Jeremy Hance / Mongabay.com – 2008-12-01 00:36:54
(November 17, 2008) — In 1953, when the Korean War ended, South and North Korea agreed to a demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two nations: 2.5 miles wide and 155 miles long. Residents were moved out of the area and access became restricted to military only. While the DMZ is known as a region of international tension, it has also become pristine wildlife habitat.
For the first time since the DMZ was negotiated a research team has surveyed the portions of the area to study its wildlife and ecosystems. Composed of environmental scientists, historians, and culture experts, the team surveyed 563 miles of the DMZ, including six streams, 37 mountains, and 32 wetlands.
“They used to be farming and residential areas, however, since human access has been restricted for the past 55 years, they have now become home to 50 animal and 12 plant species. The region crystallizes the changing patterns of nature,” Prof. Kim Kwi-gon of Seoul National University, who heads the project, told The Korea Times.
Biologists estimate that the entire DMZ contains 80 fish species, 50 mammals, several species that live no-where else, and provides migratory territory for thousands of different birds. Some stand-outs include the Korean wild cat, the red-crowned crane, the black-faced spoonbill, and a fish called ‘napjaru’. Thirteen of these species have been designated by the government as natural treasures.
Landmines are the greatest threat to animals in the region, especially larger mammals like the mule deer. However, the mines are a smaller threat than the possibility of human development, which could occur if no protection plans are drawn up for the area.
For this reason South Korean officials are hoping to make a portion of the DMZ into a bio-diverse peace park through the U.N Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (more popularly known as UNESCO). There is also a belief that such a park could improve relations between South and North Korea and provide an appealing destination for eco-tourists.
The team of scientists will continue surveying the DMZ for wildlife until 2010.
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