Column Date 2007-02-12

Can giant rabbits save North Korea?

This much we know:

In December, according to The Washington Post,
North Korea bought six giant rabbits from a breeder in Germany and flew them to Pyongyang.

These are not your ordinary cute, little bunnies: they’re specially bred German gray giant rabbits. They’re big, fat, award-winning rabbits, some of whom weigh 22-23 pounds and stand two-and-a-half feet tall – the NFL linebackers of the rabbit kingdom.

North Korean diplomats had contacted the breeder, Karl Szmolinsky, and said they wanted the rabbits for “a breeding program to help feed the population.”

That’s all we know for sure.

But we owe it to ourselves to speculate -- after all, North Korea has one of the most bizarre, paranoid governments on the planet.

Its reclusive dictator, Kim Jong Il, a fanatic film buff, once kidnapped a famous South Korean film director, Shin Sang-ok, and forced him to make propaganda films, including a revolutionary version of “Godzilla.”

Kim rules a country so poor that shipments of food are periodically sent from around the world to stop its people from starving. They’re so poverty-stricken that when North Korean peasants sneak across the border, they’re amazed at the luxurious life they see Chinese peasants living.

They’re also a country that has spent billions to develop nuclear weapons -- and has denied doing so, every step of the way.

So, can we really trust North Korea with giant rabbits?
Clearly, there are important questions to be answered:

Do North Koreans even like the taste of rabbit? Is there a traditional North Korean rabbit dish? In fact, has the average North Korean ever seen a rabbit? I checked the CIA World Factbook, scanned 10 pages of a Google search, and found no mention of rabbits whatsoever.

And, according to Mr. Szmolinsky, the rabbits “...have to be fed like pigs, basically, to get that big.”

So, in a country with chronic food shortages, what are the odds that 23,000,000 North Koreans will happily share their kimchee with giant German rabbits?

Bottom line: I don’t buy the “feed the hungry” story the North Korean government is giving out.

But, then, why did they buy the giant rabbits?

Well, we know the North Koreans are notorious for trying to infiltrate South Korea’s defenses. So perhaps a squad of giant rabbits, big enough to carry remote cameras and satellite equipment on their backs, will hop on through the border and send back secret military information.

Or maybe the plan is to breed millions of rabbits, which should take no time at all (hey, they’re rabbits), as a diversion in case war breaks out. (“Corporal Lee, there seems to be a whole division of short, fat soldiers with big ears approaching on the eastern flank.”)

But, for my money, the most likely scenario is that they’re breeding the rabbits to star in Kim Jong Il’s latest film, probably titled “The Attack of the Giant Rabbits.”

Don’t laugh. Remember that we’re talking about North Korea here -- where the average annual wage is $900, and Glorious Leader Kim reportedly spends more than $650,000 a year on Hennessy VSOP cognac.

Sounds like he’d fit in perfectly with the crowd at Cannes.

©2007 Peter Tannen