SEOUL, March 9 (Korea Bizwire) — With the growing coronavirus outbreak, there are growing concerns over common infectious diseases.
Amid the spiraling concern of viral infections, there is anxiety that cafes that display or allow customers to touch wild animals are in a regulatory blind spot.
According to a report released Sunday by AWARE (Animal Welfare Awareness, Research and Education), there were 64 wild animal cafes operated in the country as of the end of July last year. The figure has doubled in two years from 35 in 2017.
Wildlife cafes operate in the form of breeding and exhibiting wild animals in cafes, allowing visitors to touch or feed the animals themselves.
Raccoons, meerkats, rare breeds of cats and raccoon dogs, which are often hard to see in Korea, started to gain popularity in the mid-2010s.
The problem is that related laws are not in place, so the health and epidemiological management of exhibited animals in wildlife cafes is lax.
According to the zoo and aquarium law, facilities that hold and exhibit more than 10 species or 50 animals are designated as zoos.
In this case, facilities should be registered with the Ministry of Environment and the operation management data have to be submitted once a year.
However, many of the wildlife cafes are smaller than the current legal regulations and therefore are not eligible for registration. Even if they must be registered, one only needs to submit required paperwork, leading to loose regulations.
Other related laws, such as the wildlife protection and management law, allow the exhibition of ordinary wild animals without facility registration unless they are international endangered species.
Currently, it is not clear where the animals on display at the wildlife cafes have been raised or bred, in what circumstances they were imported, and whether they have been vaccinated properly.
Experts warn that if wild animals hold pathogens and come into contact with an unspecified number of visitors at cafes there is a possibility of common infectious diseases spreading. In fact, such a scenario is highly likely.
“The quarantine system in Korea is mostly centered on disease prevention for livestock and agriculture, thus quarantine is not properly conducted for wild animals imported for display,” said Lee Hang, a veterinary professor at Seoul National University.
He then pointed out that “even if there are no cases yet of common infectious diseases outbreaking from animals at the wildlife cafe, the virus may cause a new mutation.”
The National Assembly has proposed a revision to the law that bans the display of wild animals in places other than zoos, and strengthens the registration system to allow greater management of large-scale wild animal cafes, but it is still pending.
D. M. Park (firstname.lastname@example.org)