That Viral Raccoon Cafe Is A Nightmare For Animals
"When the animals ... try to escape, people both run and climb after them, either pressing them into corners or putting their own heads into their small cages. It's insane.”
In a viral travel video, a woman holds up a raccoon by his paws as he balances unnaturally on the back of her shoulders. The woman gives the camera a wide-mouthed grin, but the raccoon doesn’t look quite as happy. If anything, he looks shaky and scared.
The video, which has recently been making the rounds again, was shot at Blind Alley, a café in Seoul, South Korea, that gives paying guests the opportunity to interact with three raccoons — Shot, Crema and Kong — as well as a capybara and a corgi named Cookie.
While the café might seem like a great opportunity to interact with animals like raccoons and capybaras, animal welfare advocates disagree. Not only is this café an inappropriate environment for wild animals, experts said, it’s just a matter of time before the people or the animals get hurt.
“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), told The Dodo. “There’s a very real possibility that the raccoons could scratch or bite or otherwise harm someone, either because of their playfulness, or because humans are either intentionally or unintentionally tormenting them or harassing them. If someone was harmed, what would happen to the raccoons?”
“It’s just a matter of time before something happens — whether somebody makes a fast move or drops a glass on the floor, and provokes a response from a raccoon,” Schubert added. “You’re running a risk of people becoming injured and raccoons becoming injured.”
On Facebook and TripAdvisor, lots of people have left damning reviews of Blind Alley — and have reported seeing both staff members and guests harassing the animals.
“Such a sad and heartbreaking place,” one person wrote on Facebook. “People are seriously chasing the poor raccoons with selfie sticks and petting them as if they would be dolls. When the animals ... try to escape, people both run and climb after them, either pressing them into corners or putting their own heads into their small cages. It's insane. The staff encourages the frenzy.”
Another person on Facebook was particularly concerned for the capybara’s well-being.
“They have a capybara that is stuck in a small room with no pool, and capybaras are semiaquatic animals that require lots of space and a pool for exercise,” the person said. “He also looked terrified and was afraid of everyone. I doubt the owner realizes that he can attack and get aggressive once he gets older. The raccoon area seemed fine, we came during their sleepy time.”
And on TripAdvisor, someone left a very concerning message about a worker forcing one raccoon's mouth shut, probably so the raccoon wouldn’t bite while people took selfies.
“Shouldn’t have gone,” the commenter wrote. “One of the animals was shaking with stress, but people wanted selfies. One café worker put a large Sellotape roll around the mouth of the raccoon to get it to move for us.”
In photos posted on social media, one of the raccoons appears particularly skittish — and seems to send most of his time lying on top of a pipe close to the ceiling.
“If that raccoon is always avoiding interaction with people, it would seem to me that that raccoon is particularly stressed by being in that environment,” Schubert said.
The video states that the café owner “adopted” the raccoons from a breeder and fur importer — it’s unclear if they were rescued or purchased.
“Since I brought 1-and-a-half-month-old raccoons, I had to feed them milk every four hours,” Han Song Hee, Blind Alley’s owner, said in the video. “When they drink milk, they have diarrhea, so I couldn’t leave them at home. So I started bringing them to the café around two years ago. And that’s when it became a raccoon café.”
The video also states that the capybara was rescued from a zoo that went out of business.
Schubert said that if the animals were in fact rescues, he believes that the café owner did a good thing for these animals. But at the same time, he said, a café isn’t the right environment for them.
“If the owner did rescue them from a fur farm, I commend that action,” Schubert said. “But, of course, it doesn’t mean you ... put them on display at these raccoon cafés. What would be more appropriate is placing them in a wildlife sanctuary with an appropriate habitat for them to live out their lives if they can’t go back into the wild.”
“Raccoons are wild animals, and in my opinion, it’s blatantly unacceptable to exploit them in that way,” Schubert added. “There are so many reasons why this is a bad idea.”
Unfortunately, Blind Alley isn’t the only café that allows guests to interact with wild animals. In Japan, there’s a café that allows people to cuddle with hedgehogs, despite the fact that hedgehogs are nocturnal and often shy around people.
If people are bent on interacting with raccoons and other wild animals, Schubert suggests volunteering at a authorized wildlife sanctuary.
“People are exploiting the cuteness factor of many animals, and thinking that they can profit from them by creating environments where people can interact with these animals,” Schubert said. “And the clients — the people who are going to these places — need to take some responsibility of being part of the problem that’s allowing these types of cafés to become so popular.”