The 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics will take place in PyeongChang, South Korea, where a tiger named Soohorang and a bear named Bandabi will serve as the official mascots.
The official Olympic mascot, a white tiger named Soohorang, reflects South Korea’s national animal, the Siberian tiger. (In the interest of biological accuracy, I am compelled to point out that there has never been scientific documentation of a white Siberian tiger—those are Bengal tigers.)
The name Soohorang derives from the Korean words for protection (sooho) and tiger (ho-rang-i). The choice of the white tiger as mascot is explained on the Olympics website:
In selecting a tiger as mascot, the PyeongChang 2018 Organising Committee chose an animal closely associated with Korean mythology and culture. The tiger has been a familiar figure in Korean folk tales as a symbol of trust, strength and protection…. In mythology, the white tiger was viewed as a guardian that helped protect the country and its people. The mascot’s colour also evokes its connection to the snow and ice of winter sports.
It’s not the first time the Olympics in South Korea have featured a tiger as a mascot. The 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul featured Hodori, whose name does not mean “Hold the door” in Korean. (It’s from the Korean for tiger, “ho-rang-i,” and “dori,” a linguistic diminutive for boys.)
Bandabi the Asiatic black bear will represent the Paralympic games. Asiatic black bears are the official animal of Gangwon, the province where the host city PyeongChang is found. Per the Paralympics website, “The bear is symbolic of strong will and courage,” and, “The Asiatic Black Bear is also the symbol animal of Gangwon Province.”
So far as Olympic mascots go, Soohorang and Bandabi fit the bill. They’re mostly adorable, they’re appropriate to the location, and they’re way less creepy and terrifying than some previous Olympic mascots.