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Check out UNESCO's newest biosphere reserve ... in North Korea

How should the international community punish North Korea after Monday’s nuclear tests?  While the Security Council of the United Nations was busy crafting a resolution to admonish the communist nation, the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization gave them their third biosphere reserve.

Mount Myohyang takes the cake as one of the weirder additions to the 22 world biosphere reserves announced on Tuesday.  It’s the only place on earth where can you gaze through a glass case at a stuffed crocodile with a cocktail tray while breathing in the fresh air of the “Mountain of Mysterious Fragrance.”

The basis for the designation? The mountain’s rugged slopes are home to 30 plant species not found anywhere else, a wide variety of medicinal herbs, and 28 plant and animal species that are threatened or endangered. But the economically-stunted state has no shortage of undeveloped land: For instance, there’s that 250,000-acre wilderness known as the demilitarized zone, containing the region’s only remaining bears and leopards.

What makes Mount Myohyang truly special – although the UN announcement fails to acknowledge it -- is its monument to the self-proclaimed “Great Leader.”  Although it is officially called the International Freedom Exhibition, journalist Ron Gluckman, visited the site in the 1990s, and described it as the “world’s greatest ego trip.”  The triple-tiered pagoda contains nearly 100,000 gifts given to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il from sundry world leaders – primarily those lacking a democratic bent. 

At first glance, the gifts – which range from sewing machines to machine guns -- appear to be a testament to the tackiness of tyrants.  But then you come to the ivory lion given by the president of Tanzania, the crocodile-skin briefcase from Fidel Castro, the butterfly collection from the National Black United Front in the United States, the bear head from an overthrown Romanian communist, and the tiger claw tearing through an American map.  That’s when you realize this new biosphere reserve contains more than its fair share of biodiversity -- albeit dead, decapitated, or otherwise dismembered.

Image of the Hyangsan hotel near the International Friendship Exhibition courtesy of UNESCO

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