Gavin Hudson wrote an interesting and somewhat poetic article about the plight of tigers in Korea.
It’s been decades since anyone has seen a tiger in South Korea. The final tiger was captured either in 1922 or in 1944 on the southern tip of the peninsula, depending on whom you ask. But in some places, their ghosts still cast shadows across the landscape. Ribbons of morning mist cut into deep valleys, setting apart the dark mountain ridges one after another like black stripes across the skin of the land; bears, the tiger’s partner in Korea’s creation myth, still wander in some mountains; and autumn’s tawny, dappled hillsides make it especially easy–and slightly unsettling–to imagine the tiger’s presence.
Of course the article I did on the Korean tiger a couple of years ago wasn’t quite so poetic and romantic, but did perhaps explain why it is “slightly unsettling to imagine the tiger’s presence.” According to an old Chinese saying: “The Korean hunts the tiger six months in the year and the tiger hunts the Korean the other six months.” The Korean tiger was said to be extremely smart and endowed with supernatural abilities:
The tiger was alleged to be able to cry out like a human and lure his victims out into the open where he would quickly kill them and drag them away, leaving nothing more than a pool of blood and tattered clothing. Failing to lure his victims out into the open, he often forced his way into the homes, either through a door or the weak thatched-roof, carrying away young screaming children and devouring them in the safety of the forest.
Despite the tigers’ horrible toll on Koreans and their livestock in the past, modern Koreans are still trying to protect these great beasts. In 1999, Nang-rim, a North Korean tiger, was brought to South Korea as a good-will gesture and attempt to help preserve the species. Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk, the stem cell scientist with a somewhat colorful past, promised to clone Nang-rim. “I’ll spread the Korean people’s spirit by cloning the Mount Paektu tiger,” declared Hwang. Despite his efforts, the plight of the Korean tiger is still dire – even in captivity.
Zoos, often touted as sanctuaries for perserving endangered species, are, sadly enough, often nothing more than venues for our entertainment. While there have been a lot of improvements over the years, these zoos are often dangerous to man and beasts. According to the East Windup Chronicle Blog, patrons watched in horror as a lion savagely killed a tiger in a Korean zoo last December. The Korean newspapers here and here give some pretty gory pictures of the poor tiger after it strayed into the lion’s enclosure.
The lion may have won in South Korea, but in North Korea he would have found himself on his back and fighting for his life. According to our resident fishing guide and outdoors man, James Card, the tigers, and for that matter, the other endangered animals, in North Korean zoos are pitted against one another, at least in the past, in an effort to raise money. Card describes the encounter between the tiger and the lion:
…a lioness and a tiger are trapped in what appears to be a zoo cage. The background is of iron bars and fake rocks made of poured concrete. The animals growl. Though there is no explanation of why the two are poised to fight, it is assumed the battle is between two territorial animals being forced to share a small cage. The two tear into each other, with the lioness often fighting from her back…From this brief scene, the narrator posits that the lioness is cowardly and the tiger is the more powerful of these alpha-predators, hinting at animistic nationalism, in the sense that “our native beast is stronger than the foreign beast”.
You can rest the rest of Card’s article here.