Monster Bunnies For North Korea
By David Crossland, Spiegel Online International
January 10, 2007
An east German pensioner who breeds rabbits the size of dogs has been asked by North Korea to help set up a big bunny farm to alleviate food shortages in the communist country. Now journalists and rabbit gourmets from around the world are thumping at his door.
It all started when Karl Szmolinsky won a prize for breeding Germany's largest rabbit, a friendly-looking 10.5 kilogram "German Gray Giant" called Robert, in February 2006.
Images of the chubby monster went around the world and reached the reclusive communist state of North Korea, a country of 23 million which according to the United Nations Food Programme suffers widespread food shortages and where many people "struggle to feed themselves on a diet critically deficient in protein, fats and micronutrients."
Szmolinsky, 67, from the eastern town of Eberswalde near Berlin, recalls how the North Korean embassy approached his regional breeding federation and enquired whether it might be willing to sell some rabbits to set up a breeding farm in North Korea.He was the natural choice for the job. Each of his rabbits produces around seven kilograms of meat, says Szmolinsky, who was so keen to help alleviate hunger in the impoverished country that he made the North Koreans a special price - €80 per rabbit instead of the usual €200 to €250.
"They'll be used to help feed the population," Szmolinsky told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "I've sent them 12 rabbits so far, they're in a petting zoo for now. I'll be travelling to North Korea in April to advise them on how to set up a breeding farm. A delegation was here and I've already given them a book of tips."
Szmolinsky knows what he's talking about. He has been breeding rabbits for 47 years. The 12 bunnies he sent can produce 60 babies a year - if the North Koreans find enough food to feed them properly. "I feed them everything - grain, carrots, a lot of vegetables. At the moment they're getting kale," said Szmolinsky.
"One rabbit provides a filling meal for eight people. There are a variety of recipes such as rabbit leg or rabbit roulade. No one buys rabbit fur anymore though, I just throw that in the bin," says Szmolinsky with chilling dispassion.
He breeds between 60 and 80 rabbits per year and manages to stay emotionally detached enough to send the furry, innocent-looking, huge-eared creatures to slaughter. Asked if he has any pet bunnies he could never part with, he said: "You can't hang on to them, if you did you wouldn't be able to breed them."
Szmolinsky's North Korean connection has attracted media attention from around the world, and he seems to be getting tired of it. "I'm getting ambushed by camera crews," he said, adding that he was booked up with interview appointments for days. "There's a Japanese crew flying in from Paris later."
Potential Chinese buyers have also expressed an interest. Szmolinsky doesn't know how many more rabbits he will be sending to North Korea and said he definitely wouldn't be increasing his own production to satisfy growing demand from Asia. "I'm not increasing production and I'm not taking any more orders after this. They cost a lot to feed," he said.
The STORY CONTINUED:
GERMAN BREEDER FURIOUS OVER CANCELLED TRIPThe fate of 12 German giant rabbits delivered to North Korea is in doubt. The breeder who sent them suspects they have been eaten by top officials rather than used to set up a bunny farm. Berlin's North Korean embassy denies the allegation. One thing is sure: the country will have to find another seller.
No More Monster Bunnies for North Korea
By David Crossland, April 02, 2007, Spiegel Online International
A German rabbit breeder who sold 12 rabbits to North Korea to breed giant bunnies said he won't be exporting any more to the reclusive communist country because he suspects they have been eaten.
Karl Szmolinsky, 68, sent the spectacularly huge rabbits, which are as big as dogs, to North Korea late last year and had said in January he might deliver more to assist the country's program to alleviate food shortages through rabbit breeding. He had been due to travel to North Korea after Easter to provide advice on setting up a breeding facility for the rabbits, which can produce around seven kilos of meat.
But his trip was cancelled at short notice. Szmolinsky said he got a call from a North Korean official last Thursday informing him that the trip was off because the government was unhappy with the way in which a local Berlin newspaper had reported about the deal.
"I think the animals aren't alive anymore. I was due to go and inspect the animals and look at the facility. North Korea won't be getting anything from me any more, they shouldn't even bother asking," Szmolinsky told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "They kept delaying the trip. I would have liked to go."
The North Korean embassy in Berlin denied that the rabbits were dead and said no one at the embassy had contacted Szmolinsky. "The rabbits aren't intended to be eaten, they are for breeding purposes," a spokesman said.
Szmolinsky, who has been breeding rabbits for 47 years, has won prizes for his bunnies. Robert, a 10.5 kilo "German gray giant" that won a prize at a rabbit show last year, was among the consignment of four males and eight females dispatched to North Korea. Robert's son, Robert II, is still safe in his hutch in the eastern German town of Eberswalde.
Szmolinsky said he suspected Robert I and his fellow bunnies had been eaten by top officials and that that was the real reason why he wasn't getting a visa. "That's an assumption, not an assertion," he added. "But they're not getting any more."
Szmolinsky had made the North Koreans a special price of €80 per rabbit instead of the usual €200 to €250. He had said in January that the 12 rabbits, capable of producing 60 babies a year, were being kept in a petting zoo in the North Korean capital Pyongyang pending his arrival. Other buyers lining up
Szmolinsky's deal with North Korea attracted worldwide media coverage and brought him orders from around the world.
He has been in preliminary talks with potential buyers in China, Russia, Cameroon and the United States. "The Russians wanted 400 rabbits, there's no way I could deliver that many," said Szmolinsky, who produces around 90 rabbits a year. "I'm getting a delegation from China in June or July and have been told that I may be asked to go to Shanghai to provide advice."
North Korea's state-run news agency had reported in September that people were being encouraged to breed rabbits for food. The country has admitted to food shortages of a million tons, the United Nations World Food Program said last week.
In the absence of better donor support, millions were vulnerable to hunger, the UN warned. North Korea suffered a famine in the mid-1990s that killed as many as 2.5 million people, and has since suffered chronic food shortages.
It had been unclear from the start how Szmolinsky's bunnies would help given their own voracious appetite for top-quality vegetables.
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