Mystery of the Korean DMZ

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 February, 2007, 12:00am

Birdwatchers believe the reason for a smaller-than-expected rise in the number of black-faced spoonbills this year lies on a few islets in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea.

The birds are seen as emblems of conservation in East Asia because their numbers have recovered from a critically endangered 294 in 1989-90 to 1,760 this year. The recovery has been aided by close co-ordination between Japan, Taiwan, the mainland and Hong Kong. Hong Kong and Taiwan provide shelter for 70 per cent of the birds in winter, but little is known about its prime breeding habitat in the DMZ.

Yu Yat-tung, waterbird monitoring programme co-ordinator of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, which runs the international black-faced spoonbill census, said there was only a 5 per cent increase in the number of birds observed in wetlands in the region this year. Every year since the society began compiling a census of spoonbills in 1989, numbers have increased by between 10 and 15 per cent. In the 2004-05 season there were 1,475 birds, in 2005-06 there were 1,679. But the 2006-07 season has seen a rise to only 1,760 birds.

Mr Yu said observers in Hong Kong's wetlands did not record many juvenile birds, suggesting there had been some problems with breeding. 'We do not know the cause, but we are confident it is not due to human activity because no one is allowed in this area,' he said. 'The DMZ provides a fantastic wildlife sanctuary, but it does limit our ability to monitor them there.'

Society chairman Cheung Ho-fai said the smaller increase could be due to a typhoon last summer.