Did you know that…
Tigers, leopards in Korea
By Robert Neff
It is no secret that tigers and leopards once roamed most of Korea ― the only exceptions being Jeju Island and some of the smaller islands. Even large cities, such as Seoul, occasionally witnessed large cats roaming the streets and dark alleys hunting small animals mainly dogs and pigs. There are even accounts of leopards climbing over the walls of Gyeongbok Palace in the late 19th century in order to prey upon the pet deer kept by the royal household.
But Koreans were not the only ones to be bothered by these great beasts. In the late 1880s, a leopard leapt into the German legation’s courtyard causing all of the staff to flee for their lives. Fortunately, no one was injured including the leopard which apparently made good its escape to hunt another day.
In the early 1890s, another leopard was discovered prowling the covered culverts near one of the palaces in Seoul. An employee of the Korean government, Alfred Burt Stripling, an Englishman and former policeman in Shanghai, China, was called upon to kill the beast. Stripling and his Korean assistant tracked the leopard to a certain culvert and waited for it to come out so that they could shoot it. When the great cat failed to appear, the Korean assistant, who was convinced he had seen the leopard leave from another exit and wanted to impress his boss, volunteered to go into the cramped quarters armed with nothing more than bamboo poles and force the cat out. To the assistant’s great surprise, the leopard was still there. Lucky for him, Stripling was an excellent shot and the cat was quickly killed.
The mountains surrounding Seoul were popular haunts for tigers. According to a book published by the Seoul government a couple of years ago, Mt. Inwang was said to be so infested with predators (tigers and bandits) that people wishing to travel through the pass had to do so in large numbers ― hence the Baeogae area of Seoul was once known as Baekgogae or the Pass of One Hundred. At Yuinmak, the Korean government stationed a detachment of soldiers to help escort people through the pass. Soon, however, the soldiers began to extort money for their services which led to the creation of a popular saying:
“The tigers of Yuinmak are more frightening than the tigers of Mt. Inwang.”
So common were tiger attacks that in some parts of the country debtors would simply disappear leaving pieces of their torn clothing near thick forests and brush. Apparently, “caught by a tiger” was a cute way of saying the person skipped town.