nishino said. [Source: The Associated Press, February 4, 2000]

It took hours for help to arrive from the zoo because the company is in a remote wooded location, police spokesman Tsutomu Tomita said. Police decided against shooting the tiger because they did not want to provoke it, he said. Tomita said the main priority was to make sure the tiger did not harm anyone else, as it was clear from Watanabe's wounds that he had no chance of survival. Watanabe, who had cared for the tiger for two years, was feeding the animal in the cage when it attacked, Nishino said. The seven-employee company, Ikeda Dobutsu Production Co., keeps a tiger, a pony, cats, dogs, and birds for use in television shows, said company official Tsuneki Inoue.

Monkey and Chimpanzee Research

Researcher can distinguish individual monkeys based on the shape of the eyes and nose, color the face, wrinkles between the eyebrows.

The pioneer of snow monkey studies in Japan are Kinji Imanishi (1902-1992), Junichito Itani (1926-2001) and Masao Kawai (1923- ), ecologists at Kyoto University, who came to Koshima to study wild horses after World War II but began studying the monkeys on Kojima after becoming fascinated by their unusual behavior. Their first major discovery came in 1953 when a Satsue Mirto, a former primary school teacher in Miyazaki, wrote the scientists, describing a 1½-year-old female she saw washing a potato.

The Kyoto University primate study group discovered an auditory communication system among the monkeys and described the hierarchy of monkey groups, creating the basis for primatology. The theory that the monkeys possessed culture and passed it on from one generation to the next was published in 1954 and stirred up controversy around the world by giving examples in the animal kingdom of behaviors once though to be the exclusively human, blazing a trail for primatologists like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey

Toshisada Nishida of Kyoto University is one of the world’s leading chimpanzee researchers. The recipient of the 2008 Louis Leakey anthropological award, he has spent much of life studying chimpanzees in Tanzania. Among his discoveries are that low ranking males sometimes play a kingmaking role, deciding who the dominate male will be.

Tetsuro Matsuzawa and the Primate Research Institute

The Primate Research Institute in Inuyama, Japan is one of the world’s most renowned chimpanzee research centers. Its main feature is an outdoor facility that includes a five-story-high climbing tower for the 14 chimpanzees that reside there. Chimps frequently scamper to the top of the tower and take in the view; they tightrope across wires connecting different parts of the tower and chase each other in battle and play. [Source: Jon Cohen, Smithsonian magazine, September 2010]

Tetsuro Matsuzawa, the head of the institute and “ Cognitive Development in Chimpanzees “, works with dozen scientists and graduate students investigating the minds of chimpanzees: probing how they remember, learn numbers, perceive and categorize objects and match voices with faces.Jon Cohen wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “It’s a tricky business that requires intimate relationships with the animals as well as cleverly designed studies to test the range and limitations of the chimpanzees’ cognition.”

Cohen wrote that when he walked out onto a balcony overlooking the institute’s tower with Matsuzawa the chimpanzees spotted them immediately and began to chatter. “Woo-ooo-woo-ooo-WOO-ooo-WOOOOOOO!” Matsuzawa sang out, voicing a chimp call known as a pant-hoot. A half-dozen chimps yelled back. “I am sort of a member of the community,” Matsuzawa said. “When I pant-hoot, they have to reply because Matsuzawa is coming.”

In addition to running the institute for the past four years, Matsuzawa has operated a field station in Bossou, Guinea, since 1986, where he studies wild chimpanzees. “At this field site he has studied everything from the animals’ social dynamics to their feces (to understand the microbes that live in their intestines),” Cohen writes. “He has focused on a capability that many researchers believe highlights a core difference between chimps and us: how they learn to use tools.”

In the primatology world, Matsuzawa is viewed as a top investigator. “Tetsuro Matsuzawa is sui generis, a unique primatologist who studies chimpanzees both in captivity and in the wild, generating rigorous, fascinating and important data about our closest evolutionary cousins,” says evolutionary biologist Ajit Varki of the University of California at San Diego. “Unlike some others in the field, he also has a refreshingly balanced view of human-chimpanzee comparisons. On the one hand he has revealed some remarkable and unexpected similarities between the species — but on the other, he is quick to emphasize where the major differences lie.”

