Popular Japanese TV show features white tigers, cheetahs

Naoshi Ichihara / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Animal variety show Tensai! Shimura Dobutsuen (Shimura’s Zoo; Thursdays, 7 p.m., NTV) has achieved consistent popularity, attracting animal lovers with its unique sections and “projects.”

The show, hosted by popular comedian Ken Shimura as the “encho” (zoo director), started in April 2004, and has various sections, including one, in which Shimura and a chimpanzee named Pan-kun travel around the nation.

One of the most popular sections is “Ironna Dobutsu o Ie de Kattemiyo” (Let’s Try Looking After Various Species at Home), which started in August last year. In the section, regular guests Sayaka Aoki and Becky, along with other special guests, are given the task of spending several days with animals that people are not normally allowed to keep at home. The species covered so far include white tigers, river otters and giant panda cubs.

When the animal show won the Japan Council For Better Radio and Television’s monthly Galaxy prize for TV programs, judge Masao Kanetaka highly praised this section in his judging comments: “It shows us animal behavior and helps us understand what we would never find out [about the species] just by looking at them through a cage.”

Commenting on the aim of the section, Hoshito Shimizu, general producer for the show, said, “By showing the behavior of the animals, we want viewers to know that each and every single one of them has a ‘personality.'”

In the project sections, the keepers give names to the animals after carefully observing their behavior.

“Having direct contact with animals as just people rather than TV personalities, the keepers also end up displaying their own true natures, making it [the section] especially interesting,” Shimizu said.

In one project, for example, Aoki kept a camel and decided to call it Takashi, the name of a boy she fell in love with when she was in primary school.

In the broadcast, Aoki said: “I was scared when I first met the camel. Spending time with the camel, however, I started to feel that its face looked quite human and I came to like it.”

In a three-hour special program on Oct. 12, the show looked at how Becky and guest personality Izumi Mori coped with their respective tasks. Becky lived for a few days with three koalas in Australia, while fashion model Mori was given the task of spending time with cheetahs in Kenya.

Mori, famous designer Hanae Mori’s granddaughter, seemed to show no fear at all, perhaps because of her luxurious upbringing, and soon became friends with the animal. At one point she is even seen dropping off into a nap while lying with her head on a cheetah’s abdomen.

(Oct. 21, 2006)

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