Some observations on the status and conservation of geese in DPRK (North Korea)

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Seliger – Dr. Hyun-Ah Choi, Hanns Seidel Foundation Korea and Birds Korea

Bird protection is a complicated interplay of more species-oriented protection (for example, protection against illegal hunting or the use of harmful chemicals) and more habitat-oriented protection (e.g. protection against reclamation of tidal flats). When in mid-August in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia the Goose Specialist Group under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) met for their 20th meeting, around 100 experts from around the globe came together to discuss both the species- and habitat-related issues. All in all, geese are an example for quite successful efforts – some goose species like Greylag Geese, but also Greater White-Fronted Geese, saw huge increases in numbers over the last decades, none the least due to more sustainable hunting practice. Others, like Brent Goose (listed as Brant Goose by IOC and Birds Korea) , are not globally, but are rather regionally threatened. In the meantime, regular meetings and international cooperation led to a vastly improved understanding of the ecology of the birds. Thanks to the wonderful organization of the meeting by chairman of the IUCN Goose Specialist Group Peter Glazov and his team as well as Dr. Nyambayar Batbayar of the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia, the local co-organizer. Hanns-Seidel-Foundation was among the sponsors of the meeting.

A number of interesting presentations dealt with the migratory routes of Brant Geese, the situation of geese in South Korea, and the conservation of geese in countries neighboring Korea. Yusuke Sawa of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology, Abiko, Chiba, Japan talked about “Migratory routes and population status of Brant Goose in East Asia”. Northeast Asia has only a rather small population estimated to be only 8,700 birds and little information is available for their migration. Since 2017 Japan equipped 67 birds with transmitters. While now there seems to be better information on migration routes, still the way of birds in DPRK is in the dark. Observations on the ground show Brant Geese in Rason to Wonsan – from there, they might migrate through the Korean Peninsula to China. Dr. Hansoo Lee of the Korea Institute of Environmental Ecology in Daejeon, South Korea presented about the Current status of geese species in Korea. Data from 2015 to 2020 in the national simultaneous waterbird census in winter conducted annually by the Ministry of Environment shows that the populations of the white-fronted goose and bean Goose, which are the dominant wintering species, are steadily increasing, with the near absence of hunting and poaching and management activities for geese populations. A similar trend was found for Japan as Tetsuo Shimada of the Miyagi Prefectural Izunuma-Uchinuma Environmental Foundation, Kurihara, Miyagi, Japan, reports. In his study on Greater White-Fronted Geese he found that annual numbers increased fivefold from 2004 to 2020. Oleg Goroshko of the Daursky State Nature Biosphere Reserve, Nizhny Tsasuchey, Zabaikalsky Krai, Russia, gave the interesting example of the status and conservation of the Swan Goose population in Russia, which in his area is deeply affected by 15-year dry and wet cycles.

North Korea is probably one of the most under-researched areas on the East Asian Australasian flyway, due to difficulties to enter the country and to survey the country, as Hyun-Ah Choi and Bernhard Seliger discussed. However, in the early 2000s and then again from 2015, there were increasing possibilities to do some kind of research, related to the accession of North Korea to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (2017) and the East Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership (2018). Important research on waders and Anatidae included a study on Swan Geese in Mundok, establishing Mundok as a prime stopover area of the globally vulnerable species. This is related to the still largely intact tidal flats in the Korean West Sea (Yellow Sea). While North Korea like its neighbors China and South Korea does some large reclamation projects, progress is slow due to the lack of machinery. Currently, when the damage done to the ecology and the very limited – if at all – economic benefit of reclamation becomes visible in South Korea and China, there is still time to prevent larger damage to be done in North Korea. For this, work on the preservation of tidal flats is necessary, including capacity development of environmental decision makers and specialists in North Korea. One very encouraging factor is that Mundok recently has been prepared as a potential candidate for UNESCO World Heritage, which gives hope for even higher recognition nationally and better protection of the area. There are still a lot of open research questions regarding geese in North Korea; there is a lack of knowledge and observations on less numerous geese and vagrants observed in the South, but not North Korea, there is a lack of knowledge on the exact migratory routes, few is known on wintering geese (since winter is the time when visits to the North are most difficult) etc. As members of the IUCN specialist group we are welcoming any ideas for joint research or ideas for projects on geese in North Korea (anyone interested, please contact us at The 20th meeting of the Goose specialist group in Ulaanbaatar was a great opportunity to increase knowledge, meet specialists, start new partnerships, and get insights in best practice. Thanks so much to the organizers. Hopefully, the meeting will have a lasting impact on a better protection of geese around the world and on the Korean Peninsula.

Group picture of the 20th Meeting of the IUCN Goose Specialist Group

The “Seoul” team in Ulaan-Baatar: Prof. Tomasz Wierzbowski, Dr. Hyun-Ah Choi, Prof. Bernhard Seliger and consultant Hyeseon Do, formerly of the East Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership

Some observations on Geese in North Korea

Bar-headed Geese Anser indicus in Khovd, Mongolia, seen on a field trip – these geese have not yet been observed in North Korea, but are vagrants to South Korea…© Bernhard Seliger

Brant Geese Branta bernicla in Wonsan Bay, North Korea, in 2018 – while their migratory route has been quite well documented, North Korea is still a dark spot in international studies…© Bernhard Seliger

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