The Korea Herald

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Korea bans cafes exhibiting exotic animals

By Lee Jaeeun

Published : Dec. 14, 2023 - 14:59

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Raccoons are perched on a ledge inside Raccoon Cafe. (Raccoon Cafe) Raccoons are perched on a ledge inside Raccoon Cafe. (Raccoon Cafe)

A ban on the operation of exotic animal cafes, where people can see, touch and interact with the animals, begins Thursday, according to the Ministry of Environment.

Under the amendment to the Wildlife Protection and Management Act approved at a Cabinet meeting on Dec. 5, beginning Thursday it is illegal to exhibit "wild animals" in facilities not registered as zoos or aquariums, in a bid to protect the animals better.

Owners of such animal cafes should either reregister their establishments as zoos or aquariums or cease operations. They will need to reregister and get permission by meeting requirements for animal protection, hygiene and safety.

Also, the amendment bans facility visitors from touching the animals, feeding the animals or climbing on top of the animals.

The government has decided to implement a four-year grace period extending to Dec. 13, 2027, during which time animal cafes for "wild animals," as the law describes, are technically allowed to operate without facing penalties. However, authorities noted that touching the animals, feeding the animals or climbing on them are immediately banned from Thursday. Violations will be subject to a fine of 1.5 million won ($1,160) per infraction, with a maximum fine of 5 million won.

Exotic animal cafes, where visitors can interact with animals such as raccoons, arctic foxes, capybaras, wallabies and meerkats, have become increasingly popular in Korea in recent years. The measures come as criticism has grown that the animals experience distressed due to exposure to customers and suffer from poor management.

The list of animals banned from being exhibited at cafes includes all mammals and birds. However, it does not include companion animals, such as dogs, cats, parrots and rabbits, or livestock such as cows, horses and goats.