Peace Birds Find Home in War Zone
by Helen Zhang, age 12
Considered by many to be birds of peace, cranes are among the rarest birds in the world. Fifteen species of cranes continue to survive in the world, two of which inhabit the Korean Peninsula-along the Demilitarized Zone that separates North from South.
In 1953, a ceasefire paused the Korean War. Because farming no longer takes place there, the natural habitat of the region has grown back, along with its wildlife. Two of the world’s rarest cranes, the white-naped and red-crowned crane, are among those that have returned to the area. Nevertheless, their return may cause problems.
A reliable source of food for the cranes is unplowed rice fields. The rice fields in the Cheorwon Basin are some of the few places where these birds have access to such food. However, in South Korea, with the introduction of modern agricultural technology, fewer farmers leave their fields unplowed during the winter. Now, they plow almost immediately after the harvest, stripping the cranes of their food.
In North Korea, the situation is not much different. Randy Ireson, a former coordinator for North Korean programs with the nonprofit American Friends Service Committee says, “[the] North Korean farm system was built on a high energy and high fertilizer model.”
Liquid fuel, petroleum, and natural gas shortages caused the crop production to drop from seven or eight tons per hectare to two to three tons. In addition, North Korea has ruined its land with chemicals. This has a negative effect on the people of North Korea as well as the cranes. Observers guess between 650,000 and 2.6 million people have died of starvation because of the devastating land loss.
George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin, is working on a project to bring cranes back to the Anbyon Plain in Korea. He plans to restore the habitat, teach farmers how to plant organically, and provide them with the proper equipment. A pair of red-crowned cranes, borrowed from the Pyongyang Zoo in North Korea, would act as a magnet for migrating wild cranes. So far, the project has been a success. Last November, twenty-two red-crowned cranes were counted at the Anbyon Plain. Soon after, forty-one cranes were spotted.
These cranes are making a comeback from the brink of extinction. Scientists hope these beautiful creatures will one day soon be able to live in the peace of their natural environment.