In 1953, a three-year war on the Korean Peninsula, in East Asia, ended with a cease-fire agreement. The agreement established an area dividing North Korea and South Korea. That area is called the demilitarized zone, or DMZ. People are forbidden from entering most of this strip of land. It is 155 miles long and more than two miles wide.
Today, South Korea is a democracy. North Korea is a dictatorship. Armed soldiers patrol the boundary between them, on both sides of the DMZ.
But inside the DMZ, life is calm. Without human contact, animals are thriving. Forests have recovered after being destroyed in the war. The area has become a wildlife sanctuary .
According to South Korea’s Ministry of Environment, the DMZ is home to 5,097 plant and animal species. And 106 of them are endangered or protected.
The red-crowned crane is one such species. The bird is endangered. It is threatened by habitat loss. But each winter, cranes migrate to the DMZ.
George Archibald is with the International Crane Foundation. He told TIME for Kids that in 2019, about 1,400 red-crowned cranes spent the winter in the region. That’s nearly half of the bird’s worldwide population.
Uk-Bae Lee lives in South Korea. He wrote and illustrated a book called When Spring Comes to the DMZ. Lee told TFK about marching to the area with the army. “I remember standing guard at the border, overlooking the DMZ,” he says. “My heart was full of pain because of the division across this lovely land.”
The countries are slowly working to fix their relationship. Someday, the DMZ may not be needed. But conservationists hope wildlife will still be protected. “The beautiful things that are created by nature—if they’re destroyed, they may be gone forever,” Archibald says.
Stop & Think! Why are two photographs included with this story? Do you think they are both necessary? What information can you gather from each photograph?