Recent articles from North Korea’s state media and satellite imagery indicate one of North Korea’s large scale construction projects, the Pyongyang Central Zoo, is nearing completion.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claims the zoo is increasingly populated with exotic animals like hyenas and antelope. This year alone, the report claims 90 species have been added to the zoo and another 100 bred there, totaling nearly 800 animals.
“More than 240 animals of 57 kinds came to the Central Zoo in Pyongyang recently from various countries,” a June KCNA article reads.
While the report did not specify which countries, trade figures indicate a wide variety of animal exporter destinations to North Korea over the years, from Asian to South American nations.
In the last two years however only three countries have made any significant animal exports to North Korea: Russia, Holland and South Africa, which at the end of 2014 sent the most valuable shipment of any country in recent years.
If the South African live animal exports are headed for Pyongyang’s Central zoo, it wouldn’t be the first time the DPRK has looked to an African nation to help make it a more viable attraction.
In 2010, Zimbabwe made headlines when it announced it would send a number of exotic animals to North Korea. Baby elephants, giraffes, zebras and hyenas were among the animals that would have the dubious honor of traveling to Pyongyang’s reportedly rudimentary zoo.
“It was pretty basic … Heavy on concrete though, which isn’t the most natural of materials to make animals feel at home,” Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours who visited the zoo before its ongoing renovations told NK News.
The wildlife trade deal was nicknamed President Robert Mugabe’s “Noah’s Ark” and saw the DPRK paying $900 for a giraffe and $600 for a zebra.
‘From our professional judgement, these people have the capacity to handle these animals’
According to media reports at the time, the arrangement even allowed the DPRK to pay rock bottom prices of $10 for less glamorous animals like pelicans and storks.
“From our professional judgement, these people have the capacity to handle these animals. This is a legitimate business trade … We have satisfied ourselves in terms of (North Korea’s) application that we are dealing with a business arrangement, which we are quite happy to embrace,” the national parks chief said at the time during a news conference.
The $23,000 deal eventually fell through as pressure groups and campaigners raised public outcry against the shipments of live animals to the DPRK.
While not in breach of any international sanctions, opponents of the deal called North Korea’s animal rights record into question.
The elephants were on the endangered species list and the proposed trade was not the first of its kind. Over twenty years earlier Mugabe sent two male white Rhinos to North Korean leader Kim Il Sung. They reportedly died just a few months after their relocation.
The South African shipment in late 2014 did not generate any similar headlines, and it’s unlikely any very large animals were involved. Despite this, at over $280,000 its value is more than 10 times that of its earlier, Zimbabwean counterpart.
The South African Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries – the head of which is also leader of the South African Communist Party – oversees live animal exports, though no one from the organization was available for comment on the shipment.
South Korea’s newly appointed Ambassador to the DPRK also declined numerous requests for further details on the trade.
Unfortunately the trade figures do not specify the species of animals sent to North Korea, with their trade code only indicating “other live animals”. The category is however different from animals used for farming, or aquatic animals which would likely end up in Pyongyang’s dolphinarium (according to the export data, these were likely sent from China between 2010 and 2012).
North Korean media itself may offer further clues. In its September article KCNA said one of the new members of the zoo was an antelope species which is found can in east and southern Africa.
A zoo in Russia’s Novosibirsk also donated a number of animals to the recently upgraded Pyongyang Zoo in May this year. These animals however have yet to appear to any export figures between the two countries.
Instead it appears Russia sold North Korea a large amount of purebred horses. Last year, they sold Pyongyang horses valued at $51,000 and $139,000 the year before. The timing of the exports coincides with the opening of the Mirim Equestrian Riding Club in 2013.
A post on North Korea tour operator Uri Tours confirmed the presence of Russian horses at the training ground.
“There are 120 horses in total at this facility, 67 Orlov Trotters from Russia and 53 domestic horses called Gwan Gok,” the article dated December 9 2013, reads.
While the UN, for example, does not classify purebred horses as a luxury item which member states should not export to North Korea, European Union legislation does
The export of purebred horses to North Korea is an interesting example of how different states and organizations implement sanctions on the DPRK.
While the UN, for example, does not classify purebred horses as a luxury item which member states should not export to North Korea, European Union legislation does. The EU included thoroughbred horses in its list of luxury goods in 2007, along with jewellery and other luxury goods.
“The EU regulation implementing the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions lists pure-bred horses as a luxury item, but I doubt the Russian regulation does,” Joshua Stanton, attorney and author of the One Free Korea blog told NK News.
“Clearly, the UNSC needs a complete and harmonized a list of luxury items, just as it has a complete and harmonized list of restricted missile, chemical, and nuclear-related items,” he added.
While Russia has implemented the UN’s definition of luxury goods into its DPRK sanctions, it did not go as far as the EU, meaning North Korea need only look to its neighbor to keep the Mirim Equestrian Riding Club fully stocked.
Additional reporting by Thomas Grevedon
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Featured Image: Hyena by varmarohit on 2013-03-20 09:35:29