In December 2023, South Korea amended its animal protection legislation so that many cafes with wild animals will have to close in four years if they have not been registered as zoos or aquaria — with all the extra husbandry requirements associated with it. Animal cafes, where customers can enjoy drinks or food while petting or feeding some animals around the café, have exploded in popularity in the country over the past decade, and although it started with domestic animals many moved to have more exotic wildlife.
Animal rights advocates have been pushing for tighter restrictions on these establishments as animals could be stressed by the customers, may be confined in small spaces, or may be fed the wrong food. Jang Ji-deok, general manager of the Department of Zoological Management at the National Institute of Ecology, said to CNN, “Through physical contact, not only are the animals affected, but it can also affect those who are touching them as well, such as the possibility of zoonotic diseases spreading. Despite this, visitors and trainees continue to (touch) them for the sake of having the full experience.” However, he is concerned about what will happen to the animals if the cafes choose not to become registered zoos. He said, “A lot of raccoon and other animal cafes closed due to Covid-19. The reality is, with these cafes shutting down, a lot of these animals are being abandoned and the places that are supposed to take them in are also closing.”
Before the amendments were passed, it was only illegal to collect or trade endangered species, so wild animals such as raccoons, or domestic animals such as sheep, ended up being part of animal cafes. Now any wild animals will be included, but some activists say the law does not go far enough because cafes with animals classed as “pets” or “livestock” are exempt from the regulations.