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“The animals at these squirrel gardens are mostly non-native species,” says John Koprowski, a professor of wildlife and conservation management at the University of Arizona and a noted squirrel expert. Koprowski, who visited several of the gardens during a sabbatical in Japan, says the species you’re most likely to encounter are the Pallas squirrel (a native to Southeast Asia) and Siberian chipmunk (native only to Hokkiado, the northernmost Japanese island). Over at Inokashira Park Zoo in Tokyo, which has a captive breeding and conservation program, you can walk through an enclosure of native Japanese squirrels.
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Tourist destinations spotlighting cute animals aren’t totally new, though. In Japan alone, you can find bunny cafes, bird cafes, cat cafes, and even a couple of reptile cafes. The cat cafe trend hit the states a few years ago with Cat Town Café in Oakland, California—rivaled only by Amsterdam’s The Catboat, the world’s only floating animal sanctuary.