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Feelings of Zoophoria

Local zoos increase visitors’ interaction with animals for more hands-on experience

“So, we are now going to take pictures with a snake. It doesn’t bite and it’s not scary at all!” Kim Dong-ok, a zookeeper at Seoul Children’s Grand Park Zoo, said Monday morning in a classroom inside the tropical animal zone.

She was talking to about 50 children from a nearby kindergarten who had come to the park and zoo on a field trip.

Slightly anxious and excited, the children let Kim wrap a Burmese python around their necks. While even some teachers, evidently scared, refused the animal, many of the children soon enjoyed having the reptile so close. Some stroked it and observed the yellow pattern on its body. 
A girl holds a snake at a class for familiarizing people with animals at Children’s Grand Park Zoo in Seoul on Monday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
A girl holds a snake at a class for familiarizing people with animals at Children’s Grand Park Zoo in Seoul on Monday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

“Well, I cannot say it feels very good, but it’s so surprising!” a boy giggled as he tried to grab the snake’s tail. The students also had a chance to take pictures and touch a rabbit, a cockatiel, turtles and a squirrel monkey.

“The children overall took it very nicely. They were enjoying it,” Kim said.

Zoos are becoming places of greater interaction between people and animals. Instead of locking animals behind bars and just watching them, there are many ways for people to enjoy “friendship” with the creatures. More people are visiting zoos as a way to not only pass the time but learn about animals and gain a sense of fulfillment.

During April and May, when cherry blossoms peak and the weather is mild, tens of thousands of people visit zoos. About 250,000 people had visited the Seoul Children’s Grand Park Zoo ― which has 4,100 animals of 95 species ― on April 20 and the number is expected to peak on May 5, Children’s Day.

Instead of just letting people watch animals in cages, the zoo offers a number of programs to familiarize the visitors with the animals. Classes where children can pet animals are held twice a day, while mothers can bring their children and befriend the residents of the zoo. Volunteers ― usually retired zoologists or vets ― guide the visitors with background stories and details about each animal. 
Visitors at the zoo observe a goat. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
Visitors at the zoo observe a goat. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

“If you understand the characteristics of an animal ― for example, how they survive in a harsh environment and how they manage to fool their natural enemies ― you have double the fun! The zoo is full of wonders and great things for all people,” said Kim Hak-jo, a former veterinarian and volunteer at the zoo.

Also, targeting children, on tags in front of the fence and hutch are pictures and simple explanations about the animals.

Many animal rights activists oppose the idea of zoos, arguing that keeping creatures secluded from their natural habitat and locking them in a cage for the enjoyment of humans is inhumane.

Reflecting such views, zoos are trying to improve the welfare of the animals.

“Animals in the zoo nowadays are mostly born and bred within the zoo rather than being captured in the wild. We are also prioritizing animal welfare,” said Cho Kyung-uk, manager of the park’s zoological department. She said from feeding the animals ― instead of feeding them directly, the managers hide the food so that the animals can sniff to find their prey ― to creating sand and sawdust floors were all in line with the welfare policy.

Zoos around Korea

- Seoul Zoo

Hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m., March-October; 9 a.m.-6 p.m.,

November-February; 9 a.m.-10 p.m., July 21-Aug. 26.

Admission: 1,000 won-3,000 won. Free for children under 5

(02) 500-7335 / grandpark.seoul.go.kr

- Everland

Hours: 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. on weekends, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekdays for Zootopia.

10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on weekends for safari tours.

Admission: 25,000 won-40,000 won, which includes Everland admission.

(031) 320-5000 / www.everland.com

- Daegu Dalseong Park Zoo

Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. in March, April, September and October; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. from May through August and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. from November through February.

(053) 554-7907 / www.daegu.go.kr/DalseongPark

- Incheon Park Children’s Zoo

Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday; closed on Monday.

(032) 466-0375 / grandpark.incheon.go.kr/icweb

- Uchi Park Zoo in Gwangju

Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

Admission: 400 won-1,500 won.

(062) 613-5860~5 / uchipark.gwangju.go.kr

- Cheongju Land Zoo

Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.

Admission: 400 won -1,000 won

(043) 200-4705 / cjuland.cjcity.net

- Daejeon O-World Zoo

Hours: 10 a.m.-5:50 p.m. in March, April; 10 a.m.-6:50 p.m. in May, June; 10 a.m.-9:50 p.m. in July, August; 10 a.m.-8:50 p.m. in September; 10 a.m.-7:50 p.m. in October; 10 a.m.-4:50 p.m. in November and December.

Admission: 3,000 won-20,000 won.

(042) 580-4820 / www.oworld.kr

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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