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Korean Wildlife

Summary of Korea Wildlife
Korea's Main Page


Due to the Korean Peninsula's long north-south stretch and topographic complexity, there are wide variations in temperature and rainfall. The mean temperature throughout the four seasons ranges from 5oC to 16oC and rainfall from 500 to 1,500 millimeters.

 Such an environment makes the land a diversified floral region. Lee Woo-tchul's Lineaments Florae Korea (1997) listed 190 families, 1,079 genera, 3,129 species, 8 subspecies, 627 varieties, 1 subvariety and 306 forms of higher plants, including pteridophytes. This means that more than 4,000 kinds of vascular plants, including about 570 endemics are currently growing in the country. By comparison, there are about 1,500 species in Denmark and about 2,000 species in England. Many plants in northern Korea have elements in common with those growing in Manchuria. While many alpine plants are found in the north and high mountain areas, the central part and the western lowlands have the predominant amount of vegetation, such as broad-leaved deciduous trees. The southern coast and the offshore islands of Chejudo and Ullungdo are regions where warm-temperate plants grow abundantly. Many evergreen plants growing in the southern parts are identical or similar to those found in the southwestern part of Japan. While there are many plant species in Korea which have common elements with those growing in neighboring countries, the aforementioned environmental conditions have brought about the emergence of many endemic species.

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Warm-Temperate Vegetation

Because of the high average annual temperature (14oC) prevailing over the southern part of the peninsula and the offshore islands - Chejudo, SohCuksando and UllCungdo - numerous plant species grow in those areas. On the shorelines of Chejudo island, more than 70 species of broad-leaved evergreens grow. These include Camellia japonica L., Cinnamomun camphora Siebold, Ardisia pusilla DC., Quercus myrsinaefolia Blume, Ligustrum japonicum Thunb., Korthalsella japonica (Thunb.) Engl., Rhaphiolepis umbellata (Thunb.) Makino, Neolistsea sericea (Blume) Koidz., Actinodaphne lancifolia (Siebold et Zucc.) Meisn., Euonymus japonicus Thunb. Euonymus fortunei (Turcz.) Hand. - Mazz., Trachelospermum asiaticum (Siebold et Zucc.) Nakai, Ficus thunbergii Maxim., Machilus japonica Siebold et Zucc., Daphniphyllum tejismanni Zoll., Pittosporum tobira (Thunb.) Aiton, Citrus unshiu Markovich, ect. Also found are such herbal plants as Farfugium japonicum (L.) Kitam., Pollia japonica Thunb., Crinum asiaticum L. var. japonicum Baker, and such broad-leaved deciduous trees as Celtis sinensis Pers., and Elaeagnus macrophylla Thunb.

The southeast slope of Mt. Hallasan on Chejudo island is more abundant in warm-temperate vegetation than the northern side of the mountain. Such vegetation gradually diminishes in the number of species as the contour line of temperature moves northward to the southern shore of the peninsula via KComundo, SohCuksando and other islands. Near Pusan and Mokp'o, the number of natural broad-leaved evergreens is limited to fewer than 20 species. These areas are also the northernmost limits of where Farfugium japonicum (L.) Kitam survive.

UllCungdo island, located at 37030:N parallels, has many plants of the warm temperate zone, including Daphniphyllum teijsmanni Zoll., Camellia japonica L., Magnolia obovata Thunb., Ilex integra Thunb., Aucuba japonica Thunb., Neolitsea sericea (Blume) Koidz., and Elaeagnus macrophylla Thunb. Because of the high contour of the temperate zone, Camellia japonica L. and Neolitsea sericea (Blume) Koidz. are distributed as far north as Taech'nongdo island, off Hwanghae-do province. This distribution is caused by seed dispersal through ocean currents.

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Temperate Vegetation

The Korean Peninsula, except for the high terrains of Mt. Hallasan on Chejudo island and the T'aebaeksan mountains, has a typical temperate zone climate.

