Life's no hoot for owls in Tokyo cafes, activists say

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Owl cafes in Tokyo, Japan may be mistreating birds
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Owl cafes in Tokyo, Japan may be mistreating birds
An owl is pictured at an owl cafe in Tokyo, Japan, January 27, 2017. Picture taken January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
TOKYO, JAPAN - APRIL 27: A woman gives snowy owls a drink in an Owl Cafe, the Forest of Owl, in Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan on April 27, 2016. The Owl-Cafe phenomenon grew up in Tokyo through exoticism and originality that attracts birds enthusiasts and tourists during their stay in the capital. (Photo by David MAREUIL/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 23: Three different species of owls are seen at Tori-no Iru Cafe on February 23, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Located in Kiba, Tokyo, Tori-no Iru (Birds Cafe) is a cafe where people can get up close and interact with some exotic birds. Japan has an increasing number of pet cafes, where people can enjoy petting some live exotic animals while they eat and drink. (Photo by Keith Tsuji/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - APRIL 27: Snowy owls are seen in an Owl Cafe, the Forest of Owl, in Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan on April 27, 2016. The Owl-Cafe phenomenon grew up in Tokyo through exoticism and originality that attracts birds enthusiasts and tourists during their stay in the capital. (Photo by David MAREUIL/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - APRIL 27: Tawny-owls sit in an Owl Cafe, the Akiba Owls, in Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan on April 27, 2016. The Owl-Cafe phenomenon grew up in Tokyo through exoticism and originality that attracts birds enthusiasts and tourists during their stay in the capital. (Photo by David MAREUIL/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - APRIL 27: Tawny-owls sit in an Owl Cafe, the Akiba Owls, in Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan on April 27, 2016. The Owl-Cafe phenomenon grew up in Tokyo through exoticism and originality that attracts birds enthusiasts and tourists during their stay in the capital. (Photo by David MAREUIL/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - APRIL 27: A scop owl is carried on a hand in an Owl Cafe, the Forest of Owl, in Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan on April 27, 2016. The Owl-Cafe phenomenon grew up in Tokyo through exoticism and originality that attracts birds enthusiasts and tourists during their stay in the capital. (Photo by David MAREUIL/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - APRIL 27: A woman takes a selfie with a white-faced owl on her shoulder in an Owl Cafe, the Forest of Owl, in Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan on April 27, 2016. The Owl-Cafe phenomenon grew up in Tokyo through exoticism and originality that attracts birds enthusiasts and tourists during their stay in the capital. (Photo by David MAREUIL/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - APRIL 27: Tawny-owls sit in an Owl Cafe, the Akiba Owls, in Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan on April 27, 2016. The Owl-Cafe phenomenon grew up in Tokyo through exoticism and originality that attracts birds enthusiasts and tourists during their stay in the capital. (Photo by David MAREUIL/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - APRIL 27: An barn owl is carried on a fur-lined glove in an Owl Cafe, the Forest of Owl, in Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan on April 27, 2016. The Owl-Cafe phenomenom grew up in Tokyo through exoticism and originality that attracts birds enthusiasts and tourists during their stay in the capital. (Photo by David MAREUIL/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 23: Three different species of owls sit on display at Tori-no Iru Cafe on February 23, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Located in Kiba, Tokyo, Tori-no Iru (Birds Cafe) is a cafe where people can get up close and interact with some exotic birds. Japan has an increasing number of pet cafes, where people can enjoy petting some live exotic animals while they eat and drink. (Photo by Keith Tsuji/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 23: An owl sits on display at Tori-no Iru Cafe on February 23, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Located in Kiba, Tokyo, Tori-no Iru (Birds Cafe) is a cafe where people can get up close and interact with some exotic birds. Japan has an increasing number of pet cafes, where people can enjoy petting some live exotic animals while they eat and drink. (Photo by Keith Tsuji/Getty Images)
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TOKYO, March 2 (Reuters) - Owls fluff up their feathers and preen beneath the stroking fingers of customers at Owl Village, one of many cafes dedicated to the birds, seen as a symbol of good luck in Japan, that have sprung up amid a boom in animal cafes.

But behind the squeals of delighted children in a cafe that is fully booked most days lurks a darker story of careless treatment that may endanger the nocturnal birds, activists say.

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Just disrupting their natural sleep cycles, and tying their feet to perches, as many cafes do, can constitute animal abuse, said Chihiro Okada, of the Animal Rights Centre in the Japanese capital.

"When they think of animal abuse, people think of kicking or hitting animals, but it isn't limited to that," Okada added.

"Confining an animal to a small space is certainly a form of abuse. Showing them off like products is also a stressful situation. They can't move and drink freely."

Cafes in Japan that spotlight animals from cats and goats to hawks and hedgehogs have become a tourist draw. But many have also been criticized over the animals' treatment, prompting curbs on working hours for cat cafes, for example.

For owls, as birds of prey accustomed to ranging far and wide in their nightly hunts, conditions are especially difficult. Their keen hearing and vision make it difficult to adjust to the brightness and noise of crowded cafes.

