These Chindo puppies might look like dogs to you, but in their own country they are officially listed as Natural Monument No 53

29th September 2000 at 01:00
The story goes that Pak Hyokkose, the legendary founder of the Shilla Kingdom in ancient Korea, was born from an egg - a tale that helps to explain the widespread belief in Korea that chickens drive away evil. It may also play a part in why the Korean chicken, the ogolgye, with its dark crown and black tail feathers, is protected as Natural Monument No.265.

The government has sought to preserve the Korean heritage since the early 1960s and at the Ministry of Culture 1,583 buildings and artefacts - known as National Treasures - are listed in a national database. Scholars routinely research each item and oversee its protection.

National Treasure No.1 is Namdaemun, the 600-year-old southern gate in Seoul. No. 2 is a 7th-century stone pagoda at Won'gaksa temple. And among the forests and mountains listed, four volcanic islands around the southern Cheju island are now under state protection, a move that includes a ban on all fishing and tourism. The four islands, Ilchubong, Marado, Pomsom and Chagwido, are home to 19 unique invertebrates, some 289 species of red algae, 150 poriferas, and 89 insects living on coral remains.

In Korea, the effort to protect the environment has two unusual aspects. One is that even performance arts and crafts are protected under the country's list of 103 Intangible Cultural Assets, including music, dance, rituals, martial arts, painting, silverware and many others. "Intangible" refers to the skill required to produce such assets rather than their end products. In this case, 175 master musicians, dancers, and artisans - known as Living Human Treasures - have been appointed and paid stipends to preserve and teach their skills.

For several decades, UNESCO has encouraged the preservation of buildings and artefacts in Korea and has listed the 8th-century Pulguksa temple and Sokkuram groto as World Heritage Sites. But only since 1994 has UNESCO realised the value of preserving these intangible treasures. Its policy is now to encourage other nations to follow Korea's example. and protect their living human treasures.

The second unusual aspect of Korea's policy relates to its Natural Monuments, including animals, insects and plants. Two insects are particularly esteemed. Fireflies - gold and black in colour, and now found only around Muju in South Cholla province - are the country's Natural Monument number 312. And long-horned beetles, now found only in the Kwangnung forest to the north-east of Seoul, are number 218. Their habitat is also protected because it is the burial site of Sejo, a famous 15th-century king.The Kwangnung forest is home to more than 2,000 plant species, and it is also where mandarin ducks (No.327) can be found.

In 1980, the British Kennel Club was asked to help create a pedigree line for the Chindo dog (No.53) and for several years breeding was confined to just eight houses on Chindo Island until four generations of stock had matured. Today these dogs are highly prized throughout the peninsula.

In one case animal habitats are protected without legislation - in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), the 3km-wide strip of land separating North and South Korea. Heavily mined, and fenced off with barbed wire, thousands of troops prevent human predators in the area, so the DMZ is a paradise for birds such as the Manchurian crane (No.200) and the endangered black vulture. Others include swans, Brent geese, Bewick's whooper, four types of goshawk and eight types of owl. And rumour has it that a few bears also still live here.

One hundred and fifty bird species, 11,000 types of insect and 4,500 plant varieties have been identified in Korea. But there's only one Korean chicken.

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