photo by Christopher John SSF (Friar’s Balsam on Flickr CC)

The demilitarized zone that makes up the borderlands dividing North and South Korea is an unlikely (and unintentional) wildlife reserve.

The DMZ is home to many species that are extinct on the remainder of the Korean peninsula. Full of landmines and guarded by armed soldiers from both the north and south, the area is obviously unwelcoming to human visitors. But this has allowed the forest to grow and wildlife to thrive for nearly 70 years.

The rest of Korea is a different story: international competition over the country’s resources and a 40-year Japanese occupation stripped and devastated the peninsula. What came next was no better:

Since at least the 1940s, deforestation for fuel wood and clearing for agricultural land has caused significant erosion of the area’s mountains and hills and contributed to the siltation of its rivers, streams and lakes. The 1950 to 1953 war ranged across the entire peninsula, subjecting it to widespread devastation that destroyed cities, roads, forests and even mountains. And, in the 1960s and 1970s, unchecked industrialisation further undermined the peninsula’s ecological health, causing air, water, and soil pollution.

–China Dialogue

Rare cranes and other birds, abundant fish, mammals including Asiatic black bears, musk deer, spotted seals and perhaps even ‘extinct’ Korean tigers roam the Korean DMZ. This information is speculative, however, since the DMZ is basically off limits.

Some official conservation efforts in the DMZ have borne fruit, but its future is uncertain. For instance, what a reunification would bring for the zone is a concern of environmentalists on both sides of the border.

For more on the story check out the following piece from China Dialogue called “Korea’s green ribbon of hope” by Lisa Brady.