Separating the two Koreas… How did the demilitarized zone become a “paradise” for wildlife?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — Between North and South Korea lies the Demilitarized Zone, which is one of the most militarized borders in the world.

The area is 160 miles long, dotted with high walls and land mines, and is virtually devoid of human activity.

But this isolation has inadvertently turned the region into a haven for wildlife.

Google released Street View images of the Demilitarized Zone for the first time this week, offering a rare glimpse into the flora and fauna that inhabit this forbidden zone.

Credit: National Institute of Ecology/

The images are part of a project implemented in collaboration with several Korean institutions to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War, which led to the cessation of hostilities in 1953, and to map the Demilitarized Zone, although the war did not technically end as no peace treaty was signed. .

The project allows viewers to take a “virtual tour” using Google Street View, highlighting cultural relics and heritage sites near the Demilitarized Zone, such as war-torn buildings and defense bunkers.

But the most astonishing images are of more than 6,100 species thriving in the DMZ, from reptiles and birds to plants.

Of the 267 endangered species in Korea, 38 percent live in the Demilitarized Zone, according to Google.

Credit: National Institute of Ecology/

Google stated on its website: “After the Korean War, human intervention in the Demilitarized Zone was minimal for more than 70 years, so the damaged nature recovered on its own.”

“It created a new ecosystem that we haven’t seen around cities and became a haven for wildlife,” she added.

As for the residents of the demilitarized zone, they are endangered mountain goats that live in the rocky mountains; musk deer with long fangs that live in ancient forests; otters that swim along the river that runs through the two Koreas; and the endangered golden eagles, which often overwinter in urban frontier areas where residents feed hungry hunters.

Many of the photos were taken by drone cameras installed by the National Environment Institute in South Korea.

In 2019, these cameras documented a young Asian black bear for the first time in 20 years, much to the delight of researchers long concerned with declining numbers of animals endangered by poaching and habitat destruction.

Seong Ho Lee, president of the Demilitarized Zone Forum, a group that campaigns to protect the region’s environmental and cultural heritage, previously told CNN in 2019 that the Demilitarized Zone has also become an oasis for migratory birds due to deteriorating conditions on both sides of the border.

He noted that logging and flooding damaged North Korean lands, while urban pollution and pollution led to habitat fragmentation in South Korea.

Google images also show pristine, biodiverse landscapes. Users can use the street view to explore the soaring Yongneup Swamp, which features vast grassy fields full of wetland plants, or the Hantan River Gorge, where turquoise waters shimmer between tall granite walls.

Numerous voices in both Koreas and international environmental organizations have called for preserving the DMZ for decades. But the process is not easy, as it requires cooperation from both Seoul and Pyongyang.

At the time, he told me, “We call the area an unintended paradise.”

Credit: National Institute of Ecology/

There has been some progress in recent years. Former South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged in 2018 to turn the DMZ into a “peace zone.”

The following year, South Korea opened its first “peace trails” to a limited number of visitors along the Demilitarized Zone, leading hikers through observatories and barbed wire.

However, relations have deteriorated since then, with tensions rising in 2022, as North Korea launches a record number of missiles, and a new South Korean president takes office.

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