The cost of raising an elephant — and a dog (KOR)

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The cost of raising an elephant — and a dog (KOR)

The author is a cultural news team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“There is nothing beneficial about elephants. One is being raised in my province, but the people in the province are only suffering. Please order the governors of Chungcheong and Gyeongsang provinces to also take turns raising them.”

This is a report by the Jeolla governor in the second year of King Sejong in 1420. The elephant in question was a gift sent by Japanese shogun Yoshimo Ashikaga two years earlier as a goodwill gesture. King Taejong, the father of King Sejong, had Saboksi — the institution in charge of the royal carriages and horses — raise the elephant. But when an accident occurred in which a person who was teasing the elephant was trampled to death and the feed cost became an issue, the elephant was eventually sent to an island in a Jeolla province.

No place welcomed the animal that was kicked out of the palace. As Jeolla did not welcome it, it was sent to Chungcheong. In the following year, the governor of Chungcheong also complained and suggested sending it to an island in the sea. King Sejong ordered the governor to find a place with good water and grass to send the elephant to and keep it from getting sick and dying. What happened to the elephant after that is unknown.

How much did it cost to raise an elephant at the time? According to the Chungcheong governor, the elephant needed “48 sacks of rice and 24 sacks of beans a year.” One sack of rice costs 5 nyang and a sack of beans costs 2.5 nyang. As one nyang is currently worth about 80,000 won ($58), it costs about 24 million won a year.

It is not a small expense, but nothing unaffordable by the government, either. But the perception of a “troublesome animal” seems to have determined the fate of the elephant six centuries ago.

The Pungsan dogs, gifts former president Moon Jae-in received from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after a summit in 2018, led to a political debate. The former president who took the two dogs to his post-retirement home in South Gyeongsang has returned them to the government after the new Yoon Suk-yeol administration stopped providing Moon with the 2.5-million-won monthly expense to help him take care of the dogs. Rather than fighting over the tax controversy, how about sending them to a private home that can raise them with love?
코끼리 사육비
유성운 문화팀 기자
"코끼리란 것이 유익한 점이 없습니다. 지금 도내 네 곳에서 돌려 가면서 기르고 있으나, 도내 백성들만 괴로움을 받게 되니, 청컨대 충청·경상도까지 명하여 돌아가면서 기르도록 하소서"  
세종 2년(1420) 전라도 관찰사가 올린 보고다. 문제의 코끼리는 2년 전 일본의 쇼군 아시카가 요시모치(源義持)가 친선의 뜻으로 보낸 선물이었다. 태종은 사복시(궁중의 가마나 말을 담당하는 기관)에 맡겨 기르게 했다. 그러나 코끼리를 조롱하던 사람이 밟혀 죽는 사고가 발생하고 사룟값 문제도 제기되자 결국 전라도의 한 섬으로 보내졌다.  
궁에서 내쫓긴 동물을 반길 곳은 없었다. 전라도에서 난색을 보이자 다음엔 충청도로 보내졌다. 그러나 이듬해인 세종 3년(1421) 충청도 관찰사도 곤란을 호소하며 '바다의 섬'으로 보내자고 하자 세종은 "물과 풀이 좋은 곳을 가려서 내어놓고, 병들어 죽지 말게 하라"고 지시했다. 이후 코끼리의 운명은 알 수 없다.  
당시 코끼리 사육비는 얼마 정도였을까. 충청도 관찰사에 따르면 "1년에 소비되는 쌀이 48섬, 콩이 24섬"이었다. 쌀 1섬은 5냥, 콩 1섬은 2.5냥 정도였고, 1냥은 현재 돈 8만원에 해당하니 대략 2400만원가량 들어간 셈이다. 적은 비용은 아니었지만, 관에서 쩔쩔맬 정도는 아니었다. '귀찮은 존재'라는 인식이 코끼리의 운명을 결정한 것 같다.  
북한에서 받아온 풍산개의 거취가 정치권 공방으로 번졌다. 세금 논란을 벌이며 정쟁을 하느니 차라리 애정을 갖고 키울 민간에 파양하는 것은 어떨까.
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