Breeder fears North Koreans ate giant rabbits
Breeder fears North Koreans ate giant rabbits11 April 2007
Eberswalde, Germany (dpa) - A German breeder who exported his giant rabbits to North Korea in the hope they would breed ... er, like rabbits ... and end a famine is worried that the pedigree animals may have been eaten.
After Pyongyang refused to reveal the bunnies' whereabouts, Karl Szmolinsky said Tuesday: "I'm concerned my animals were not kept for breeding as planned, but may have ended up in a casserole."
Szmolinsky, who raises rabbits at Eberswalde, north-east of Berlin, says this was the only explanation he can think of for North Korea's refusal to let him see the 10-kilo animals, believed to be the biggest rabbits ever bred.
"They tell me everything is in capable hands and the rabbits are doing just fine, but I'm not so sure," he said. "However I have no information whatever about what actually became of them.
The British media, which have taken a special interest in the rabbits, wondered last week whether they played a star role on the menu at recent birthday celebrations for dictator Kim Jong Il.
Szmolinsky had been set to fly to North Korea in mid-April to see the pens built for the giant German greys, but the North Korean embassy in Berlin denied him a visa.
A regular domestic rabbit weighs a little under 4 kilos and is 30 centimetres long, according to Szmolinsky. A giant German grey can reach 74 centimetres long. Each yields 7 kilos of nourishing meat.
Since rabbits eat readily available grass and vegetable scraps, the greys would have provided starving North Koreans with an easy supply of quality meat.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) says the famine in North Korea has worsened, with between a third and half of North Korea's population of 23 million facing a daily struggle to get enough to eat.
North Korean diplomats in Berlin purchased six breeding rabbits, two of them males, from him, according to Szmolinsky, who knows of another six rabbits taken to the secretive communist nation on a private basis.
The 68-year-old breeder says it was not exactly a lucrative export deal: He only charged a few hundred euros for the animals.
"I'm utterly disappointed the embassy won't let me go there," said Szmolinsky. "If they come to me in future wanting rabbits, they can't expect any more help.
Asked for comment, a spokesman for the North Korean embassy in Berlin was unsympathetic.
"We got the rabbits and shipped them to the Farm Ministry in Pyongyang. Why should we invite the breeder over as well?" he said. Asked if North Korea had killed the rabbits, he hung up the phone.
Breeder Szmolinsky said he was older but wiser now. "I'm never going to export my rabbits again unless I've checked out the conditions locally first," he said.