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Heavily protected 'Demilitarizated Zone' separating North and South Korea is now a sanctuary for wildlife

The isolation and minimal human interference in the DMZ after the Korean War allowed damaged nature to recover and build up a new ecosystem.

Heavily protected 'Demilitarizated Zone' separating North and South Korea is now a sanctuary for wildlife
Image Source: YouTube/CBS Mornings

The demilitarized zone (DMZ), situated between North and South Korea, is recognized as one of the world's most heavily armed borders. With a span of 160 miles, the area is enclosed by fences and landmines and experiences minimal human activity. Nevertheless, the isolation has unintentionally transformed the region into a sanctuary for various forms of wildlife, per CNN. This week, Google unveiled street-view images of the DMZ, providing a rare glimpse into the diverse flora and fauna that populate this uninhabited area.



Several Korean organizations collaborated to undertake this project, which commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice. The armistice, signed in 1953, put a stop to hostilities and established the DMZ, but as no peace treaty was ever signed, technically, the war never concluded. With the use of Google's street view function, viewers can take a "virtual tour" of cultural relics and heritage sites situated near the DMZ, such as war-torn buildings and defense bunkers. However, the images that stand out the most are those of the more than 6,100 species thriving in the DMZ, including reptiles, birds and plants. According to Google, 38% of Korea's 267 endangered species can be found in the DMZ.

“After the Korean War, the DMZ had minimal human interference for over 70 years, and the damaged nature recovered on its own,” the company said on its site. “As a result, it built up a new ecosystem not seen around the cities and has become a sanctuary for wildlife.” Some of the DMZ’s inhabitants include endangered mountain goats who live in the rocky mountains, musk deer with long fangs who live in old-growth forests, otters who swim along the river running through the two Koreas and endangered golden eagles, who often spend their winters in civilian border areas where residents feed the hungry hunters. 



The stunning images of the wildlife living within the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea were captured by unmanned cameras installed by South Korea’s National Institute of Ecology. The DMZ’s isolation has led to an unexpected increase in wildlife populations, providing a haven for endangered species. One success story has been the young Asiatic black bear, whose endangered population had declined due to poaching and habitat destruction. However, in 2019, cameras captured images of the bear for the first time in 20 years, bringing hope to conservationists.

Seung-ho Lee, president of the DMZ Forum, a group that campaigns to protect the DMZ's ecological and cultural heritage, noted that the DMZ had also become an oasis for migratory birds due to worsening environmental conditions on either side of the border. Logging and flooding had damaged North Korean land, while urban development and pollution had fragmented habitats in South Korea, Lee said in an interview with CNN in 2019. He said, "We call the region an accidental paradise."


Newly-released Google street view images of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea have revealed an unexpected abundance of wildlife. The area, one of the world’s most heavily armed borders, has been free from human activity for over 70 years, allowing nature to flourish. According to Google, 38% of Korea’s 267 endangered species live in the DMZ, making it a vital sanctuary for threatened creatures, including Asiatic black bears, mountain goats, musk deer, otters and golden eagles. Many of these animals have benefitted from the DMZ’s pristine, biodiverse landscapes, including the Yongneup high moor and the Hantan River Gorge, which people can now explore using Google street view.

The conservation of the DMZ has been a longstanding issue for many groups, including international environmental organizations and campaigners like Seung-ho Lee, president of the DMZ Forum. But the process is complicated and requires cooperation from both South and North Korea. While there has been some progress in recent years, including the opening of “peace trails” for limited visitors along the DMZ, tensions between the two Koreas have skyrocketed in 2022, with North Korea firing a record number of missiles and a new South Korean president taking office.

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