Life finds a way: wildlife in the Korean DMZ

When we hear stories about habitat destruction and species extinction there’s always one culprit to blame: humans. We are having a destructive effect worldwide on some of the Earth’s most vulnerable and endangered wildlife. Even species previously abundant and in no danger of extinction are finding themselves caught up in the crossfire between man and his ever growing need for resources.

But what happens when we leave well alone and allow a habitat to flourish?

The situation in Korea has been nothing short of volatile and in an effort to keep the north and south separated a buffer zone was created at the end of the Korean war. This buffer is known as the Korean Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ. It is 250km (160 miles) long and 4.5km (2.5 miles) wide. Boarders at both sides are heavily guarded, and no one is allowed to pass through. The aftermath of war is usually associated with devastation and hard times, however at the DMZ the landscape has been left to it’s own devices, untouched by man. To say the DMZ is hard to access would be an understatement. But various attempts have been made to explore what wildlife lies within the fortress. In one of the most dangerous place of the world, many threatened species have found their safe haven. Amur leopards, cranes, vultures, otters, deer and black bears have all been sighted, and many subspecies that have suffered local extinction in other areas.

The big question though – are there tigers? Reports of tigers roaming the no man’s land have been made but no official sightings have been recorded. The presence of tigers would be a great success. Tigers are known as ‘indicator species’ as they require large amounts of habitat and a great abundance of prey to survive. So if tigers were to found here, it would be indicative of a high quality ecosystem. Amongst the teeming wildlife is an estimated 1,300 plant species thriving, and like the poppies at Flanders Fields, they serve as a real metaphor for the regeneration of life after war.


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