It abounds in the type of vegetation natural to the temperate zone, such as Pinus densiflora Siebold et Zucc. and other deciduous broad-leaved trees. Typical deciduous broad-leaved trees found in Korea are: Quercus aliena Blume, Quercus acutissima Carruth., Quercus serrata Thunb., Carpinus laxiflora (Siebold et Zucc.) Blume, Betula platyphylla Sukaczev var. japonica (Miq.) Hara, Carpinus tschonoskii Maxim., Fraxinus rhynchophylla Hance, Salix gracilistyla Miq., Tilia amurensis Rupr., Styrax japonica Siebold et Zucc., Forsythia koreana (Rehder) Nakai, Lespedeza biclor Turcz., Rhododend-ron mucronulatum Turcz., Rhododendron yedoense Maxim. var. poukhanense (Lev.) Nakai, and Rhododendron schlippenbachii Maxim. Herbaceous plants in this zone include Miscanthus sinensis Andersson, Miscanthus sacchariflorus (Maxim.) Benth., Calamagrostis arundinacea (L.) Roth, Chrysanthemum zawadskii Herbich, Hylomecon vernalis Maxim., Primula sieboldii E. Morren, Platycodon grandiflorum (Jacq.) A. DC., Adenophora triphylla (Thunb.) A. DC., Codonopsis lanceolata (Siebold et Zucc.) Trautv., Melanpyrum reseum Maxim., Elsholztia splendens Nakai and Gentiana pseudoaquatica Kusn.

Among the endemic species of plants, thriving in Korea are Abeliophyllum distichum Nakai, Hylomecon hylomeconoides Nakai, and Aconitum chiisanense Nakai.

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Cold-Temperate Vegetation

Cold temperate plants grow in the northern part of Korea and in the mountains, such as Mt. SCoraksan (1,000 meters), Mt. Chirisan (1,300 meters) and Mt. Hallasan (1,500 meters), where the mean annual temperature on all three mountains is 5oC. Typically inhabiting these locations are such needle-leaved trees as Abies nephrolepis Maxim., Larix olegensis A. Henry var. koreana Nakai, Thuja koraiensis Nakai, Picea jezoensis (Siebold et Zucc.) Carriere, Pinus pumila (Pall.) Regel, Juniperus chinensis L. var. sargentii A. Henry, Picea koraiensis Nakai, Abies Koreana Wilson, Taxus cuspidata Siebold et Zucc. and broad-leaved deciduous trees as Quercus mongolica Fisch., Quercus dentata Thunb., Chosenia bracteosa Nakai, Betula platyphylla Sukaczev var. japonica (Miq.) Hara, Betula ermanii Cham., Betula costata Trautv., Salix myrtilloides L., Vaccinium uliginosum L., and Syringa dilatata Nakai.

As for endemic plants, there is a predominant growth of Echinosophora koreensis Nakai in Hamgyongbuk-do province and near Yanggu, Kangwon-do province. Myongch'-Con-gun, in HamgyCongbuk-do province, is the native habitat of Sasa coreana Nakai and forms the northern limit for bamboo. The endemic herbaceous plant is Hanabusaya asiatica Nakai, which grows in the northern part of the country. Rheum coreanum Nakai is found on the PujCon Plateau, on the Changbaeksan range, HamgyCongnam-do province.

There are many kinds of plants common to Korea and Manchuria. Typical of these include: Astilboides tabularis (Hemsl.) Engl., Acerphyllum rossii (Oliv.) Engl. and Jeffersonia dubia (Maxim.) Benth. & Hook. f. Pinus pumila (Pall.) Regel. These plants grow abundantly in the northern mountains as well as on Mt. Soraksan. Thuja koraiensis Nakai, which grows in the northern mountains, can be found on the higher part of the T'aebaeksan mountains. Vaccinium ulginosum L., grows on the summits of Mt. Soraksan and Mt. Hallasan. This is regarded as a relic species, its present location resulting from the climatic changes which presumably occurred during the Tertiary Period.

Empetrum nigrum L. var. japonicum K. Koch grows in the northernmost regions and the southern end of Mt. Hallasan. Diapensia lapponica L. var. obovata F. Schmidt is found on Mt. Hallasan and in Japan. Their distribution may suggest that the Korean Peninsula, Chejudo island, and the Japanese archipelago were once a connected landmass.

Major flora in the cold-temperate climate of the northern forest areas include Larix olgensis A. Henry var. koreana Nakai, Picea jezoensis (Siebold et Zucc.) Carriere, Abies nephrolepis Maxim., Pinus koraiensis Siebold et Zucc., Picea koraiensis Nakai, and Abies holophylla Maxim.

