It is with great sadness that we report that Tongki, the sole remaining captive polar bear in South Korea, died at 6 p.m. on October 17th in Everland theme park in Seoul. He was 24 years old. He died alone in his enclosure just one month before his planned departure for the Yorkshire Wildlife Park in England, where he would have spent his remaining years in a 4-hectare enclosure with 4 other polar bears.
We had been campaigning for Tongki’s release since visiting his enclosure in Everland in the summer of 2017. It was over 30 degrees Celsius, and no water nor adequate shade or method of cooling down was being provided. We could see that Tongki was struggling in the heat.
It had long been a controversy that the space in which Tongki was housed and displayed was too small and ill-equipped to provide him with behavioral enrichment. Everland did not make any of the improvements we constantly requested to create a better environment, such as air conditioning for Tongki to better cope with the hot Korean summers. Tongki was showing stereotyped behavior repeatedly walking and swimming aimlessly back and forth in his enclosure for large parts of the day.
When we visited the display this summer, Everland had been continuing to create events using Tongki. After the decision was made to move him to the wildlife park in the UK, Everland even used that to promote their park.
A few years ago, Arturo, the world’s saddest polar bear, died alone in the Mendoza zoo fighting against the murderous summer heat in Argentina. The Argentinian government promised not to import any more polar bears after his death. The summer heat in South Korea is regularly over 35 degrees Celsius. This kind of heat is too harsh for polar bears as their physiology is suited to an arctic environment. This is why the polar bears should not be imported into South Korea. Tongki had survived this searing heat 24 times.
Zoos are the prisons and tombs of wild animals; anti-life places where we sacrifice them for profit and entertainment. Most animals in zoos suffer from mental illness, repeating stereotyped behavior for the rest of their lives. They are especially inappropriate for wild animals as the abundance, diversity, and range of their natural habitat cannot be recreated. In Tongki’s case, this was demonstrated when Everland decided to transfer him to England.
Finally, Everland should publish the cause of Tongki’s death and reveal the results of his autopsy. Everland should promise not to import any more polar bears. The Korean government should legislate that wild animals, such as polar bears, are inappropriate to display, following Argentina’s lead.