SEOUL, An Asiatic black bear, classified worldwide as a first-grade endangered animal, has been spotted inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas, government agencies said Wednesday.

The Ministry of Environment and the National Institute of Ecology (NIE) said one Asiatic black bear was photographed last October by unmanned ecological research equipment installed in the eastern section of the DMZ.

The DMZ, which is about 250 kilometers long and 4 km wide, is one of the world's most heavily fortified borders, with the rival Koreas technically in a state of war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The unpopulated zone is also known as an ecological treasury of hundreds of rare plants and animals, including many endangered species.

According to ministry officials, the photo of the Asiatic black bear was taken in October last year by one of 92 camera-like devices installed by the NIE in the DMZ in 2014.

The photo was sent to the NIE in March after a security check by the military.

There had been some eyewitness accounts by South Korean soldiers of an Asiatic black bear and its faint image being picked up by DMZ surveillance cameras. But it is the first time an Asiatic black bear has been clearly photographed within the DMZ.

The ministry officials speculate that the possibility of the black bear emigrating from the outside is low considering the barbed-wire fences installed along the southern and northern boundary lines.

"It is believed that the photographed bear, about eight to nine months old and weighing about 25 to 35 kilograms, is a descendant of the Asiatic black bears who had inhabited the DMZ region for quite a long time," said the ministry.

The NIE speculates that at least three Asiatic black bears, including the baby bear's parents, are now residing in the DMZ.

At present, 61 Asiatic black bears live nationwide, including on Mount Jiri in southern South Korea, according to the environment ministry, which launched a project to preserve the endangered animal in 2004. In 2001, South Korea was home to only five Asiatic black bears.

"The excellent ecological value of the DMZ has been proven again. The government will map out comprehensive measures for the systemic preservation and management of the DMZ's ecology," said Yoo Seung-gwang, an official at the environment ministry.

A total of 102 endangered species now inhabit the DMZ, accounting for 38 percent of 267 endangered species in South Korea, the ministry noted.

Source: Yonhap news Agency