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From lion-ripped jeans to scan images of dolphins’ bone marrow, zoos and aquariums in Japan are offering unique gifts in return for donations sought to keep them running in defiance of the novel coronavirus crisis.

Such facilities, suffering from a sharp drop in visitors amid the pandemic, are starting crowdfunding campaigns to solicit donations.

North Safari Sapporo, located in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, which is popular for allowing visitors to interact with its animals, saw the number of visitors decline by a third after the virus began to spread.

The zoo launched a crowdfunding program in May last year to raise funds to cover part of its operating costs, which total more than ¥100 million annually.

As a rare thank-you gift, the zoo had decided to create distressed jeans torn by lions, taking the idea from bear-ripped jeans popular in the United States.

It wasn’t easy, however.

When given jeans that smelled of meat, the lions became overexcited and tore them apart until they became shorts.

After much trial and error, the zoo was finally able to produce near-perfect lion-ripped jeans as thank-you gifts by hanging the jeans in the lions’ cage and having the denim trousers ripped by the carnivores.

The jeans were offered in return for a donation of as much as ¥70,000, but more than 30 people offered to give donations for the novel item.

With other return gifts also proving popular, North Safari Sapporo collected some 60% more than its target of ¥25 million in just over a month.

Inspired by North Safari Sapporo, Oita Marine Palace Aquarium in the southwestern city of Oita began offering rare thank-you gifts, such as shark teeth and computed tomography images of the bone marrow of dolphins suffering infectious diseases.

River otter pawprints are the most popular gift item at the facility.

“When the river otter is in a good mood, it lets us take about five pawprints a day,” Makio Yanagisawa, the 48-year-old leader of the aquarium’s beast section, said. “But on a bad day, it doesn’t let us take any.”

Also popular are T-shirts with penguin footprints. “Each of them has its own distinctive charm, so I’d like to wear it myself,” Yanagisawa said.

The unique T-shirts are made by having penguins with ink put on the bottoms of their feet walk over the clothing.

In addition to financial donations, zoos and aquariums have also received supportive and thank-you messages, and other items.

North Safari Sapporo has received bananas, apples and pork as feed for its animals from a local supermarket and other donors.

Gunma Safari Park in the city of Tomioka, Gunma Prefecture, whose thank-you gifts include ostrich eggs, has received more than 3,000 comments and letters from donors and fans.

One fan commented: “I have fond childhood memories of visiting (Gunma Safari Park) on a family trip. I wish you good luck!”

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