We have seen our fair share of pet cafes with dogs and cats, but it is in the land of the strange and wonderful that you will find owl cafes. Located on a little street off Tokyo’s Akihabara district (also known as the land of the otaku/geeks), you will find Japan’s first owl cafe featuring over 30 feathered hooters.
Pet cafes gained popularity due to the impracticality of pet ownership in Tokyo’s tiny apartments, as a place where one could still enjoy having a pet to play with. Owls are especially popular in Japan as not they are only adorable, owls are also a symbol of good fortune.
While there are a number of owl cafes in Tokyo, I chose this particular one as customers are allowed a high level of interaction with its owls. Reservation is also mandatory, which meant I could avoid wasting time queuing. The cafe allows up to 12 guests per session (1 hour), and guests are requested to arrive 15 minutes ahead of the reserved time slot for a short briefing on dos and dont’s. Payment is also collected upfront, so get ready the cash. The place is also not huge, so do make this the first stop of your day to avoid carrying your entire shopping there.
Pick your favourite Hooter from the Akiba Fukrou family. Apparently, these owls have a pretty good life. They go home to rest with the owner after a day’s of work, where they are rewarded with a feast of, erm, frozen white mice. I guess none of the customers would want to witness feeding at the cafe. I would freak out.
You seem to have stepped into another world once you enter the café – one where you have to speak in low voices and not move in sudden movements to avoid startling your new feathered friends – which is a direct opposite from the busy streets just outside. No flash photography is allowed, unless you want to risk being pecked by a whole gang of angry owls.
I was very fascinated with the variety of owls perched in this little room – I never knew there were that many! The well-behaved bunch consisted of a mix of native and imported species in widely-differing sizes, bred and domesticated from birth. You are allowed to touch the owls, and the correct way would be to gently stroke them with just one finger. While it may be tempting to cuddle them like a Pokemon soft toy, it would be best to keep them at an arm’s length. Afterall, they are still wild at heart.
The owls are named after their personalities, and their names are indicated in the green sign above them. This huge fella named Takoyaki was almost half my body length. I wondered if it got its name – and size – from eating too many takoyaki. If I saw it in the wild, I would probably have shrieked and fainted.
Just look at its claws!
This fella was probably feeling a little anti-social that day, perching itself near the ceiling.
Some others were trying to catch forty winks.
“I am not talking to you.”
This little feather ball almost had me exploding in laughter – SO CUTE!
What beautiful animals they are.
Meet Mr President. I bet it would make a better president than the recent ones we have.
Mr President is also a very curious creature. Don’t you adore his big round eyes?
And this one threw me a dirty look, hermp.
Each customer is invited to choose to an owl and sit at one of the small tables with it. This one named Gorilla caught my fancy with its ‘shocked’ look.
Unfortunately, Gorilla was rather camera-shy – no matter how I turned it, its head remained right in the same position – away from the camera and away from me. My hand was also getting tired from holding the sizable bird.
Others got into mischief and climbed on top of a customer’s head. Another one pooped on the pants of the customer, to which the staff cooed “He likes you.” Wow, what a way to show love.
By then I was getting a little restless as I searched for my second owl to hold. I was drawn to these two docile barn owls who watched me as I moved aimlessly around the place looking for THE one.
I love its heart-shaped face! This little sweetie is called Whitebait, or しらす (shi ra su) in Japanese.
This time, the staff put Whitebait right on my shoulder instead of perching it on my arm. I was initially a little apprehensive that it would poop on me or peck my eyeballs.
This little sweetie quickly won me over. It was so tame and sweet. Its feathers felt so soft too. I had so much fun with it, I really wanted to bring Whitebait home.
This was my first encounter upclose with this creature of the night. Apart from being menacing prey hunters that we usually see in photographs, they are also affectionate, soft to the touch and so adorable.
Owl be back for more. (Couldn’t resist the corny pun :p)
Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ
Address: 67 Kanda Neribeichō, Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to, 101-0022, Japan
Opening Hours: 12:00PM – 6:00PM
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/akibafukurou
Price: 1,500 yen an hour, cash only. Reservation mandatory, book online up to 3 days in advance.
Getting there: Take the train to Akihabara station, followed by a 5-min walk. Directions here.
Note there is no phone at the cafe, so communication is via email only.
