National Geographic : 2003 Jul
permeates South Korean society, a legacy of the 13 centuries, ending in 1945, that Korea enjoyed as a unified political entity. This longing for reunification reaches even to guard posts in the DMZ. In the central moun tains, Sgt. Kim Seung Whan, his face streaked with war paint from martial-arts practice, admits that he is uneasy about the prospect of fighting North Koreans. "They are our broth ers," he says, "and yet they are our enemies. It is heartbreaking." the movements of two North Korean soldiers who have emerged from their guard tower. "They don't have any heat," the officer says. "I think they came outside to get warm in the sun." In these same mountains a force of one, an amateur wildlife biologist named Lim Sun Nam, helps me finally to see the DMZ as something other than an armed camp. For the past five years Lim, a former TV cameraman, has pur sued a quixotic mission to prove the existence in South Korea of the Siberian tiger, the tradi tional symbol of unified The state of war can seem weirdly unreal, Korea. Tigers officially have Si tia t t iti been absent from the south as if the soldiers are actors at ahistorical ern peninsula for at least half theme park-call it WarLand. Entrepreneurs also eye the DMZ, scanning the lowlands on the peninsula's west and east coasts and seeing corridors for trade and tour ism. Recently, both governments have cleared minefields inside the DMZ for two north-south railways closed since the war. In February the first cross-border road in 50 years opened to take South Korean tourists to visit Mount Kumgang, a cluster of sacred peaks in the North (see story on pages 22-3). But the most compelling-and dreamy vision belongs to conservationists. They look at the wetlands of five rivers crossing the DMZ, and at the Taebaek Mountains, a steep forested maze of 5,000-foot peaks near the east coast, and they see international peace parks, ecosystem preserves, and wildlife sanctuaries. One of the few good things to come from Ko rea's 50-year standoff, the security shield erected around the DMZ and its buffer zones has inad vertently preserved the largest piece of undevel oped land-more than 960 square miles-in all of South Korea, one of the world's most densely settled countries. Most of the wilderness remains off-limits, however. To see the DMZ's star wild life attractions-two species of rare Asian cranes that winter in the Cheorwon Basin-visitors first must apply to the military for permission. Until tensions ease on the border, which seems a very distant prospect, the only powerful bin oculars allowed inside the DMZ will belong not to bird-watchers but to soldiers manning hun dreds of guard posts. On a wind-ripped moun taintop in the central DMZ, a South Korean officer hands me his field glasses so I can watch 26 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * JULY 2003 a century. But from months of camping and hiking solo in the high country north of Hwacheon, only a few miles south of the DMZ, Lim has found pro vocative clues: tigerlike prints patterning the snow, tree trunks shredded by large claws, the remains of pigs and cows mauled by a powerful predator, accounts from villagers of hearing roars "like a motorcycle revving." Lim, a short, powerful man with an Army style flattop, hurries up a steep hillside, racing the falling sun so he can change the film and bat tery on a motion-sensing camera. He has posi tioned it close to where he found several torn-up cows. Lim does not doubt that a family of tigers lives in these mountains. His dream is to con vince the military to open a 500-yard-wide gap in the DMZ fence to allow tiger populations from the north and south to meet and breed. But first he must see a tiger and take its picture. Lim's stories about tigers and their hunting prowess spook me in the gathering dark, my nerves already frayed from living for weeks in the tense surroundings of the DMZ. As Lim camou flages his camera, a bright glow appears at the brow of the hill. "It's a searchlight," I gasp, certain that the mil itary has arrived on yet another nighttime ma neuver. "No, friend," Lim laughs, "that's just the rising of the moon." And suddenly I for get about the DMZ. Join our DMZ forum, or watch Tonight we're in tiger footage of tank maneuvers, country. We're in wil- Apache helicopters, and the derness. Tonight, for world's most dangerous golf only a moment, we're course at nationalgeograph in a peaceful place. l ic.com/ngm/0307.