It’s no surprise that logical natural frontiers like mountain ranges provide good butterfly locations. But what about illogical frontiers?

European Green Belt between previous East and West Germany

We can thank the Cold War for creating all those extensive no-go areas that made up the Iron Curtain. Not just the strips of land that were reserved for clear fire zones and minefields, but the economic dead zones that restricted both agricultural and industrial activity within several kilometres of the actual border. These zones have become some of the species-rich environments now visited by naturalists – the national parks that have been established along the frontier regions of countries like Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece, and the European Green Belt initiative.

While the Iron Curtain has come down, there are still many sensitive areas that nonetheless provide unintended sancturies for wildlife. One such region is where the borders of Armenia, Iran and Azerbaijan intersect.

Armenia, Iran, Azerbaijan border area

One of the only locations that the Damonides Blue has ever been recorded, here in the far West of Syunik province, and just across the heavily mined border in Azerbaijan’s Nackchivan enclave. The only Armenian location for the Persian Blue is also close to the border between these two hostile territories .

Persian Blue, Plebeius morganus

But there is a large natural expanse, although not officially a park at this stage, that probably provides an even more remarkable refuge for not just butterflies but also birds, reptiles and large mammals. Probably, because for well over sixty years very few individuals have set foot inside what is generally regarded as one of the most well-preserved areas of temperate habitat in the world. This 1000 square kilometre area is the de-militarised zone near the 38th parallel that separates North from South Korea, a 4km wide strip of land known by Korean naturalists as an “accidental paradise” that is believed to host many rare birds, together with the endangered Asiatic black bear and the Siberian Tiger. Unfortunately it is also protected by huge fences, overlooked by machine gun emplacements and strewn with land mines. Butterflying here would be an absolute blast.

DMZ between North and South Korea

Another wildlife sanctuary is the so-called Green Line, the buffer zone between Greek and Turkish communities in Cyprus, where the rare Cyprus Bee Orchid and the Cyprus Tulip have recently been discovered together with Schneider’s Skink lizard and the Cyprus Spiny Mouse, all of which were believed to be endangered or extinct until they were found thriving in the no-go zone.

The Aurelian has enjoyed butterflying on the border between Thailand and Myanmar, another heavily militarised area known for narcotics trafficking and people smuggling.

Thailand-Myanmar border post

The group was warned not to exit the vehicle on the right hand side of the border track, as this would require putting a foot into Myanmar – an action which could lead one to risk either a heavy fine, or worse.

There was little incentive to explore beyond this sign:

It says “Danger-Mines”!

We were also told by the military to be well clear of the forest by nightfall – the proliferation of spent firearm cartridges suggested this was a lively area after dark.

Standing in Thailand, shooting butterfly in Myanmar

Notwithstanding the instability of the region, as a butterfly area it was superb, and a known location for the magnificent Teinopalpus imperialis, the legendary Kaiser-i-Hind, which was our target for the day but which unfortunately eluded us on that occasion.

Teinopalpus imperialis

Our guide was Antonio Giudici, who has since managed some excellent shots of this species at the same location.

Post-Covid, The Aurelian will be back to try again.