The important needle-leaved trees growing on Mt. Kumgangsan include Pinus koraiensis Sieb. et Zucc., Abies holiphylla Maxim., Picea jezoensis (Siebold et Zucc.) Carriere, Larix olgensis A. Henry var. koreana Nakai, and Thuja koraiensis Nakai. The predominant species growing on Mt. Chirisan are Juniperus chinensis L. var. sargentii A. Henry, Pinus koraiensis Siebold et Zucc., Abies holophylla Maxim., Abies Koreana E.H. Wilson, and Picea jezoensis (Siebold et Zucc.) Carriere. Near the summit of Mt. Hallasan on Chejudo island grow Abies Koreana E.H. Wilson and Juniperus chinensis L. var. sargentii A. Henry.

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Flowering Periods

July is the season when flowering reaches its peak. Although summer is the peak of the flowering season, there are quite a few species that also bloom during the spring and autumn seasons. Woody plants, for example, tend to have their flowering peaks in May.

Flowers blooming in spring include: Forsythia koreana Nakai, Rhododendron mucronulatum Turcz., Lonicera praeflorens Batalin, Fraxinus ryhnchophylla Hance, Abeliophyllum distichum Nakai, Prunus ansu Komarov, Prunus yedoensis Matsum., Magnolia kobus DC., Sorbus alnifolia (Siebold et Zucc.) K. Koch, Ginkgo biloba L., Iris rossii Baker, Pulsatilla koreana (Y. Yabe) Nakai, Erythronium japonicum Decne., Berberis amurensis Rupr., Corus officinalis Siebold et Zucc., Hylomecon vernalis Maxim., and Viola mandshurica W. Becker.

Plants blooming in summer comprise: Paeonia japonica (Makino) Miyabe et Takeda, Paeonia lactiflora Pall., Paeonia suffruticosa Andrews, Iris ensata Thunb. var. spontanea (Makino) Nakai, Rosa rugosa Thunb., Sorbus commixta Hedl., Magnolia sieboldii K. Koch, Maianthemum dilatatum (Wood) Nelson et J.F. Macbr., Lilium concolar Salisb., Lilium distichum Nakai, Lilium hansonii Leitchtlin, Morus alba L., Chenopodium album L. var. centrorubrum Makino, Syringa wolfi C. K. Schneid., Dianthus chinensis L., Rosa multiflora Thunb., Hypericum ascyron L., Cirsium japonicum DC. var. ussurinese (Regel) Kitam., Platycodon grandiflorum (Jacq.) A.DC., Phytolacca insularis Nakai, Hanabusaya asiatica Nakai, and Anemone narcissiflora L.

Plants which bloom in autumn include Miscanthus sinensis Anderson, Miscanthus sacchariflorus (Maxim.) Benth., Sedum aizoon L., Gentiana scabra Bunge, Elscholtzia splendens Nakai, Patrinia scabiosaefolia Fisch., Aster incisus Fisch., Chrysanthemum zawadskii Herbich, and Lespedeza bicolar Turcz.

During the winter season, Camellia japonica L. can be seen blooming on Chejudo, the Huksando islands as well as the southernmost coast.

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Korea belongs to the Palaearctic zoogeographical realm. Its geographical history, topography and climate divide the peninsula into highland and lowland districts. Included in the former are the Myohyangsan mountains, the Kaema Plateau and the more rugged terrain of the T'aebaeksan mountains, all areas that are high in altitude and similar in climate to the Amur River region. Most of this area lies about 1,000 kilometers from Mt. Paektusan, on the Korean-Manchurian border. A large portion of this area is covered with boreal forests and many of the higher mountains supported glaciers during the Pleistocene period.

Animal life in and around this area is closely related to that of the boreal zone of Manchuria, China, Siberia, Sakhalin and Hokkaido. Representative species include: deer, roe deer, Amur goral, sable, brown bear, tiger, lynx, northern pika, water shrew, muskrat, Manchurian ring-necked pheasant, black grouse, hawk owl, pine grosbeak and three-toed woodpecker.

The remainder of the country comprises the lowland peninsular area, which enjoys a milder climate. The fauna, closely related to that of southern Manchuria, central China and Japan, include black bear, river deer, mandarin vole, white-bellied black (or Tristram's) woodpecker, faiy pitta and ring-necked pheasant.

