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Kanazawa Ward, Japan

NOAH (Nature Oriented Animal House): The Inner City Zoo

Often dinged for animal rights abuses, a crammed pet shop selling monkeys, alligators, wolves and other exotic animals. 

Pet shops can be sad places sometimes. Puppies crawl over each other in tiny cages. Cats drowse in lazy piles, waiting to be chosen. Little children prod at birds and bunnies. While these animals’ plights can be disheartening, we take comfort in the fact that workers and owners likely understand the care these creatures need.

Not so for exotic animals at NOAH: The Inner City Zoo, which opened in 1999. The so-called “world’s most controversial pet shop” seems to be the place that Japanese animal protection forgot.

Buying an unusual or endangered pet usually includes a process of finding it through illicit means - not simply walking into a store to poke at the creatures like you would ordinary dogs or cats. This isn’t the case at NOAH, where penguins, giant turtles, otters and other wild creatures are found for purchase at exorbitant prices. For example, a male bush baby (a small monkey with huge eyes) is currently on sale for ¥500,000, over $6,000 US. Larger animals are also for sale. A miniature horse is now selling for a jaw-dropping ¥1,680,000, over $20,000 US.

In response to animal rights criticism, NOAH’s owner Kenji Takahashi says that he simply wants to educate and familiarize humans with these uncommon species and “increase the love” that they have for exotic animals. Reminding his critics that he has broken no laws, Takahashi says that the small space in which he houses his animals is no different than the limited space that zoos provide.

Regardless of Takahashi’s spin on his business, the questionable conditions of the pet shop, or “zoo” for visitors willing to pay the $6 admission fee, are hard to overlook. Medium-sized animals are kept in cages so small they can’t move around, while larger animals, like wolves, are tied to small plank pallets. Flightless birds are tethered to their perches. A giant tortoise seems to live free-range on the floor.

Alan Knight, chief executive of the International Animal Rescue, warns that NOAH’s creatures most likely will not live happy lives in or out of the shop. Most exotic animal buyers do not know how to care for their new pets, typically purchasing animals before understanding dietary needs or standards of care. As the animals grow larger or owners tire of them, they often are given up. Still, the sale of wild animals - as typified by NOAH, for huge sums of money - means that more and more people like Takahashi remove these animals from their natural environments, further destabilizing endangered animals’ wild populations. Still, as the demand for wild pets remains stable and protection authorities turn a blind eye, pet shops like NOAH will remain in business.