A narrow strip of land set aside to enforce the end of a civil war a half-century ago has brought a new kind of peace to natural life of this strife-torn peninsula.
Amur leopards, Asiatic black bears, musk deer, and possibly Siberian tigers are among a now-flourishing wildlife population in the approximately 155-mile-long, 2.5-mile-wide (250 × 4-km) Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, separating North and South Korea. More than 50 kinds of mammals include lynx, red foxes, and at higher elevations, ghorals, hardy, black-horned mountain goats.
Wetlands around five rivers that cross this world’s most fortified border have become essential stopovers for flocks of rare, stately white-naped and red-crowned cranes and black-faced spoonbills. More than 20,000 migratory waterfowl include white-fronted geese, spot-billed ducks, and ruddy shelducks. Eagles and harriers prey on fish and smaller mammals.
Great spotted woodpeckers find homes in rugged, forested hills. Shrubby, open areas are habitat of greenfinches, northern shrikes, rustic, yellow-breasted, and Siberian meadow buntings.
Few visitors other than military guards enter this chain-link fenced, mined, razor-wired ribbon of no-man’s-land between two countries still officially in a state of war. It is this solitude with lack of human disturbance that has allowed a spectacular rebounding of wild species in this de facto wildlife reserve like no other on earth.
Conservationists worldwide have urged that it become a permanent international peace park patterned after cross-border parks elsewhere. Its future is uncertain, however. As relations between the two countries have thawed from time to time, agreements have been signed to build railroad lines and adjacent highways through the zone, with proposals for commercial development designed without regard for the tract’s unique biodiversity and possibilities for economically beneficial ecotourism.
Conservationists say careful planning could accommodate both. Railroads and highways could include wildlife underpasses and overpasses, which have succeeded elsewhere, with ecotourism benefiting all interests.
Until recently, the DMZ has had no visitation without special permits, which are difficult to obtain. But in the past several years, the Korean Bird Protection Association has obtained permits for limited birdwatching tours.
South Korea has more than 20 reserves and national parks. Among those of special wildlife interest, several are reachable by public transport or private vehicle with lodging nearby:
Odaesan National Park in the north near the DMZ with bike and hiking trails, high, craggy peaks, lush forests, rushing waterfalls, rivers, beaches, ancient temples, black bears, and deer.
Junamho Bird Sanctuary, west of Jinyeong on the main Busan–Masan highway, which often has 80 percent of the world’s Baikal teal among 50,000–150,000 birds wintering on its three lakes November–March, also white-naped cranes, spoonbills, whistling swans.
Eulsukdo Bird Sanctuary southwest of Pusan, a large, flat sedimentary island reachable by a bridge in the mouth of the Nakdong River, home to over 100,000 migratory birds of over 50 species, including wintering white-naped cranes, spoonbills, white-tailed eagles.
Odaesan National Park
Junamho Bird Sanctuary
Eulsukdo Bird Sanctuary
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