In Memory of Namgeuk, the Daejeon O-world Polar Bear


Namgeuk, the polar bear who had resided at O-world in Daejeon for 15 years, passed away last January. According to O-world, Namgeuk died of pancreatic cancer. She was 33 years old.

Discovered during the Tongki investigation at Everland, O-world had concealed her death from the media and animal rights organizations, only reporting this tragedy to the Ministry of Environment.

Exhibition of captive polar bears is controversial, especially in tropical and sub-tropical climates, and considered animal abuse by some.

To start with, it is never possible to provide enough space for polar bears who may walk 30km or more in a single day in the wild, and have ranges covering many tens of thousands of square kilometers. However, there are many ways to make their situation better.

First and foremost, of course, is the adequate education of zookeepers and wildlife park managers, something that has not been evident during our investigations.

Other inexpensive improvements would include soil, wood-shaving, or bark floors in their enclosures, matting soaked with cold water, showers with motion detectors that switch on when the polar bears walk underneath, and frozen food encased in ice that they can chew on.

Slightly more expensive measures might be air conditioned sanctums to escape the heat, cooled pools, partially covered enclosures (with perhaps solar panels on the roof), and cold waterfalls using recirculated water.

Many zoos, however, claim that even the cheaper improvements are too expensive, particularly after the cost of building the enclosure in the first place.

O-world had concealed the the death of Namgeuk for 6 months, and might have concealed it forever if it were not for the Tongki investigation. This demonstrates that O-world knew the circumstances of Namgeuk’s death would prompt difficult and embarrassing questions, and expose the ignorance of zoos regarding the welfare of the animals in their care.

The rest of the developed world is waking up and banning the captivity and display of large mammals, and polar bears in particular. If South Korea wants to consider itself an advanced and developed country, the government has to get serious about animal rights and welfare. What better place to start than those animals held captive for our entertainment?

We were deeply saddened by the death of Namgeuk, who died alone in her enclosure at O-world after suffering for 15 years in a climate for which she was not adapted. Her legacy is our continued fight for Tongki, and all the other large mammals, held captive in South Korea.

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