In 2018, the eyes of the world turn to Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the Winter Olympics. For the past 60 years, clashes and violence have defined this country, destroying its landscapes and eliminating its wildlife.
But now, scientists are beginning to realise that in this land of conflict wildlife actually thrives. Where sprawling cities meet the wilderness, where land meets the sea and at the hostile frontier between north and south, wildlife flourishes – and scientists are devoting more resources than ever before into studying these hidden habitats.
South Korea is a country with its own unique attractions. It is small – 100,295 km2 – and among the most densely populated countries in the world. A high-tech nation – 90% of its population live in cities. But rapid industrialisation and urbanisation have taken their toll on the environment; the list of extinct or endangered animals is long.
Against these odds, Korean wildlife is recovering. Mountainous regions, a huge variety of islands and unique mud flat ecosystems have become stepping stones for various species to re-colonise this intensely urbanised island. Even more surprising, the demilitarised zone along the border between North and South Korea has proven to be a sanctuary for many kinds of wildlife. This broad strip of land excluded from almost any human interference was one of the main starting points for the revival of Korea’s wild side.
Utilising cutting-edge technology, this series reveals a unique, rarely seen side of Korea, introducing the places that give refuge to some of the rarest species of plants and animals on Earth.
EPISODE ONE: Fellowship of Nature
We travel through jagged mountain peaks surrounded by dense pockets of mist. The sun emerges above the horizon, lighting the clouds a rich orange. This is Korea – a prehistoric and magical land. For thousands of years, Korea was known across the world for its staggering natural beauty. Now, it is better known for its decades of conflict and tension. Today, that tension has risen to alarming new levels. We cross Korea’s wild, bird-filled landscapes to the edge of the DMZ, a hostile barrier that cuts through the heart of a once great wilderness.
At one time the demilitarised zone was wild and teaming with life. Now it is one of the most dangerous places on Earth, filled with land mines, and opposing military forces poised to retaliate at the slightest sign of aggression. This may be what defines Korea to the outside world today, but in the future, it is the Korean people’s extraordinary relationship with nature that could set a unifying example to the rest of the world. And amazingly, the infamous DMZ is leading the way…
Throughout history, Koreans on both sides of the border have shared one ancient and fundamental belief: everything in nature has a soul – animals, trees, mountains. These beliefs are strongest in Korea’s elders, who may once again lead Korea in a new direction. We introduce the stories of four indigenous Koreans whose intimate relationships with specific animals showcase the country’s spectacular habitats and magnificent natural history:
The falconer with his goshawk on the plains; the old lady who dives with dolphins, stalking octopus on a single breath; the master of the mud flats; a fisherman living among prehistoric swamp eels and walking fish, and a Buddhist Monk whose industrious paper wasps suffer violent attacks from giant hornets in his temple every year.
Throughout this first episode, as these engaging and unique people/animal stories unfold, we weave thematically connected scenes of fascinating blue-chip animal behaviour – including giant rhinoceros beetles battling like gladiators, gluttonous food-stealing chipmunks, deadly carnivorous plants catching their prey, and spiders that have learned how to hunt fish.
EPISODE TWO: A New Beginning
We open programme 2 in a similar way to programme 1, only this time, through the mist, we reveal the endless barbed wire fences of the impenetrable DMZ. We track along the edge of the most infamous conflict zone in the world.
A heavily armed soldier plays out an all too familiar scene as he patrols the DMZ perimeter, with rifle locked and loaded. He scans the wilderness before him for any sign of movement. He’s looking for the enemy, but in doing so, over the years, he has become an accidental expert on the wildlife of the DMZ.
Since the creation of the demilitarised zone after World War II, only armed soldiers have dared set foot inside this most dangerous of places, exposed to enemy fire and peppered with landmines. But for 60 years, development has continued outside this infamous strip. Farms, factories and towns have sprung up in the adjacent land, while the 160 mile DMZ itself remained in a time warp. Left untouched and isolated from the modern world, something magical happened – Nature reclaimed the demilitarised zone. It became the richest and most bio-diverse environment in all of Korea.
Korea’s wildlife pays no heed to arbitrary human barriers. Majestic red-crowned cranes – a symbol of peace in Korea – fly across the DMZ from north to south, as a massive wild boar creeps through the brush towards the soldier on patrol. The soldier shifts focus from enemy movements to the creature before him and begins to tell the extraordinary story of how, and when, he first started to notice that the animals were coming back. That was the beginning of an extraordinary relationship in the most dangerous place on Earth…