Books: “Cognitive Development in Chimpanzees” by Tetsuro Matsuzawa (Springer, 2006); “The Ape and the Sushi Master: Cultural Reflections of a Primatologist” by Franz de Waal (Basic Books, 2001)

Chimpanzee Research and the Primate Research Institute

Describing the areas of the institute where research is done Jon Cohen wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “The lab rooms are about the size of a studio apartment, with humans separated from chimpanzees by Plexiglas walls. Following Japanese tradition, I removed my shoes, put on slippers, and took a seat with Matsuzawa and his team of researchers. The human side of the room was crowded with computer monitors, TVs, video cameras, food dishes and machines that dispense treats to the chimps. The chimp enclosures, which look like oversize soundproof booths from an old TV game show, were empty, but slots cut into the Plexiglas allowed the chimps to access touch-screen computers. [Source: Jon Cohen, Smithsonian magazine, September 2010]

“Matsuzawa’s star research subject is a chimp named Ai, which means “love” in Japanese...One of the researchers pushed a button, gates clanged and Ai entered the enclosure. Her son Ayumu (which means “walk?) went into an enclosure next-door, which was connected to his mother’s room by a partition that could be opened and closed. The institute makes a point of studying mothers and their children together, following the procedures under which researchers conduct developmental experiments with human children.

“Ai sauntered over to a computer screen. The computer randomly splashed numbers 1 through 7 about the screen. When Ai touched the number one, white blocks covered the other numbers. She then had to touch the white blocks in the correct numerical sequence to receive a treat, a small chunk of apple. The odds of correctly guessing the sequence are 1 in 5,040. Ai made many mistakes with seven numbers, but she succeeded almost every time with six numbers, and the odds of that happening by chance are 1 in 720 tries.”

Ayumu’s success rate, like those of other chimps younger than about 10, is better that Ai’s. ...Ayumu next began doing a word-comprehension test known as the color Stroop task. Like his mother, he has learned that certain Japanese characters correspond to different colors. He can touch a colored dot and then touch the word for that color. But does he understand the word’s meaning or has he just learned that when he connects this symbol with that one, he receives a treat? A dog, after all, can be taught to put a paw into a human’s hand and “shake,” but, as far as we know, it has no idea that shaking hands is a human greeting.”

Matsuzawa Leads Fight for Help Chimpanzees

Takeshi Abe wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, "Hoo hoh!" Tetsuro Matsuzawa calls to chimpanzees at Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, where he works as professor. "Hoo hoh!" the chimps respond. Matsuzawa, who became the International Primatology Society's president in October 2012, can communicate with chimps using about 30 different kinds of cries, conveying such messages as "Hey!" and "Who are you?" He proved his communicative ability with chimps in Africa while conducting field research. "I can do almost anything chimpanzees do," he said. [Source: Takeshi Abe, Yomiuri Shimbun, October 11, 2012]

Matsuzawa initially studied philosophy in pursuit of knowledge about human beings. He then joined the institute, as he wanted to find "new field of study." It was at the institute 35 years ago where he met Ai, a chimp prodigy that could understand letters and numbers. The discovery of the chimp's intelligence astonished the world. "[Ai] is almost a human. I felt a bond with her beyond the teacher-student relationship. If I hadn't met her, my life would be very different today," Matsuzawa said.

A number of kinds of primates are in danger of extinction. Matsuzawa launched a reforestation project in Africa about 15 years ago to enlarge habitats for primates. He also launched a campaign domestically to urge banning medical experiments on chimpanzees, as he believed it was responsibility of primatologists. "I'd like to tackle the issue, making the [Primatology] Society the linchpin of our conservation effort. I believe I have demonstrated how research should be conducted, so I will just continue what I have been doing," Matsuzawa said. "I'd like to be a playing manager," the primatologist added.

Image Sources: Japan-Animals blog except Hokkaido (Nicolas Delerue), panda (WWF), hanko (Goods from Japan) and dinosaurs (Fukui Dinosaur Museum)

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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