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The Seoul Zoo and its link to ancient history

Looking out at the world
Looking out at the world
Michael Rosenfield

A Zoo’s Dark History
The Seoul Zoo has dark ties to Korea’s ancient history. Originally, the zoo was built on top of the Changgyeongung Palace grounds (one of Korea’s most sacred lands). King Sejong used the land to construct a palace for his father, King Taejong. History honors King Sejong for having initiated the widespread use of Hangul (the Korean alphabet) in Korea. Later, he received the distinguished title, King Sejong the Great. Over the centuries, the palace was enlarged and rebuilt after subsequent fires and invasions. An unsuccessful Japanese invasion in 1598 led to the palace burning down; then in 1616 it was rebuilt. Centuries later, the Japanese launched another, more successful, invasion leading to the annexation of Korea in the 1905 Treaty of Eulsa. To quash any remaining national pride, the Japanese constructed a zoo on the palace grounds. The zoo opened in 1909 and included a botanical garden. Near the end of WWII, an economically devastated Japan was too ill equipped to care for the zoo and ordered its animals poisoned. Then in 1945, the Japanese were ordered out of Korea. What’s surprising is, many of the animals had survived, and were cared for by Korean zoologists. Korea maintained the zoo until a relocation plan was carried out. Then in 1983, the zoo was removed from the palace grounds and relocated in Mokgyedong, Gwacheon, which opened the following year.

Forever guarding the zoo's entrance
Michael Rosenfield

Today’s Seoul Zoo
Presently, Seoul Zoo is the tenth largest zoo in the world and hosts year-round events. Forever guarding its entrance is colorful mammoth sculpture of a tiger surrounded by flower gardens. The zoo is home to over 3400 animals representing 360 species, and 1300 species of plants including 200 species of roses in the Rose Garden. Encircling and intertwining the zoo are numerous captivating nature paths (several kilometers) lined with exhibits, flowers and other attractions. The zoo is divided into various theme areas based on natural species locations, specie types, and natural habitats. Stairways and observation platforms (Pavilions) were constructed to allow viewers excellent sights. There is an Ape Pavilion, Large Herbivore Pavilion, Austrian Pavilion, Two African Pavilions and an “Insectorium”; each of which provide guests with excellent views. The “Africa Adventure” exhibit includes a group of giraffes, a family of hippos, hyenas and elephants. The cat exhibit is home to several species of tigers, leopards, and cheetahs. The zoo also hosts what seems to be an unusually large variety and number of primates (monkeys) and wolves. There is also a marine exhibit that host’s sea lions, seals, penguins and dolphins. A three-story domed greenhouse is home to monkeys on one side and reptiles on the other. Exotic plants decorate the interior. Kids can get a close up hands-on petting experience in the Children’s zoo. I couldn’t experience everything the zoo had to offer in just one day. So, if you have the time, plan for a couple of days exploring the park.

Conveniences and features
Guest conveniences include a “zoo pharmacy”, tram, sky ride, food court, KFC, Dunkin Donuts, restrooms, convenience stores, a pharmacy, ice cream stands, caricature drawing station, and souvenir shops. There is also a 3-D adventure ride and a rose garden with over 20,000 flowers.

My review
Seoul Zoo is one of the city’s most amazing attractions. It’s an affordable vast wonder. The zoo’s unusual beginnings only add to its wonder and awe. My only dissenting thoughts include: (1) the marine exhibits for sea lions seem to small and in a state of disrepair. It looks as if several of the marine mammals are in a state of profound depression. A paint job is badly needed; (2) the primate exhibits seem small and have an unnecessary and over cumbersome amount of wire caging them in. Hopefully zoo officials will look into and solve the issues.

Location and fees
The zoo is about 7 miles south of the Han River and can be reached on the light blue subway line #4, exiting at Soul Grand Park station near the Seoul Racecourse. The zoo is part of a super park that also contains Seoul Land and the Contemporary Museum of Art. The entrance fee is 3000 won (about $2.80) an amazing value for what you get to experience! The sky ride and tram require additional fees (a great value if you’re not interested in walking several miles, or if you’d just like to get an excellent overview of the entire park).


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