Here’s a list of animal cafes in Tokyo as well, from owls, dogs, cats, lizards and even snakes. Only in the Land of the strange & wonderful! :)
The wildlife preserve is located 15 minutes drive outside of Thimphu city, and about 40 minutes by car from Paro. Motithang was originally a mini-zoo which was closed because the King of Bhutan felt it was improper for a Buddhist country to confine animals. The animals in the zoo were released, but the gentle takin which have long been domesticated, didn’t leave the area and ended up roaming the streets of Thimphu in search of food. The 8.4 acre wildlife reserve was thus set up as a place where the takin can roam safely.
So you can imagine my uber excitement when a curious takin made its way down the woods and came near us. I could feel a tingle going down my spine! What an amazing creature, I had never seen anything like it before. My Bhutanese guide proudly told me, “Because it is so special, that’s why we name it as our national animal. It is unique just like Bhutan. ”
Folklore has it that a Tibetan saint by the name of Drukpa Kunley, popularly known as “The Divine Madman” was requested by the Bhutanese people to conjure a miracle before them during one of his religious lectures. The saint agreed to do so provided he was given a whole cow and a whole goat for lunch. After eating both the cow and goat (what a huge appetite!), the saint put the head of the goat on the skeleton of the cow and with a snap of his fingers, the animal sprang up and came to life. The animal was then given the name dong gyem tsey (takin). Since then this animal has been a common sight in the high hills of Bhutan. Because of this magical creation with highly religious association, the animal was named as the national animal of Bhutan on 25th November 1985.
In a more realistic context, the takin (Budorcas taxicolor whitei), also called cattle chamois or gnu goat, is listed as a vulnerable species of goat-antelope native to Bhutan, India, China and Tibet. Adult takin have a golden yellow and brownish coat while calves are black in colour.
Takin are found from forested valleys to rocky, grass-covered alpine zones, at altitudes between 1,000 and 4,500 m above sea level. They are found in small family groups of around 20 individuals, although older males may lead more solitary existences. In the summer months, herds of up to 300 gather high on the mountain slopes. Salt is also an important part of their diet, and groups may stay at a mineral deposit for several days. So you may chance upon a herd of takin licking on rocks, taking in the salt found in the rocks.
Rather than localised scent glands, the takin has an oily, strong-smelling substance secreted over the whole body which keeps them dry. This is likely the reason for the swollen appearance of its face (I must have takin genes too). Due to this feature, biologist George Schaller likened the takin to a “bee-stung moose” although research has found it to be more related to sheep, mehhh.
When in danger, the takin will give an alarm call that resembles a cough and the herd will retreat into thick bamboo thickets and lie on the ground for camouflage.
The only confirmed natural predator of takin is the snow leopard, and opportunistic Asiatic black bears and gray wolves. Humans pose a greater threat to the takin, although poaching is thankfully not common.
The preserve is also home to some sambar and barking deer. It takes only about 30mins to walk the small reserve, but it’s also the only place where you can see the takin (unless you are prepared to hike up the mountains and pray to catch sight of one). Coming face to face with the takin was a surreal experience especially when you hear of its mythical origin, so I would recommend dropping by the reserve for a visit.
Me: Oh, so this little mouse-like creature is called a Sandshrew?
My pal Kai: Err, it is actually called an Elephant Shrew. Sandshrew only exists in Pokemon Go.
Me: Oopsie! :p
“Confessions of a Pokemon Go-holic” at Mamagua, Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana
The elephant shrew (also called sengis) are represented by a single family, the Macroscelididae, with all 19 living species found exclusively in Africa. The cute little mammal gets its name from the long, pointed head and very long and mobile trunk-like snout. While they look like mice, the elephant shrew is more closely related to a group of African great mammals that includes elephants, sea cows, and aardvarks.
Smaller elephant shrew species like this one are found in the uplands of Southern, Eastern, and Northwestern Africa in dry forests, scrub, savannas, and open country covered by sparse shrubs of grass, while the larger four species of giant elephant shrew prefer to live in forests, closed-canopy woodlands and thickets usually in a nest made of leaf litter. The elephant shrew eats invertebrates like ants, termites, beetles, spiders, millipedes, and worms.
Elephant shrews are monogamous (yay! proud of you) and mate for life. They give birth 4 to 5 times a year. Highly territorial, they stake an area spanning a few acres. When other shrews enroach its territory, the elephant shrew behaves true to its name – they will waste no time in screaming, kicking and sparring – like a human shrew – to drive the trepasser away.
The couple do not hang out together all the time though – they go about on their own looking for food, using sent-marking to let its mate know it is still around and not gallavanting elsewhere. This musky smell also serves as a deterrent against predators such as birds of prey and snakes, as well as help to point our food sources.
The elephant shrew has been listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with the loss of its habitat to urbanization being the biggest threat to their survival. Help conserve the elephant shrew.