| With yellowish hair, the elk is a mammal that belongs to the deer family. Both males and females lack horns and have long and curvy canine teeth. They are heavily concentrated around the Baekdu Mountains, the backbone of the Korean Peninsula, primarily around Mount Kumgang, Mount Odae and Mount Seorak. They live individually or in pairs or trios and mark their turf by leaving feces or scrapping off tree bark. Because of a homing instinct, they do not stray far from their original habitats and return to where they first lived.
Surveillance cameras installed on an ecological path at the Ihwaryeong pass in the mountain area captured late last year images of elks that move in groups. Elk feces and footprints were also seen scattered on the snow. The elks` appearance is a welcome sign that the region`s ecosystem has started to revive. Many experts say ecological paths were installed on steep hillsides, rendering it difficult for animals to pass through, but elks have fortunately returned. The Japanese imperial government cut off the 548-meter Ihwaryeong, sitting on the main axis of Baekdu Mountains, on the pretext of building a modern road in 1925. As the first project to reconnect the ecological belt on the Baekdu Mountains that was severed under Japanese colonial rule, the Korean government completed the restoration of Ihwaryeong at a cost of 4.8 billion won (4.5 million U.S. dollars) in November last year. For the first time in 87 years, a tunnel was completed linking Yeonpung-myeon in Goesan County, North Chungcheong Province, and Mungyeong-myeon in Mungyeong, North Gyeongsang Province, as well as an ecological path 80 meters long and 50 meters wide over the tunnel. After Ihwaryeong, 12 other sites that cut through the mountains will be revived in phases in the coming years.
An ecological path is designed to enable wildlife to move back and forth to their habitats without crossing paved roads. The path comprises artificial structures and plants designed to reconnect moving routes of wild animals cut off due to the construction of roads and dams. According to Wikipedia, the world뭩 first ecological path was built in France in the 1950s. Since then, European countries including Germany, Switzerland and France have made ecological paths in the form of tunnels and overpasses to help protect the ecosystem of wild animals. In the Netherlands, such a path extends for as long as 800 meters. Korea뭩 first ecological path was installed at Siamjae pass on Mount Jiri in 1998. Only after humans can enjoy an economically better life can they apparently afford to take better care of animals.
Road kill refers to an animal that is hit and killed by a vehicle while trying to cross a paved road. According to a survey by Korea Expressway Corp., more than 1,600 cases of road kill occurred on the Jungang, Jungbu, and Honam freeways between 2004 and 2008. The most common victim was the elk, which accounted for 58 percent of the incidents. Ecological paths not only help protect the environment but also prevent casualties caused by traffic accidents in which an animal is hit by a car. Due to human greed, natural habitats where wildlife can freely roam are shrinking day after day. The construction of ecological paths is a small gesture of respect for nature, which is struggling due to humans.
Editorial Writer Koh Mi-seok (firstname.lastname@example.org)