▲ The Roe Deer Observation Center affords an extraordinary experience to not only see the timid animal up close, but the opportunity to feed the creature and help support its preservation. Photos courtesy Roe Deer Observation Center
Jeju’s tiny roe deer are often a symbol of the natural beauty of the island. Though rarely seen in the wild by visitors, most of the deer live within the borders of Mt. Halla National Park. Jeju’s new Roe Deer Observation Center located southeast of Jeju City, is the largest roe deer observation center in the world, and gives people both a chance to see the roe deer up close and a chance to learn more about them.
The center opened in 2007, with the goal to promote and protect the roe deer and its environment. It’s dedicated to the study and preservation of roe deer on Jeju Island, and also operates a breeding program. Located on rugged Geochin oreum, visitors to the center are also treated to a visit to one of Jeju’s famous volcanic oreums. The center is home to approximately 220 roe deer, a species which is generally shy, making it difficult for residents of Jeju to encounter them in a wild setting. Jeju’s deer are a subspecies of the Siberian roe deer, and smaller than the white-tailed deer of North America. Roe deer also live on the Korean mainland but Jeju’s indigenous deer are believed to have unique genetic features.
One of the goals of the center is education, and there are several permanent exhibitions for visitors to explore. Facilities include a multimedia building which introduces visitors to different types of deer around the world. Visitors can also enjoy short films about the role of the roe deer in Jeju’s ecology. The modern displays are an excellent introduction to natural Jeju and are well produced. Subjects explored by the exhibitions include footprints, food, behavior, identification of deer droppings and life cycles.
The center has a caged area near the entrance for close up observation of the deer, and in the spring time fawns can often be seen. It’s a great opportunity to see the deer up close; many are also quite tame due to their regular close proximity to people, and will often approach the fences, allowing children to feed them with food provided by the center. Visitors can also see the deer being fed their regular meals, at 8:30am and 4pm, daily.
Roe deer usually give birth between May and July, and the babies are born with white spots. The fawns are taken care of by center staff until the age of three months when they are released to live on the oreum.
A trip to the Roe Deer Observation Center is also a chance to hike scenic Geochin oreum. Geochin oreum, which means “rough oreum” in Korean, gets its name from its thorn bushes and jagged appearance. The path winds its way leisurely around the trees, dipping up and down as it circles the 154m high slope. Much of the oreum is off-limits to protect the roe deer’s environment, but even so, a short climb provides great views of eastern Jeju.
Pavilions are built along the path to rest and enjoy the views. The nearby April Third Peace Park’s green modern building dominates the eastern view. To the west is Jeolmul oreum at neighboring Jeolmul Natural Forest. It takes about an hour to complete the center’s circular oreum hike.
Jeju’s open spaces are dwindling with the increase in tourism-based development and industry, but thanks to the Roe Deer Observation Center Jeju’s roe deer species stands a good chance of survival. The center offers a unique experience for visitors to learn more about roe deer and hopefully come away with the understanding that the island’s roe deer are worth preserving for future generations.
The Roe Deer Observation Center is located southeast of Jeju City in Bonggae-dong, between Jeolmul Natural Forest and the April Third Peace Park. For more information, including a map of the center’s location, visit http://roedeer.jejusi.go.kr/site/english/ or call 064 728 3611
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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