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Korean 'Tigerman' Prowls the DMZ
Lim Sun Nam believes that the Korean spirit lives in the demilitarized zone -- as an elusive tiger
Nayan Sthankiya (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2004-12-02 10:18 (KST)   
"Tigerman" Lim Sun Nam, in his element
©2004 NSthankiya
Tigers in Korean culture are considered to be sacred and once occupied vast tracts of the peninsula. But during the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910-1945, tigers were thought to have been hunted to extinction.

Over the years, though, there have been many tiger sightings. North Korea has designated the Siberian tiger an endangered species and set aside Baekdu Mountain, Wagalbong and Chuae Mountain as special tiger habitats.

Others say they have seen tigers in and around the area of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), which was established at the end of the Korean conflict in the early 1950s.

A no-man's land and buffer zone between North and South Korea, the DMZ is the last relatively untouched southern area of the Korean peninsula. Few people have ventured into the heart of the DMZ since the cessation of hostilities between the two Korea's.

Lim sets up a motion-sensitive camera in the woodlands along the DMZ.
©2004 NSthankiya
In part due to the lack of humans in the area, many species of flora and fauna -- found nowhere else in Korea -- call this place home. Migratory birds like the white-naped and red-crowned cranes and the endangered black-faced spoonbill, fly in and out. There are rare animals like the Asiatic black bear, the Eurasian lynx, goral antelopes and maybe even the elusive tiger.

Few people ever venture this close to the DMZ.
©2004 NSthankiya
This is the reasoning of at least one man who has dedicated the last seven years of his life to proving the tigers' existence.

Lim Sun Nam believes that in the DMZ, the Korean spirit is still alive. Historically, the tiger has embodied that spirit of strength, beauty and courage. For Lim, seeking out the tiger and restoring Korea's spirit is a patriotic goal.

The 48-year-old tigerman, who used to be a television cameraman and documentary filmmaker, has been searching fulltime for the Korean tiger. He has found and documented numerous eyewitness sightings, tracks and tree markings in the restricted civilian-controlled zone just south of the DMZ.

For Lim, finding conclusive evidence of the Korean tiger in the DMZ is a fulltime job.
©2004 NSthankiya
His quest led him to quit his job, sell his house and move his family in with his older brother, who also supports Lim's fulltime search.

One part of his preparation took Lim to Siberia to learn how to track tigers. Using this knowledge, he has searched all through the mountains bordering the DMZ but has been unable to document a living tiger.

Lim's outpost in painted jet-black for camouflage.
©2004 NSthankiya
However, he has been gathering documentation of footprints, fur and eyewitness testimony that would seem to bear out his claims. Many wildlife experts believe the tiger to be extinct and that the footprints are of wild dogs. They also maintain that the eyewitness accounts are unsubstantiated.

Despite these expert opinions, Lim remains undeterred and is ready to prove the existence of tigers on the Korean peninsula.
Nayan Sthankiya is a Canadian photojournalist. Based in South Korea for the last four years, he covers various news and feature stories in Korea, China and Asia Pacific.

His background includes photography, sculpture, painting, design, video and travel. Trained in media arts at the Alberta College of Art and Design, with a minor in photography, his images have been published locally and internationally in magazines, dailies and the Internet.

"Photojournalism is a profession that should not be undertaken lightly, the duty of a photojournalist should be to tell the stories of those that are unable to, at all costs, and by telling those stories effect change in thought and policy," Sthankiya says.
©2004 OhmyNews

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