As a result, many can develop neurotic behavior, such as pulling at their feathers, pacing and rocking back and forth, activists say.

But the problem seems unlikely to be resolved soon, as cafes with lax attitudes have surged in recent years.

"We were particularly shocked to learn that seven owls died in one year at an owl cafe," Okada said.

Owl Village manager Aya Matsuda said she tried to keep the birds free of stress with frequent breaks and by ensuring staff helped guide their interactions with customers.

"In our cafe staff are able to enter the owl room with customers and explain how to play with them, and when the owls look tired, they can rest," she said.

A properly managed shop that puts the birds first should pose no problems, said veterinarian Nobumoto Izawa.

"Most importantly, we need to make sure the birds are happy and not stressed," the avian specialist added.

Related: See inside Tokyo's hedgehog cafes:

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Tokyo hedgehog cafe
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Tokyo hedgehog cafe
Hedgehogs sit in a glass enclosure at the Harry hedgehog cafe in Tokyo, Japan, April 5, 2016. In a new animal-themed cafe, 20 to 30 hedgehogs of different breeds scrabble and snooze in glass tanks in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district. Customers have been queuing to play with the prickly mammals, which have long been sold in Japan as pets. The cafe's name Harry alludes to the Japanese word for hedgehog, harinezumi. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
A staff member (L) takes a hedgehog from a glass enclosure at the Harry hedgehog cafe in Tokyo, Japan, April 5, 2016. In a new animal-themed cafe, 20 to 30 hedgehogs of different breeds scrabble and snooze in glass tanks in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district. Customers have been queuing to play with the prickly mammals, which have long been sold in Japan as pets. The cafe's name Harry alludes to the Japanese word for hedgehog, harinezumi. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
A board shows a selection of hedgehogs for sale at the Harry hedgehog cafe in Tokyo, Japan, April 5, 2016. In a new animal-themed cafe, 20 to 30 hedgehogs of different breeds scrabble and snooze in glass tanks in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district. Customers have been queuing to play with the prickly mammals, which have long been sold in Japan as pets. The cafe's name Harry alludes to the Japanese word for hedgehog, harinezumi. Prices are shown in yen. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
A hedgehog walks next to a mobile phone with a hedgehog cover at the Harry hedgehog cafe in Tokyo, Japan, April 5, 2016. In a new animal-themed cafe, 20 to 30 hedgehogs of different breeds scrabble and snooze in glass tanks in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district. Customers have been queuing to play with the prickly mammals, which have long been sold in Japan as pets. The cafe's name Harry alludes to the Japanese word for hedgehog, harinezumi. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
A woman holds a hedgehog at the Harry hedgehog cafe in Tokyo, Japan, April 5, 2016. In a new animal-themed cafe, 20 to 30 hedgehogs of different breeds scrabble and snooze in glass tanks in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district. Customers have been queuing to play with the prickly mammals, which have long been sold in Japan as pets. The cafe's name Harry alludes to the Japanese word for hedgehog, harinezumi. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Hedgehogs sit in a glass enclosure at the Harry hedgehog cafe in Tokyo, Japan, April 5, 2016. In a new animal-themed cafe, 20 to 30 hedgehogs of different breeds scrabble and snooze in glass tanks in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district. Customers have been queuing to play with the prickly mammals, which have long been sold in Japan as pets. The cafe's name Harry alludes to the Japanese word for hedgehog, harinezumi. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
A hedgehog stands up in a glass enclosure at the Harry hedgehog cafe in Tokyo, Japan, April 5, 2016. In a new animal-themed cafe, 20 to 30 hedgehogs of different breeds scrabble and snooze in glass tanks in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district. Customers have been queuing to play with the prickly mammals, which have long been sold in Japan as pets. The cafe's name Harry alludes to the Japanese word for hedgehog, harinezumi. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
A woman holds a hedgehog at the Harry hedgehog cafe in Tokyo, Japan, April 5, 2016. In a new animal-themed cafe, 20 to 30 hedgehogs of different breeds scrabble and snooze in glass tanks in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district. Customers have been queuing to play with the prickly mammals, which have long been sold in Japan as pets. The cafe's name Harry alludes to the Japanese word for hedgehog, harinezumi. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
A woman holds a hedgehog at the Harry hedgehog cafe in Tokyo, Japan, April 5, 2016. In a new animal-themed cafe, 20 to 30 hedgehogs of different breeds scrabble and snooze in glass tanks in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district. Customers have been queuing to play with the prickly mammals, which have long been sold in Japan as pets. The cafe's name Harry alludes to the Japanese word for hedgehog, harinezumi. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
A hedgehog sits in a glass enclosure at the Harry hedgehog cafe in Tokyo, Japan, April 5, 2016. In a new animal-themed cafe, 20 to 30 hedgehogs of different breeds scrabble and snooze in glass tanks in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district. Customers have been queuing to play with the prickly mammals, which have long been sold in Japan as pets. The cafe's name Harry alludes to the Japanese word for hedgehog, harinezumi. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
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