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There have been 408 species of birds recorded in South Korea. Of these, 90 species are vagrants, and the Kuroda's Sheldrake has probably become extinct. Of the other 317 species, 52 are permanent residents and 265 are migrants. Of the migratory birds, 112 species will visit the country during winter season while 63 pass through during the summer and the remaining 90, during the spring and autumn seasons. One hundred and fifteen species breed in Korea, of which 52 are indigenous species and 63 are summer visitors. There are 14 other species of birds recorded in North Korea. Of these, the black grouse, hawk owl, rufous-bellied woodpecker, lesser-spotted woodpecker, black white-bellied woodpecker, three-toed woodpecker, and rufous-backed bunting are boreal residents of the high terrain of Mt. Paektusan; the rest are vagrants.

There are six orders, 17 families, 48 genera and 78 species of indigenous mammals in Korea. These include 28 species of Chiroptera, 18 Rodentia, 16 Carnivora, 11 Insectivora, two Lagomorpha, and seven Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates). There are 28 endemic subspecies on record that inhabit the peninsula, but this is yet to be verified. Large mammals include the tiger, leopard, lynx, leopard cat, wolf, badger, bear, marten, weasel, wild boar, roe deer, and Amur goral. A few species such as the bat, shrew, striped hamster and muskrat are found only in North Korea. The tiger, lynx, two species of deer, sable, and northern pika are found only in the plateau regions of Mt. Paektusan in North Korea. Other wildlife species in South Korea include 25 reptiles, 14 amphibians and 130 freshwater fishes.

Seventeen species of terrestrial mammals have been found on Chejudo island. Wild bear, deer, and wild cat are now extinct and today the land is inhabited by roe deer, weasel, hamster, field mouse, house rat and two bat species; there are also 283 forms of birds, and eight amphibians and reptilians on the island.

Ullungdo island is devoid of endemic mammals. The island's known mammals consist of six species (two species of bat, one shrew and three house rats are also found on the Korean mainland). There are no amphibians or reptiles on the island except for frogs and snakes which have been introduced by man. As for birds, 63 species have been recorded on the island.

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Natural monuments

Twenty-four species of wildlife have been designated as natural monuments. In addition, twenty species of bird, two mammal species and several insect species have been designated as endangered species. There are 18 localities designated as breeding sites (eight egretries and heronries), passing or wintering sites, or habitats for Tristram's woodpecker, fairy pitta, and loon. Also designated as monuments are domesticated silky fowl, the Californian grey whale, the domestic Cheju horse (Chorangmal), the endemic dog called Chindogae, Sapsalgae and four fish species, Anguilla mormorata Quoy and Germard, Brachymystax lenox Pallas, Gonoprokopterus mylodon Berg and Siniperca scherzeri Steindachner.

The following species of animals include those designated as natural monuments by the Cultural Properties Preservation Law under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. For more detailed list, please refer to the appendix I located at the end of this chapter.

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Tristram's (or white-bellied black) woodpecker, Dryocopus javensis richardsi

Total length: 46 centimeters. A large black and white woodpecker with a crimson crown and crimson cheek patches. Upper parts, throat and upper breast, black; the remainder of under parts and rump, white. Tristram's woodpecker is a permanent resident of Hwanghae-do province, North Korea.

Old records indicate that such woodpeckers were collected occasionally around Hwanghae-do province (North Korea), Ch'ungch'songbuk-do and Kyongsangnam-do provinces but the only reliable breeding places that have been reported are Kwangnung and Kumnung in Kyonggi-do province. This large woodpecker is a rare resident of the small area of heavy forested area remaining in Korea. Nesting success in Korea was also confirmed in the forest of Hwanghae-do province, North Korea. These birds change their nesting site within a short distance each year.

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White-naped crane, Grus vipio

Total length: 119 centimeters. A pale grey crane with a white head and neck; grey on the body continues up the sides of the neck in a narrow line to a little below the eye. Lore naked and red; legs, red.

