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[World News] As DMZ Becomes Development Zone, Crane Population Dwindles

[World News] As DMZ Becomes Development Zone, Crane Population Dwindles

Posted August. 19, 2005 03:04,   


Cranes in droves flew over in preparation for the winter, creating a grand sight. George Archbold (59), director of the International Crane Foundation, visits Korea every winter in order to observe some 1,000 cranes that fly from Siberia to the DMZ in order to build nests.

He gave up becoming a doctor and made about 40 visits to DMZ-

Since 1974, he has visited the DMZ around 40 times. Every time he visits the DMZ, he finds out that the number and types of cranes has dropped remarkably. He has consistently urged the Korean government and environmental groups to create habitats for cranes within the DMZ.

He came to Seoul on August 15 to attend a “DMZ Forum International Conference.” His first stop was at the DMZ. The DMZ seems more bustling than ever with the construction of the Gyeongin (Seoul-Incheon) railroad and Donghae railroad underway. In the Peace Village in Daeseong-dong, a residential area of civilians within the DMZ, many building are being built. On the other hand, wetlands, the habitats of cranes, are diminishing.

When I saw the polluted and drying streams in Daeseong-dong because of developments, the first thing that came to my mind is that fewer cranes would visit DMZ this winter. Once numbering more than 1,000, the number of cranes in the DMZ has dwindled to less than 200.

The kinds of cranes decreased from four or five to two. It is true that there are crane habitats in other parts of the country, but no habitats in other regions are more vast that those of the DMZ. If nothing is done to address the problem, cranes will be no longer seen in DMZ within 10 years.

Archbold, the director of the “DMZ Forum,” actively participates plans to set up an ecological peace park in the DMZ, aided by Ted Turner, the former chairman of CNN, and Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa. He also plans to serve as a member of the North and South Korea Joint Investigation Committee, established to build ecological park.

He said, “North Korea paid little attention to the need to preserve the ecology of the DMZ in the past, but it recently began to show interest in economic benefits from the ecological park. If North Korea actively takes part in the Joint Investigation Committee, within three years, the ecological park will be created.”

He is from Canada. He became devoted to cranes by chance after seeing cranes flying in droves in the early 1970s. At that time, he planned to go to a medical school. But he changed his major and obtained a doctorate in ornithology. In 1973 he established the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin. Since then, he has traveled around the world conducting research and educational activities of crane habitats for over 30 years. He pointed out, “There are 18 kinds of cranes in the world. Among them, 11 kinds are in danger of extinction.

Declining Wetlands; Cranes will be extinct within ten years-

After establishing the foundation, he wrote a letter to a Korean professor, an acquaintance, that he wanted to visit the DMZ. He wanted to see in person the DMZ’s “ecological reputation” that he had heard about from his fellow scholars. In 1974 it was difficult for foreigners to gain access to the DMZ, but he succeed in persuading the Korean government to allow him to visit the DMZ and he went there.

He emphasized, “The DMZ’s ecological value should be protected to preserve not only cranes but also some 500 kinds of plants, about 100 kinds of insects and 20 kinds of fish.”

Dozens of visits to Korea made him fascinated by Korea’s scenic beauty as well as the DMZ. He is working on registering Mt. Seolak and Mt. Geumgang as global areas for the protection of nature designated by UNESCO.

He is a crane enthusiast and raises some 120 cranes. He said with a smile, “I hope the day fast comes when I am allowed to observe cranes in the northern part of DMZ in North Korea.

Mi-Kyung Jung mickey@donga.com