Along Korea's 155-mile-long demilitarized zone. Photo by Choi Byung Kwan via CNN.
Environmentalists cheered the March announcement that North Korea and South Korea would work together to create an ecological corridor out of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). But few, if any, global conservationists have actually seen what kinds of natural habitats and wild animals the 155-mile-long and 2-mile-wide buffer zone contains. Photographer Choi Byung Kwan has.Images shot by the South Korean photographer show rugged, tree-covered green hills, wildflowers in bloom, and endangered species such as red-crowned cranes. They also show the rusting and overgrown remnants of war, scenes Choi described poetically to CNN:
"I often came across fantastically charming wild flowers blossoming through the bullet holes of rusty iron helmets in mine fields. [T]hey always struck a mixed feeling of joy and sorrow in my heart because they looked like reincarnations of the young souls of fallen soldiers."
His photographs will be displayed at United Nations headquarters in New York in June as part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War -- and as part of an effort to foster peace in the region.
Cooperation on protecting the ecosystem in the DMZ has been seen as a potential stepping stone to further rapprochement between the two Koreas, as well as a worthy goal in its own right. Essentially untouched for 57 years, the heavily fortified strip of land is home to elk, roe deer, the goat-like goral, and wild boar, as well as various species of migratory birds, endangered fish, and unusual flowers.
Reports of Siberian tigers are unconfirmed, though CNN also profiles, in a separate story, a South Korean man named Sun Nam "Tiger" Lim who has essentially dedicated his life to trying to find the endangered cat in the DMZ.
Peace between the Koreas poses both opportunities and threats for the zone and its wild inhabitants, however, as photographer Choi tells CNN: "If we reunify, people will also want to develop the DMZ, but that must never happen. The two Koreas need to stop pointing guns at each other and work together to study and preserve the DMZ."
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