Dangerous Border—and Sanctuary
Photograph by Jongwoo Park
Like smoke from a long-ago battlefield, fog drifts across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) dividing South and North Korea.
One of the most heavily guarded borders in the world, the DMZ—shown here to the right of the fortified fence—severed the country in two as part of a cease-fire agreement that ended fighting in 1953. Technically, however, North and South Korea are still at war.
The 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) wide, 148-mile (238-kilometer) long border stretches the width of the Korean Peninsula near the 38th parallel. It is peppered with landmines and bordered by barbed wire. Access is restricted, and military units from both countries patrol their respective sides. (Read more about Korea's DMZ in National Geographic magazine.)
Yet despite the posturing and the insults hurled across this narrow strip of land, the DMZ has become a haven for wildlife and plants in the region.
"It's kind of the irony of war," said Hall Healy, chairman of the board of the International Crane Foundation, which has worked with researchers and locals near the DMZ on red-crowned crane conservation.
Species that have dwindled or disappeared in some parts of Asia have found refuge in the DMZ. Sightings of rare birds, such as red-crowned cranes and white-naped cranes, are not unusual. Black bears, musk deer, and Amur gorals—a goat relative that lives in the mountains—also inhabit this heavily fortified area.
—Jane J. Lee
Published August 20, 2013