International Crane Foundation

Han River estuary

Han River Conservation Story

Han River estuaryHan River

White-naped Cranes have wintered in Korea’s Han River estuary (right) for centuries. The cranes come for sedge tubers in the wetlands and tidbits of leftover rice in surrounding rice paddies. The Han River crosses the southwest corner of the DMZ, the buffer between North and South Korea. Created at the end of the Korean War, the DMZ is still closed, making it an ideal, if unplanned wildlife refuge.


ICF in Action

ICF has worked in the Han River estuary since 1974, when Co-founder George Archibald visited the DMZ to learn about the White-naped and Red-crowned Cranes in the area. During George’s visit, ICF colleague Dr. Kim Hon Kyu, who had completed crane surveys in the DMZ the year prior, brought an official from the Korean Ministry of Culture to the site. The group discussed the importance of the estuary for cranes and geese. Within a few weeks of the meeting the east side of the estuary was proclaimed a Natural Monument by the Korean Government. The west side of the estuary was further protected, in part through the efforts of a grass-roots organization, the Korean Council for Crane Preservation.

Crested ibisThis crested ibis was photographed in the DMZ by ICF Co-founder Dr. George Archibald in 1976. Korean researchers are interested in reintroducing this species (the last bird was reported in 1978) – if suitable habitat remains.

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“ICF and partners promote the idea of creating an international nature reserve for cranes and other wildlife in the DMZ.”


Korean water deer

Korean water deer. Photo by Danny Donguk Han


The Way Forward

Although there have been many changes in the two Koreas during the past 40 years, the DMZ has remained undeveloped. But change is possible in the future. The current administration of South Korea has plans to develop the Han River Estuary into a major seaport and the Cheorwon Basin, another important area for cranes in the DMZ, into Reunification City, a new metropolis.

In North Korea, one of the most important areas for Red-crowned Cranes was the Anbyon Plain, just 90 miles northeast of the Cheorwon Plain. Since 2008 ICF and colleagues from Japan and South Korea have supported ornithologists in North Korea in implementing a recovery program for cranes on the Anbyon Plain. One of the first steps of this project is to help local farmers by supplying much-needed equipment and by teaching organic farming practices. A pair of captive Red-crowned Cranes was provided by China to serve as decoys and attract wild cranes to return. In November 2009, 41 cranes landed and remained in the area for several days. The Anbyon Project is one of only a few international cooperative programs being implemented in North Korea.

A success with the Anbyon Project might be a bridge for expanded collaboration between the two Koreas on the conservation of critical areas for cranes in and near the DMZ.ICF and partnerspromote the idea of creating an international nature reserve for cranes and other wildlife in the DMZ. Then, when reunification happens, critical habitat for cranes will be protected from threats of urban development.