ROK Drop

Avatar of GI KoreaBy on November 21st, 2009 at 7:58 pm

The Korean DMZ, the Exaggerated Wildlife Refuge

» by in: DMZ

If you are ever in the Chorwon area around Feburary you can see a number of these cranes there:

If your travel itinerary for coming months includes places such as Iran, North Korea, China and Tibet, chances would seem pretty good that you are a diplomat being dispatched to some of the world’s hot spots.

Or, maybe, you’re George Archibald.

Archibald is the co-founder and senior conservationist with the International Crane Foundation near here and he spends about half of every year traveling to distant corners of the world on behalf of cranes.

Of all the challenges he’s faced, few present the difficulties that abound with protecting cranes in North and South Korea, an effort that is taking up much of Archibald’s time these days. The turbulent and war-torn history, the thorny politics of a country divided, the involvement of major world powers such as China and Japan, and dark headlines about a lingering nuclear threat, all make for high drama that would seem to overshadow the conservation of a slender-legged crane.

Still, at stake is the fate of one of the most beautiful and charismatic of all the cranes.

The red-crowned crane is the world’s second rarest of 15 crane species with breeding grounds in large wetlands in northeastern China and Russia and wintering areas in Japan, China and the Korean Peninsula. There are, perhaps, 1,300 of the birds on the East Asia mainland and a resident population of about 900 birds on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan. But that’s all; the destruction of wetlands and other habitat and the encroachment of cities and development, especially in South Korea, have thrown the bird’s future into doubt.  [State Journal]

I’m glad to see these birds recovering however the claim of the DMZ as a nature preserve is actually quite overstated, especially when people make claims like this:

Now, armed troops stare at each other’s encampments on either side of the DMZ. But the DMZ itself has proven a haven for all things wild because of its isolation. It is a refuge for Asiatic black bears, leopards, rare Korean tigers, and birds such as the red-crowned crane, which has long used the area as a wintering grounds.

I have spent plenty of time up and around the DMZ and for Korea there is a lot of wildlife, but the amount of wildlife is not a whole lot compared with for example North America or Australia.  The DMZ area and Jiri Mountain are still the only areas I have ever spotted deer in Korea.  I have also seen some wild boars around the DMZ area as well.  Contrary to what this article claims there are no bears, leopards, or tigers along the DMZ.  I have never met anyone who has served along the DMZ to include the ROK Army that has ever seen one.  This is not a vast wilderness, the DMZ area is small enough that if bears, leopards, and tigers were running around up there someone would have seen it by now.

The DMZ is a nice wildlife area by Korean standards, but why the need by foreign journalists to exaggerate?

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  • Leon LaPorte
    1:31 pm on November 21st, 2009 1

    Perhaps the elusive Korean Yeti, whom is thriving in the DMZ according to enthusiastic reports, has eaten all the bears and tigers.

  • Chris In Dallas
    8:48 am on November 22nd, 2009 2

    I heard Jim Morrison has a hooch in the DMZ…

  • lollabrat
    10:57 am on November 22nd, 2009 3

    "It is a refuge for…rare Korean tigers"

    Oh, no! Someone warn Hodori about the dangers of land mines!!!


  • junior
    9:30 pm on November 22nd, 2009 4

    MMMMMM…. Roast crane with cornbread stuffing.

  • ChickenHead
    11:37 pm on November 22nd, 2009 5


    I presume that crane is neither tasty nor particularly useful "for health". The evidence being… there still are some.


    Frosted Flakes. They're greeeea (click) BOOM!


    I was on the West coast last month on a little one-lane country road along the sea at about 4 in the morning and a baby deer was standing in the middle of the road. When I came around the corner, it looked up at me like… well… like a deer in the headlights. It ran along the road and I followed it at slow speed. It stopped every now and then and I took some pictures with my phone. A Bongo came along and I got the distinct feeling that, had I not been there, there would have been some roadkill… he waited around about 15 minutes for me to leave but didn't seem too interested in observing the deer. Finally, the deer ran off into the brush along the road. That area has small patches of forest but there are a lot of people living around there… pretty amazing that families of such large animals can even exist.

    I'm going to buy a thermal imager next year and then I'll have better idea how many deer (or Yetis) are around.

  • Jeff
    1:42 am on November 23rd, 2009 6

    Some of the biggest pheasants I've ever seen were in the DMZ area. They looked like turkeys!…

  • The Duke of YongJuGo
    8:33 am on November 23rd, 2009 7

    Jeff beat me to it on the pheasants, they are huge in and around the DMZ.

    We could actually watch NK patrols from the pheasants they were kicking up.

  • | Gateway to Cyber Korea » What does the DMZ symbolize?
    11:14 pm on December 1st, 2009 8

    [...] there, with many reports of deer (saber-toothed deer, cool!), boar and giant pheasants. Still, as GI Korea notes, this is a bit much (quoting from another source): It is a refuge for Asiatic black bears, [...]

  • robert
    2:49 am on February 12th, 2010 9

    i do not know about now, but in 1975 all sorts of wildlife was spotted in the DMZ.

    not only by eye witness but also GSR and sound—i had to go out one night to calm down my check point guards (katusa and gi) when two male leopards were fighting over a female. verified by GSR. i have seen all sorts of tracks.

  • EunYoung
    2:18 pm on May 11th, 2011 10

    The DMZ is the last safe home for most of these species. Last time my mom heard about those saber-toothed deers, it was when my grandpa would tell her about his life before the Korean War. And, no poachers would be crazy enough to go there, so that’s a plus.

  • The Automation of Destruction - Oskabubbles
    10:27 pm on August 16th, 2014 11

    […] make no mistake…the abundance of wildlife in the Korean DMZ has been greatly exaggerated.  But, that isn’t really the point; the point is that this land, wracked for half a century […]


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