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Animal cafes have become increasingly popular in Japan, with customers flocking to these establishments to pet and observe exotic animals like owls and hedgehogs up close. However, a recent study by institutions including France’s Sorbonne University and the non-governmental organization Traffic found that 60 percent of these animal cafes contain species that are restricted by international trade laws. The study also raises concerns that these cafes may not only threaten animal Conservation but also increase the risk of animal-borne diseases.

As of 2019, there were 137 animal cafes in Japan that exhibited 3,793 individual animals from 419 different species. However, the study found that nine species and 53 animals exhibited in these cafes were banned from being traded under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) due to their endangered status. These species include the grey parrot and slow loris, a type of primate.

Moreover, the study warns that some animals in these cafes may have been trafficked from illegal wildlife trade, given the absence of any record of their trade in the CITES database and recent seizures of endangered primate species by Japanese customs.

The study also found that birds make up 62 percent of the total, with owls accounting for 40 percent of them. Reptiles and mammals make up 21 percent and 15 percent, respectively, with amphibians comprising the remaining 2 percent. The most common animal in these cafes is the four-toed hedgehog, with 55 stores carrying 245 individuals, followed by the barn owl and northern white-faced owl. Although some of the exotic animals’ trade may be prohibited, they can still be bought or sold if they were brought in before restrictions were implemented or if those bred in Japan are registered.

To address the issue, Yumiko Okamoto of Traffic suggests that only educational facilities like zoos should be allowed to keep such animals. This would ensure that the animal’s biology and behavioral characteristics are given the utmost consideration.

While animal cafes may seem like an exciting and unique way to experience exotic animals, they pose significant risks to animal Conservation and public health. We can all take action to protect animals and the environment by avoiding animal cafes that house restricted species and advocating for stronger regulations to prevent animal trafficking and exploitation. Additionally, supporting animal sanctuaries and educational facilities that prioritize animal welfare can provide a more responsible way of experiencing exotic animals. By taking these steps, we can ensure a brighter future for both humans and animals alike.

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