The Korean Government has announced that it will ban all wild animal displays. Zoos must also now obtain a permit in order to commence activities, where before only business registration was required.
Wild animal cafes, such as raccoon, meerkat, and sheep cafes remain hugely popular tourist attractions, despite growing concerns about animal welfare. The 2018 amendment to Korea’s Animal Protection Act demanded that pet shops and other domestic animal establishments meet minimum staffing and hygiene standards, but this rule did not apply to wild animal cafes1.
The wild animal cafe ban is scheduled to come into effect on Friday 21st January. The animals will be rehomed at the National Institute of Ecology, in South Chungcheong. What’s more, the government has committed to building 2 additional facilities by 20252.
When I first came to Korea, I was mesmerized by animal cafes. In my home country, the closest thing we had was dog-friendly cafes and restaurants…a *good* thing in hindsight. I was naive as to the dark reality of these “animal paradises.” There’s a reason why we keep dogs, and not kangaroos. All I saw was the fluffy raccoon that would sit in my lap on command. What I didn’t see was malnourishment, poor hygiene, and inhumane living spaces. These terms of course could describe zoos, pet shops, and meat and dairy farms across the globe. But I digress…
I am ashamed that I ever thought of wild animal cafes as anything other than a cruel animal prison. Furthermore, visitors themselves are at risk from injury, as well as contracting diseases from handling the animals. What is even more alarming, is that these are places that we eat and drink in, as well as bring young children to. It is astonishing that these so-called “cafes” were not outlawed sooner. As for the new zoo permit requirement, it will be interesting to see how much zoos will need to change in order to acquire the permit.
Animal Welfare in Korea
Korea still has a long way to go on the animal rights front. While there are various organizations tackling the dog meat trade and stray animal crisis, there is little to no legislation against animal cruelty. Both stray animals and domestic pets remain at the mercy of their human neighbours, without a paw to stand on when they encounter trouble.
Animal abuse cases are rarely investigated in Korea, despite outcry from animal rights groups. Last year, the ‘Daejeon Cat Killer’ made headlines, after over 1000 cats were murdered by just one man, who is yet to face any legal action3.
Zoos and pet shops are another problem. However, Korea is not the only country yet to properly regulate private animal ownership. These days it is normal to see old Korean men or ‘ah-jeo-ssi’s doting on their small dogs as if they were children. Conversely, the 2000 strong population of wild dogs on Jeju Island has spurred talks of permitting hunting of the animal. Of course, hunting domestic dogs would be unthinkable for most of us, but abandonment, neglect, and lack of neutering have made these dogs apex predators. They now pose serious danger to farm animals, wildlife, and civilians4.
Hopefully, this ban will mark the final blow against these cruel establishments. What comes next? In this writer’s opinion, all animal cafes and zoos should be banned. However, I recognize that huge changes like this are unlikely to occur in the next 5 years. Therefore, I hope to see stricter regulations of non-wild animal cafes and zoos, additional funding into animal rights organizations, and legal consequences for animal abuse, in all forms.
Animal Cafes Done Right?
To get your furry-friend-fix without the expense of animal welfare, take a look at these establishments that I personally recommend!
Cat Lover Garden Address: 18 Gaehwadong-ro 19-gil, Gangseo-gu, Seoul Operating Hours: 11:00am - 1:00am weekdays, 10:30am - Sat, 10:30am - 9:00pm Sun Directions: Take bus no. 3000 to Gaehwa Station Exit 1.Gaehwa Checkpoint stop. Walk back in the direction from which you came, turning left after the landscape/garden shops. Turn right and the Cat Lover Garden will be on your left.
Yeonnamdong Cat Cafe Address: Floor 3 15 Yanghwa-ro 21-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul Operating Hours: 3:00pm - 10:00pm Tues, Wed, Fri - Sun; 12:30pm - Mon, Thurs Directions: Hongdae Station (Subway Line 2, Gyeongui Jungang, Airport Railroad) Exit 3.
Gyeoul's House Cafe Address: 19-5 Wausan-ro 17-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul Operating Hours: 1:00pm - 10:00pm everyday Directions: Sangsu Station (Subway Line 6) Exit 1. Take the first right and then go left around the bend. Walk straight for 3 min until you reach the parking lot at the end of the road. Turn right again and veer left at the fork. Keep straight again until you reach Gyeoul's House Cafe on your right.
** Please note that my recommendations are based on my experience during in-person visits and general inspection of the animals, their behaviour, and environment. I am not affiliated with any certification bureaus and I am not an animal specialist or veterinary professional.