Dalseong Park – a sort of kind of zoo

On Sunday I woke up at about half past 12 (midday). I was lying in bed reading about half an hour later when I got a text from a friend. She was bored. I sent her some ideas of things to do and found myself suddenly drawn to the possibility of a Sunday afternoon adventure, even over the temptation of spending the day in bed. A quick check of the usual internet sources revealed at least two parks in Daegu that I hadn’t yet visited. One, Mangu Park, sounds exciting and historical but the one that caught my attention on Sunday was Dalseong Park, just west of Downtown, and it caught my attention largely because it has a zoo.

I know some people dislike zoos but I’m not one of those hippie-liberal-vegetarian-bunny-hugger types who thinks all zoos are cruel. I think zoos can, and often are, be well-funded, state-of-the-art facilities that play a vital role as sanctuaries for rescued animals and breeding centres, particularly for endangered species. This was, unfortunately, not one of those zoos.

The trip to the park was about as eventful as usual. I caught the #403 bus, which I’d discovered while trying to find the Opera House on Thursday, and then switched over downtown to the #939 bus, overshot the Dalseong Park by two or three stops and ended up backtracking about 7 blocks to get to where I wanted to be. Following the signs to the park, I found myself facing a large, solid building through which, according to a large sign right above me, I was supposed to walk for 300 metres. I ignored the sign and headed around the corner to find the Park.

Dalseong is a Park in that it is an open area with neatly-finished lawns and rows of cabbages in pot-plants – don’t get me started on the cabbages. There are, however, two things that distinguish it and make it more interesting than some of the other parks in the area. The first is the Earthen Wall. Surrounding the park-area, there is a raised area that looks like a naturally-occurring hill except that it is a fairly constant height and forms an almost perfect oval with a circumference of roughly 1300m. It is, in fact, the wall of one of the oldest earthen-mound fortresses in Korea. It is assumed that the first walls were built by the villages of the area in the distant, and now largely forgotten past, and subsequent generations and rulers added to, repaired and improved them. One estimated date of construction is 261AD. On one part of this wall stands the Gwanpungnu Pavilion, which was an important site to the history of the administration of the province and a place used by the governor to look out across Daegu and see what was happening downtown during the later part of the Joseon Dynasty.

All this was fascinating to see and made the historian in my particularly happy. The other reason I’d come to the park was to see the animals. It may seem odd to people who have grown up in cities, and perhaps those who have grown up in countries without many large mammals, but the lack of animal life in Korea has been nawing at me. This is one of the reasons I wanted to go to this zoo, which the internet told me had all sorts of animals from elephants to fur seals. I hoped they would be African elephants.

As it turned out, I didn’t see the elephants at all. I must have arrived close to feeding time because all the large animals were agitated – at least I hope that is why – and by the time I reached the elephants’ enclosure, they were nowhere to be seen and the door was closed, I assume for feeding. The same happened with the lions. And the fur seal enclosure had been taken over by a gaggle of white geese. I did see plenty of other animals, though.

The zoo has an odd mixture of creatures. There are lots of birds, including peacocks (blue and white – which I didn’t know existed), pheasants, waterbirds like ducks, ostriches, what looked like some turkeys and a few birds of prey. I felt a bit sorry for the birds of prey because their cages didn’t seem very big. They were beautiful, though, particularly the owls and the vultures.

In a large enclosure with a mossy, empty moat around it, two beautiful Bengal tigers paced and roamed, clearly waiting for something. They really are beautiful, powerful animals. Strange how I often forget how much more fierce and unfriendly their faces are than those of lions. There was also a very lonely and not-particularly-happy looking brown bear, pacing around in circles, all by himself in another large enclosure. He was rather good looking, too.

Near the entrance there were llamas. One of them – a large brown llama was in a pen with a whole bunch of other deer. Another – a pale tan-coloured, slightly smaller animal – was in a separate pen on the other side of the fence. At first, I didn’t even notice the second one. After watching for a bit, however, it became clear that the reason I hadn’t noticed it was because it had been busy trying to find a way to get under the fence at the far side of the pen. Once it gave that up, it raced to find the brown one and the two of them rushed up and down the fence on opposite sides, trying to get through. Amorous llamas.

Although the bear looked a little miserable and the llamas would clearly have been happier on the same side of the fence, I think all of these animals were probably okay. Or at least, far, far better off than some of the others. In front of a glassed-in (perspex-ed-in?) cage the size of a large room, with a few branches and bits of rope, was a sign indicating that this was the chimpanzee enclosure. I couldn’t help thinking of the huge chimp enclosure at Monkey Town in Somerset West. Perhaps I am just more sensitive to big apes, having grown up in Africa, but that enclosure made me feel genuinely miserable. I didn’t actually see a chimp, so maybe it is mercifully empty. As I said, some of the other animals looked fine but things like this make me wish that someone would close the place down. The zebras were also penned into a rather small area. When I close my eyes, I can picture zebra running across the veld. It was strange and a little unsettling to see them in so small a space, although the two of them seemed perfectly active and interacted with many of the people who walked by.
Not very far away was a sight that made me even more angry and sad and definitely makes me think that this ‘zoo’ should be closed down. In a tiny, glassed-in cage, about the size of a single university res room, pacing up and down in what looked like anguish, was a beautiful big cat which I initially thought was a leopard but the information board informed me was an amazon jaguar. It was exquisite: thick, rich fur, huge feet, wide eyes. It paced backwards and forwards in this tiny space, muscles taught, eyes searching and my heart went out to it. I wanted to stand there and watch it all day or find a way to free it, or simply talk to it, get its attention. A few cages along were two timber wolves, the larger also pacing backwards and forwards. I hope that what was actually going on was that they were about to be fed, and not that this pacing is what they do all day long. Either way, the cages these beautiful animals were in were way, way too small. It’s hard to imagine a country where people don’t object to this kind of thing. It’s not even as if the motive is minimizing costs in order to increase profit – the zoo and park are free and open to the public.

The conditions in which the jaguar, wolves and possibly chimps were kept marred my experience of Dalseong park. My feeling is that someone should do something to limit the number of animals they can keep so that each is able to live in appropriate surroundings. The rest of the park was interesting and it was great to see animals, but I wish they didn’t feel the need to spoil it by doing things like that.

One thought on “Dalseong Park – a sort of kind of zoo

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