The Korean Tiger, Where Is It Now?
Korean Tigers are often mentioned in our traditional folklores or seen in drawings, even these days. ST introduces if Korean Tigers still exists today........................................Ed
The South Korean film “Daeho” (a loud cry, representing that of the Korean tiger) features the indiscriminate capture of Korean tigers during the Japanese colonial period. Based on that movie, the tiger is referred to as “Joseon’s last tiger,” and this brings to question whether the Korean tiger still exists today. Tigers are distinguished as cat animals, and on their forehead is a letter signifying a king: 王 in Chinese. Tigers, often mentioned in folklores or drawings during the Joseon dynasty, abounded in the Korean Peninsula at that time, so much so that Korea was referred to as the “Country of Tigers” then.
The Korean tiger was a symbol of fear in the ancient times and was considered the greatest predator in the ecosystem. Known to have lived in Baekdu-Daegan, a mountain range spanning Baekdu Mountain to Jili Mountain, it is not known if the Korean tigers still exist at present, and there are diverse opinions regarding this. It is true, however, that their number has decreased so much that one can actually doubt their continued existence. The only Korean tiger that is known to still be in existence today is the stuffed tiger being kept in an elementary school in Mokpo.1) There are various reasons for the species’ extermination.
#1. Exploitation during the Japanese colonial period
During the Japanese colonial period, Japan recruited hunters from various regions to hunt tigers. The Korean tigers at that time were large, weighing 400 kg and 3 m x 80 cm long. The largest tigers were regarded as the gods of the forest, and there was an implied agreement among hunters not to kill them. During the Japanese colonial period, however, their killings were ceaseless, with the killers even using guns or poison, sometimes dynamite.
The captured or dead tigers were used to emphasize the power of Japan. According to Ando Kimino, an Animal Specialist Writer from Japan, the Korean tigers disappeared after Japan’s implementation of the policy of killing tigers, and from 1915 to 1942, up to 97 tigers and 624 leopards were captured. The last seen Korean tiger is believed to have been captured in Daeduk Mountain in Kyeong Ju in 1921, and since then, Korean tigers have not been seen.
#2. Land exploitation policy for humans
In the 17th century, with a larger population, the people looked for new places to live by developing burnt fields and lands made arable by slashing mountain areas. Many mountains were leveled into fields, and many animals were affected as a result. For example, in Chungcheong, Jeolla, and Kyeongsang Province, most of the areas inhabited by the Korean tigers were largely destroyed.
The government also established a policy of encouraging hunting. Many people were killed by tigers, especially during the late Joseon dynasty; according to Chosun Wangjo Sillok (Annals of the Chosun Dynasty), by the 10th year of the rule of King Yeongjo, the number had reached 140. As a countermeasure, the government established a policy of encouraging people to hunt tigers by changing the social status of the common people from slaves, or exempting from paying taxes those who had captured a tiger. During Seong Jong’s rule, there were 440 hunters.2)
#3. Use of tigers as materials for herbal medicines
Furs, organs and bones are used as a material for herbal medicine.
Extermination of korean tigers, the most powerful predators, destroyed the balance of food chain and it is expected that this situation may bring serious harms to the ecosystem. In fact, after the extermination of Korean Tigers, in Korea Peninsula, according to the findings by National Institute of the Environment Research, the largest predators turned to Yellow-Throated Marten.
At Yellow Stone National Park in the United States, wolves totally disappeared one day but after the packs were returned, things began to change a lot. After the disappearance of wolves, the number of elks increased largely and as they ate a lot of grass, the park were devastated. However, when the packs returned, the ecosystem regained its balance.
Professor William J Riffle, from Oregan State University said in the magazine SCIENCE that “the largest predators such as wolves, tigers, leopards, the so called ‘fierce animals,’ offer various services to other predators. They are not just consuming other animals but are adjusting the number of small predators and influence a lot to the balance of the world’s ecosystems.”
The number of endangered species is increasing more than ever, not only Korean tigers but also bears, leopards, and others. For instance, otters were easily seen across the country in the past but excessive fishing for use of their fur and water pollution led them to designated as Natural Monument and endangered species. In this situation, the question remains: Should we view animals simply as objects of human satisfaction, which leads to our exploitation of them, or should we view them as creatures to be taken care of and protected for preserving the harmony in nature?
1) “Finding the largest predators in the Korean Peninsula,” EBS
2) “How did the Joseon’s tiger disappear?,” http://news.kbs.co.kr