The Korean Demilitarized Zone or DMZ – the 250km-long buffer zone which divides North Korea and South Korea – has served as an unintentional wildlife reserve since the Armistice Agreement of 1953.
The near total absence of development and humanity from the DMZ has allowed native Korean wildlife to thrive over the years. Sure, there are a few land mines, but this has not deterred a rich and varied ecology to flourish within the zone. 67 of the Earth’s most endangered species live within the DMZ. The Asiatic black bear, the Amur Leopard and White-naped crane are among those ultra rare species to find refuge in this consequence of the Cold War. It may even be home to tigers, widely regarded as extinct in Korea.
The DMZ’s ecological status is rare on the Korean peninsula, an area that has undergone severe deforestation since the 1940s, been ravaged by wars and polluted by unmanaged wide-scale industrialization in the post-war years.
But now the DMZ is one again vulnerable to human activity.
From the Guardian:
[…] this peaceful scene of a gradual return to nature is under threat, and with it some of the last shreds of the original biodiversity of this unique peninsula. Development is encroaching even here, with resurgent agricultural development destroying swaths of the restored habitat and clearing away regrown plant life. On the eve of the world’s biggest conservation conference, which opens on the Korean island of Jeju on Thursday, scientists and experts on the area are pleading with the southern government to offer the region internationally protected status.
The rush towards development which is encroaching on the DMZ has already severely damaged its swan goose population. Much of the conservation problem lies with the much larger controlled area – the civilian restricted zone – which surrounds the DMZ and also serves as a habitat for many species. It is this zone that is currently being subjected (or at risk of being cleared for) intensive farming.
An agreement to declare the DMZ an internationally protected site has not yet materialized and will not be realized at the Jeju conservation conference as there will be no NKorean delegation present.
Read more about the conference as it relates to the DMZ in the Korea Herald.
For a personal account of a touristic visit to the Korean DMZ see this piece from Travel Wire Asia.