|Visitors to a wild animal cafe in Seoul play with raccoons in this Jan. 29, 2018, photo. Courtesy of AWARE|
The government will ban operation of wild animal cafes where people can see and touch the animals, in a bid to better protect the animals, according to the Ministry of Environment, Friday.
The measure follows criticism that animals at wild animal cafes are stressed from exposure to customers as well as poorly managed hygiene standards.
"There are 159 such cafes nationwide where raccoons, meerkats, prairie dogs as well as various amphibians and reptiles are on display," a ministry official said.
"Exhibiting such wild animals in indoor settings, besides zoos, is undesirable from an ecological point of view and for their welfare, so we are planning to move them to more adequate facilities."
When the relevant revision bill is passed at the National Assembly, wild animal cafes will have to close ― after a grace period of three to four years.
The animals from the facilities will be moved to the National Institute of Ecology in Seocheon County, South Chungcheong Province, and the government plans to build two more protection facilities by 2025 to take care of abandoned or privately-raised wild animals.
Before the opening of the facilities, the ministry plans to operate a temporary protection system in cooperation with 10 wildlife rescue centers across the country.
For raccoons, which are feared to disturb the local ecosystem if abandoned or released into the wild, the ministry said it will also run a pilot project to register the animals.
Also those planning to operate a zoo will have to get permission from the authorities, while the operation so far has required only registration. There are 107 zoos across the country, and for the grace period over the next five years, they will need to get permission to continue operating by meeting requirements for animal protection, hygiene and safety. Those failing to meet them will be forced to shut down.