According to a survey in the report on reasons for visiting the zoo, only 10 percent of visitors said they came to see the animals, 36 percent said they came for a family outing and others said they were on a date or were just taking a break.
I can't vouch for any of these changes or the quality of Seoul's zoos. You can find some reviews of Korean zoos here, with generally poor comments. My visits to animal exhibits in Korea have been pretty bad; the polar bears at Grand Children's Park had green-tinted fur from the water, and the animals were crowded into tiny spaces. I wrote about a trip to a travelling zoo in Mokpo where people were picking up, and some were throwing, the tortoises, and poking the monkeys (not a euphamism). But the biggest irritation I've dealt with is the visitors throwing food at the animals, where the quest for affected cuteness trumps warning signs and common sense.
Putting monkeys in cages and exposing them to pokes and taunts isn't a good idea after all, it turns out. One of the zookeepers looks on in the background.
All of these things stem from a lack of respect for animals as living things, and a lack of respect for living things not in your family tree. You can see this any time you go outside and see a dog fixed to a wall with enough chain to wander in his own feces, or when you find a more exotic array of animal species at the local five-day market than you do at an ecological center. I've written about my love of those animal shows on TV like 동물농장, but unfortunately many times the entertainment on that show consists of putting animals in awkward situations or mixing incompatible species together to show, with hilarious subtitles and voiceovers, how they react.
But zoos generally are depressing places, and this blog talks about Korean ones because I live in South Korea. US zoos, or zoos in other countries, should be applauded for realizing earlier that animals need more authentic and enriching habitats, but it shouldn't be believed that Americans or whomever have inately more enlightened views toward animals. Considering how long it took Western countries to make small advances with regards to race relations, traffic safety, or animal care, we shouldn't get too self-righteous when Koreans haven't caught up yet. Any of you, any two of you from Pennsylvania, who have been to the Pittsburgh Zoo will recall the deplorable bear exhibit or the recently-changed cheetah cage with a distinct triangle along the ground where the animals regularly paced. If you're in Western PA you can get a book on the zoo's history from your local library and can read about all the dolphins and polar bears that died before the zookeepers got it right. But given my experience working there for a summer the employees do show genuine care in the animals there, in trying to make their lives more fulfilling, and in trying to educate visitors about the animals they're watching. That same appreciation isn't shared by all visitors, of course, who shout at animals and complain that they aren't doing anything. All while the fatasses pick the flowers and uproot the exotic plants.
It's very easy to cherry-pick depressing pictures from Korean zoos, pictures where emaciated lions are passed out in the corner or where primates are hiding from the visitors. However, there are a lot of really amazing pictures from this Flickr search.