Big German Bunnies May Help Feed N. Korea

Karl Smolinsky grows rabbits that weigh 22 pounds, with ears eight inches long. i i

Karl Smolinsky grows rabbits that weigh 22 pounds, with ears eight inches long. Emily Harris, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Emily Harris, NPR
Karl Smolinsky grows rabbits that weigh 22 pounds, with ears eight inches long.

Karl Smolinsky grows rabbits that weigh 22 pounds, with ears eight inches long.

Emily Harris, NPR

A faded sign on the front door says beware of the dog, but the rabbits caged in Karl Smolinsky's backyard in Eberswalde, Germany, could be a little frightening, too — if you aren't expecting 22-pound bunnies with ears eight inches long.

After Smolinsky's rabbit Robert won the title of biggest rabbit in Germany last year, the North Korean government came to take a look. Last month, for just over $100 a head, Smolinsky shipped four big bucks — including Robert — and eight huge hares to Pyongyang to start a government sponsored breeding program.

The Koreans weren't at all interested in the smaller breeds — only the big ones. The minister who was here didn't want any rabbits that were under 10 kilograms.

He says a rabbit that size can provide seven kilos — about 15 pounds — of meat.

"You can eat all the parts of a rabbit," Smolinsky says. "Everything but the intestines. Lungs, liver... from the stomach, you can make a roulade, a stuffed meat dish. There's lots of meat in the head. You can take it out and make liverwurst. Every part of the rabbit is good except the bones — those are for the dog!"

Smolinsky's rabbits munch a pellet mix that includes oats, apples and oil. They also eat greens, including fresh kale from his garden. Smolinsky says a giant rabbit needs to eat about two pounds of food a day. That's twice as much as the North Korean government distributes to many of its people to survive. But Smolinsky isn't worried the rabbits will starve. He's heard German potatoes grow there.

"I don't feed them raw potatoes, but cooked potatoes, steamed potatoes are OK," he says. "And rice, during communist times here, we didn't have so much available as now, so we also bought rice for them. But when you feed them rice they must also have a lot of liquids, so they don't get bloated or stopped up."

The North Korean embassy in Berlin told NPR there is enough food for the rabbits. Michael Dunford, deputy director in North Korea of the United Nations' food aid program says at this point there is just enough food for people.

"We haven't seen evidence of starvation," Dunford says. "We are concerned that the food insecurity is worsening, and given the amount of food that arrived in the country last year it will have an impact in what we call the lean season."

The lean season is this spring, when last year's harvest will start to run out. International contributions to feed North Korea dropped dramatically after Pyongyang tested a nuclear weapon last fall. Major supporters — the U.S., Japan and South Korea — suspended food aid entirely.

Smolinsky says he's not worried about helping a dictatorship. He's thinking about hungry children.

"During Hitler's time and afterward, I remember how hard it was on everyone," he says. "I lived it as a child and wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. I hope through the rabbits I can help a little bit, and that Korea might wake up and start caring more for its people than for the bomb."

Even if international sales grow, Smolinsky is keeping his favorite rabbit, the 18-pound Robert the Second, son of the first. He's hoping this spring to go visit his dozen already breeding at an agricultural enterprise near Pyongyang.

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