Animals are big business in Japan — at least, cute ones are. According to an estimate from Kansai University, Xiang Xiang, the new panda cub at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo, has the potential to boost the Tokyo-area economy by ¥26.7 billion over a year. However, not all zoo animals receive the care and attention lavished on the tiny piebald bear.

Japanese zoos run the gamut. While there are some world-class facilities, comfort for the creatures seems to be severely lacking at many establishments. It isn't unusual to find negative comments on travel websites from international visitors dismayed at cramped enclosures and their listless occupants.

Toshio Tsubota is a professor at Hokkaido University's Laboratory of Wildlife Biology and Medicine, the first university lab in Japan to specialize in wild animals.