Along the 38th latitudinal parallel, between concrete-clad South Korea and deforested and impoverished North Korea, the demilitarized zone stands in sharp relief as a verdant refuge for rare plants and animals, reported Al Jazeera and Solutions. The DMZ is a no-man's land guarded by soldiers, artillery, fences, razor wire and landmines. But that also makes it the de facto most heavily guarded nature preserve in the world.
The 160-mile-long by 2.5-mile-wide DMZ's roughly 400 square miles shelter red-crowned cranes, black bears, musk deer, spotted seals, lynx and the rare goat-like Amur goral. The region is also home to nearly 100 species of fish, perhaps 45 types of amphibians and reptiles, and more than 1,000 different insect species.
Rumors circulate that Siberian or Amur tigers may prowl the DMZ, reported Al Jazeera, though they disappeared from Korea before World War II.
War between the two Koreas could destroy the unusual preserve created by the DMZ, and the world is unsure what direction Kim Jong Un will take North Korea as he inherits leadership of the nation from his late father Kim Jong Il.
North Korean press reported that nature was mourning the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong II.
"Ice cracked on a famous lake 'so loud, it seemed to shake the Heavens and the Earth,' and a mysterious glow was seen on a revered mountaintop," reported North Korean state news agency KCNA, according to the BBC.
So perhaps the new North Korean leadership will in turn respect the natural world.
On the other side of the 38th parallel, the South Korean government opened the area near the DMZ to hiking. Eco-tourism makes protecting the ecology of the DMZ profitable and peaceful.
"The DMZ, which separates North and South Korea, is a peaceful place and marks the last untouched cold war border in the world today. ...The 545-km-long DMZ trek course in nine areas is the road to world peace and wonder of nature," according to South Korean tourism literature.