This bird is a regular winter visitor and passage migrant. The species is the most abundant of all the cranes in Korea, but its number has decreased in recent years. In November and February of every year, the flocks of about 2,000 birds concentrate in the estuary of the Han-gang river and the Ch'sorwon Basin, Kangwon-do province. The estuary and basin are bird sanctuaries designated as Natural Monuments No. 250 and 245 respectively. The crane migrates to Korea in late October and November and winters here until the end of March.

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Baikal Teal, Anas formosa Georgi

The Baikal Teal Anas formosa is a handsome duck found in Northeast Asia. Although it was extremely common in early this century, in recent years numbers have declined dramatically, and it now joins the rank of the three rarest species of teal in the world, along with the Madagascar Teal Anas bernieri, the New Zealand Brown Teal Anas aucklandica and the Marbled Teal Marmaronetta augustirostris of Central Asia.

The Baikal Teal is larger than the Common Teal Anas crecca, and the male is easily identifiable by its striking yellow and green head and grey and brown body. In comparison, the female has a duller head with a prominent white circular spot at the base of the bill as well as plainer rufous brown plumage.

The Baikal Teal is now rarely seen during the winter season. It has been sited in only a few locations in Korea, China and Japan. The present world population is estimated to be about 75,000 birds. Taking into consideration this decline in population, the species has only recently been listed under the CITES conservation in an attempt to monitor international trade of the species.

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The Baikal Teal only breeds in northeast Russia, preferring the river valleys and basins of Anadyr, Kolyma, Yana, Indigirka Lena and Amur, the Okhotsk coast and Kamchatka. It winters in rice fields and wetlands in Korea, China and Japan. There are records of stray birds from northwestern India, Nepal, Hong Kong and North America.

The main cause of the decline in numbers is believed to be hunting. A common traditional method of hunting the Baikal Teal in Japan was the use of throw nets, whereby huge nets are thrown into bird flocks as they fly at dusk to regular feeding grounds. Today, shooting is the most common method of hunting the Baikal Teal, especially in Russia and China. At Lake Khanka in Russia, there used to be a three-week hunting season of this species when the birds migrated through. Birds are also killed by adding poisons or pesticides to grain. Poisoning technique is still practiced in China, and was formally used in Korea as well.

The Baikal Teal has also become a popular species in wildfowl collections and zoos, as the birds are so easily collected. Large numbers were exported by dealers in China and Hong Kong for the international market. Due to its shy nature, however, the Baikal Teal is a difficult species to breed in captivity until recently. Consequently, a continuous supply from the wild was needed to provide new birds for these collections.

Migration routes between breeding and wintering grounds are not exactly known. They are believed to travel quickly, making use of different routes in autumn and spring. The birds use river valleys with associated flood waters, marshes and freshwater lakes during migration. Large numbers used to pass through southeastern Russia, particularly the Amur Valley and Lake Khanka. During the springtime, about 5,000-10,000 birds stop over at Lake Khanka.

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The birds leave their breeding grounds in late August-September and arrive in their wintering grounds in late October. They depart northwards in March and reach their breeding destinations by April-May. Little information is available on the breeding biology of the Baikal Teal. The birds build their nests in grass and sedge tussocks, often in dwarf forests of birch and willow.

The bill is shaped for filter feeding, with similar filter palates as those found in Common Teal, but the Baikal Teal has apparently evolved from an aquatic filter feeder due to its predominantly terrestrial diet. The main food during the winter season consists of rice grain and seeds, as well as aquatic invertebrates and fish. Consequently, during this period they are mainly associated with large flat expanses of rice-fields and large open areas of freshwater that remain ice-free for safe roosting.

The Baikal Teal was a common passage migrant through Korea on its way to Japan. With the decline in numbers, however, few birds are believed to migrate through the Primorye Territory anymore. As recently as 1984, the Baikal Teal was discovered to winter in Korea. Important wintering sites are Ch' Consuman impoundment water, Sapkyoho lake of Asanman bay, Kumgang estuary, the west coast, Tapch'kong Impoundment Water, Nonsan and the lakes at Ch'nong-am in the flood plain of the Naktonggang Valley, in Kyongsangnam-do province. Since 1987, about 70,000 birds have been observed there each winter. Korea is now the world's largest known concentration of the species, holding over 90 percent of the world's known population. Small numbers spend the winter at Up'o Marsh in the Naktonggang Valley, Kyongsangnam-do province.

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