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Why Environmentalists Fear Peace with North Korea

Mar 20, 2013 01:30 PM EDT

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is an area separating North and South Korea 2.5 miles wide on each side of the border. First established in 1953, it has since become a buffer between the two nations with anyone attempting to cross it at risk of land mines and military action by either side.

As it happens, the only thing able to move freely in this area are animals - and they do, in the droves.

Due to its restricted nature, the DMZ now serves as a valuable wildlife preserve, offering a stable ecosystem for a diverse range of plants and animals.

Among the rare treasures the DMZ boasts of are the Amur goral, Korean Mole, Siberian weasel, wild boar, roe deer, water deer and Eurasian badger, according to a paper by researchers at the Seoul National University.

George Archibald, ornithologist and co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, is crucially aware of just how much would be lost should the area undergo either development or war.

Archibald told Discovery News the DMZ's wetlands serve as the winter escape for one-third of the world's red-crowned cranes. Other species relying on the DMZ for either mating or migrating, he said, are 90 percent of the world's black-faced spoonbill, 1,500 black vultures, 100,000 geese of other species and the rare goose swan.

Snakes, reptiles - even black bears call the DMZ their home. However, the stand-off between the two nations didn't come in time to save some: Korea's tiger population is now believed to be extinct, though some reports of sightings have begun to crop up.

Now rice fields and plantations of ginseng are beginning to crowd the border of the DMZ, aching to overflow into it.

As a result, environmentalists are already getting involved. Two projects, both considered successful, have established areas of crane conservation in the DMZ, giving safe winter travel spots for over 1,000 white-naped cranes.

Still others are lobbying in an effort to have UNESCO grant it World Heritage Site designation should it ever become an option.

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