[VIEWPOINT]Show respect for other speciesEvery year during the period of mid-November till March of the following year, many bird watchers and bird lovers visit Izumi city at the southern tip of Kyushu island in Japan, to see 12,000 or so internationally designated endangered species ― internationally protected migratory birds, such as the hooded and white-naped cranes that fly there for the winter from the Northeastern part of Asia via the Korean Peninsula.
For more than twenty years, the Japanese government has deliberated over measures to cope with the possibility that the endangered species could become extinct all at once because the majority gather there together and live in an unnatural way, relying on food that is fed them by visitors. Worries have been expressed from inside and outside Japan over the possibility of an outbreak of a disease like avian flu, but the Japanese government does not have a solution yet.
Japan has been desperately requesting that Korea, an original site for the birds to spend winter, restore the natural habitat for the cranes, but the reality is that it is difficult for us to even preserve a few existing areas that we have. Hwawon reservoir in Daegu city was in the spotlight as a winter resting ground for around 250 hooded cranes in the mid-1980s but, as the number of greenhouses increased due to development and projects for boosting farmers’ income, around 100 hooded cranes that had previously passed winter there had to look for a new habitat after flying around the area. On their way to Japan, the cranes, that seem oblivious to people in Izumi and even come close to take food from them, get scared and are ready to fly away if they see people even from a distance here in Korea.
The internationally designated endangered bird species, the black-headed sea gull, lived on the west coast of the Korean Peninsula for tens of thousands of years but lost its habitat at the end of the 1980s due to large scale land reclamation projects along the west coast.
They then migrated to a new habitat, poorer in environmental conditions but safer than our west coast, in Japan’s Kyushu area. Two thousand black-headed sea gulls now live there.
Unlike Korea, the Japanese government and civic organizations actively promote black-headed sea gull protection projects internationally. Although we have biological resources of international, academic and economic importance, we do not even know their values. The Japanese are different from us, they do understand the value of their resources. So, what reasons are there for the difference between the two nationalities?
The same goes for the Asiatic black bears, with their crescent-marked chests. Koreans thought lightly of killing 150kg wild black bears to extract 100g of bear’s gall, and as a consequence we are now making desperate efforts to save the species and repair the ecosystem of the twenty or so bears that are left, almost on the verge of extinction.
By contrast, there are 15,000 or so wild Asiatic bears living in Japan, where the government, local autonomous bodies and civic wildlife protection organizations actively work together to stop their extinction while avoiding damage to crops.
Japan is also experiencing a rise in crop damage due to an increase in wild boars, an aging population in mountain villages and a decrease in its natural forests. But the Japanese understand the value of wild animals and set up electric fences to protect crops while co-existing with wild animals. They do not set traps under the justification of self-preservation.
Last August and November, two black bears that had been brought in from North Korea had their short lives ended on Mount Jiri when they were caught in traps installed illegally to capture wild boars.
The local residents, who only emphasized the damage they received that was caused by wild animals, protested fiercely and public opinion was sympathetic to them.
However, that must not lead to tolerance of traps as an inevitable form of self defense.
We urgently need to change the misguided awareness and prejudice in our society that considers wild boars that have lost their way and come down to urban areas as fierce animals, and kill them by shooting, refusing to allow even the last survival efforts of wild animals that have lost their habitat.
People who do not acknowledge the survival rights of other species do not have any hope for their own future.
* The writer is the head of the department for the restoration of crescent chest bears at the Korea National Parks Authority. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Han Sang-hoon