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.
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