Otter lunacy in Japan’s animal cafés.

Animal cafes

Can we expect to be drinking a latte with a hedgehog or otter at our local Starbucks or Costa anytime soon in the UK?

Animal cafés are opening across the world particularly in Asia at an increasing rate despite the obvious welfare and food hygiene issues and are proving a major draw to foreign tourists thanks to social media. Although a few restrict themselves to dogs or cats many cafe owners are constantly trying to outdo each other by introducing more and more different animals to become the quirkiest establishment.

It all began with offering customers the chance to have a latte in the company of rabbits, cats and dogs but has moved on to monkeys, chinchillas, alpacas, hedgehogs and even penquins, but now it is the turn of otters.

Cafés are heavily promoted by social media

The trend or craze is being fuelled as always by social media and judging by comments the draw of these establishments is that they are ‘cool’, the animals cute and the experience unique. This maybe a reflection on how the younger generations view animals and how out of touch they are with animal welfare issues.

The cafés are heavily promoted on travel sites, YouTube videos and the general media with little concern for the unnatural conditions faced by the animals and the stress of constant handling. They have become popular tourist attractions with foreign visitors who flock to cuddle them and take selfies to post. It has also resulted in a demand for pet otters with the inevitable rush to captive breed them and the knock on result of unwanted ones starting to appear in rescue centres in poor condition.

Foreign tourists are flocking to these animal cafés so can we expect our local Costa or Starbuck in the UK and USA to follow suit. I suspect if given the chance they would.

When will we understand that animals are not toys

It would appear from watching the videos that the foreign clientele are young adults or parents who see no harm in giving their children the impression that it is acceptable to use animals in such a way as though they are toys. We just cannot resist the desire to get up close and personal with animals and ignore the fact that most of them are stressed by the encounter.

Hedgehog cafés are the most popular.

Baby hedgehogs have been popular for a while now and you can even buy one on the spot once you have bonded with it over your coffee. You can even share a meal with a monkey or snake and have the monkey deliver it to your table dressed in a waiter’s outfit. It appears there is no end to this lunacy.

The otters used tend to be the small clawed species because, according to café owners they do not scratch so badly. Ironically the first wild otter to be seen in Japan for 38 years was spotted a few weeks before the first café opened and now the locals want to see what one looks like and own one.

Animal cafe with racoons
What happens to them when they become adults.

Given the chance would we have a latte with a hedgehog, otter or monkey at our local Costa or Starbucks?

We are now seeing cat and dog cafes opening in the UK. In fairness there is probably nothing wrong with a cat cafe as most cats enjoy pampering and interaction and there is often an added benefit that they are unwanted and looking for new homes. The problem is the use of unsuitable animals and on the spot selling to customers.

So, as these cafes are so popular with Western visitors in Japan can we expect our local Starbucks or Costa to cash in on this lucrative trend? Unfortunately, I believe that given the chance many would happily patronise such establishments, despite animal rights protests, because there is an increasing trend that it is now acceptable to exploit animals and a new generation that doesn’t appear to fully understand the concept of animal welfare.

Where and when will all this lunacy end.

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Author: John Brookland

John Brookland has been passionate about animals from an early age and has always been more concerned about their individual health and well-being than any scientific or zoological interest. During his long and varied career in animal welfare in the U.K. and worldwide, he has unfortunately witnessed most of the horrors of animal cruelty there is to see and has gained extensive insight into animal welfare issues. On leaving school he trained as an RSPCA clinic assistant in London and later was manager of one of their veterinary hospitals and an animal centre. He was Chief Inspector and manager of the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau and spent time in Trinidad advising on a humane stray dog control service, before becoming a deputy manager and animal health inspector at Heathrow's Animal Quarantine Centre. He then travelled the world for a conservation group investigating the capture and transport of wildlife for the pet trade and was an honorary consultant to the IUCN and CITES. He is now retired and still travelling the world with his partner to view wildlife and wild places and writing a blog and books on animals.