Is North Korea off limits for Inaturalist? and is it worth the trouble of photographing species there?

as the title suggests i’ve noticed under 500 species in North Korea and is curious of the risks of going there to photograph species only found there for my goal


It doesnt seem worth the risk, do you really want to risk your life and freedom to take pictures?

Anyway, i was under the impression that the border is still more or less sealed. I dont even know how you’d get there to begin to photograph stuff


damn so i guess NK is off limits for my goal of photographing every single species then

Every species? On the planet?

I’d say get everywhere else covered first and then reasess, because that seems like an insurmountable task for any one person to take on


meh i’ve been huntin rare stuff since i could remember and when i came out with this a few years ago it got me really excited and happy about life

rarest species i photographed is Rudiloria mohicana

Are there that many species in North Korea that aren’t also in South Korea or China? (to be fair, i am not acutally sure of the legality and viability of iNat use in China either given their government seems to have a lot of tight controls over internet access and possibly travel, but it certainly seems more viable to visit to observe nature versus North Korea). But given the mountainous nature of South Korea, despite obviously being to the south of North Korea, they probably have similar species if you just go up in elevation a bit.


I’m not sure what you mean by “off limits” for iNaturalist. Observations can have a location anywhere on Earth. As to whether using iNaturalist’s apps or website is legal to use while you’re in a certain jurisdiction, I can’t say. I’ve heard that it’s not really possible to use well in mainland China without a VPN due to iNat’s reliance on Google, although I think the iOS app can work there. iNat use is not prohibited in China, there are mostly technical barriers.


damn i really need species there as well

Thats fine, you can always take pictures and upload them at a later date.

But again like… north korea is the most insular totalitarian regime on the planet. Theres similarily undocumented places that are far easier to visit


You wouldn’t want to end up like Otto Warmbier. The harsh truth is that some countries aren’t as welcoming as others. They have strict rules, as ludicrous as some of them might sound to us, but they carry harsh penalties if broken. If something goes wrong while you’re there, nobody is coming to save you. I would say the juice is not worth the squeeze in this case.


A college did one of the organised tours to NK a few years back. It was very organised, they were guarded the whole time, and only saw what they were allowed to. They were constantly watched. She said it was an interesting experience to see how controlled it was, and how “fake” much of what was presented was. But getting away from a highly controlled/watched tour seems extremly unlikely.

The company I usually use for travel, has some interesting advice (Including why they dont cover North Korea). Hopefully this link dosent violate any rules, but it explains many of the issues you will have.


it looks like you’re probably a US citizen.

even if North Korea starts lifting its Covid restrictions and letting tourists back into the country, and even if you can somehow find species to photograph while you’re in the country (since your movements would probably be tightly controlled), the US has explicitly banned travel to North Korea on a US passport since Otto Warmbier’s death (and they actually just yesterday renewed that ban for another year).

so unless you have a non-US passport, or unless you can somehow get special permission from the US Secy of State, you can’t get into North Korea, unless you go in some non-standard way like Travis King did. (please don’t do that.)

there are many other places where you can make iNat observations where no one else has (ex. Clipperton Island).


I live in South Korea and there are locations here where you can see across the border into North Korea, which would allow you to photograph birds there (assuming they’re present and visible on the day of your visit). The same is likely true along the border between China and North Korea as well.

Paju is my recommendation for the best place to visit within South Korea to photograph birds in North Korea. Here is an example of that.

Concerning making observations while in North Korea, others have pointed out that the US has a travel ban on North Korea at the moment. Outside of that, travel is (almost always) strictly regulated to special tours with a set itinerary so you wouldn’t be allowed to go traipsing across the countryside. You could probably find magpies and pigeons in the main cities, but you could also get photos of ducks, egrets, and herons from standing on the South Korean side of the border as well.

The two exceptions of I’ve read concerning travel is one person who worked as a teacher in North Korea - requiring credentials, visa paperwork, and a requirement of staying in the country for a set period of time - and @amarzee participating in a project to look into creating a migratory bird reserve and eco-tourism opportunities for foreigners – iNaturalist project link here. Naturally, this is not an opportunity open to everyone at any time.


You could look at the species leaders in the City Nature Challenge - I was surprised first by Hong Kong (didn’t realise there is so much nature beyond the highrise rim) and La Paz in Bolivia (due to altitude has a huge range of habitats)
Then the Great Southern Bioblitz.

1 Like

so i’ll end up just waiting till i reach over 20,000 species before i can even think of doing that then.

Politics and such aside, this is so cool!

Look, ultimately, what you do is up to you, but outside of very specific reasons, it’s just incredibly hard for an American to even get into North Korea right now. And if you do, there is no guarantee that you will be safe. I don’t want to disparage your goal, but I don’t think you’re going to find anyone on here advocating that its a good idea.

There are places in the world that are much easier to reach that lack good observation coverage; just look for where people don’t live. North/central Africa, central Asia, parts of the US like Alaska or some of the plains states. Hell, there’s places in South America where the biodiversity is so high that just moving a dozen yards will get you in a new biome - There’s a very long interview with an Aroid specialist on youtube about how many undescribed plants there are there, many of which are in danger of dissapearing before we even know of them because of development in the Amazon.


If it were me and i had a bit of money and wanted to help a lot, I’d go to Costa Rica and hire a good local guide and go off the beaten track. They welcome tourists there (important to the economy), you’re unlikely to get tortured, and there’s a surprisingly low number of observations there. 20339 observations and Google says they estimate over 500,000 species there, so it’s likely to get many country firsts, quite a fwe iNat firsts, and maybe find a new species.

if you do it right, find a way to credit the local guide in your observations, if they want.


100% I would do the same. Pick a relatively safe place in central/south america, hire a guide, and just start taking pictures.