Every week, we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
Today’s question is: Do North Koreans go hunting?
You need to obtain permission to hunt from local authorities in North Korea. Just like South Korean civilians aren’t allowed to be in possession of guns without proper permission issued by authorities, North Koreans can be charged and punished for possessing guns without obtaining permission as well.
Can North Koreans go hunting? Yes, they can. But they need to obtain permission and they need to return guns and leave them with the police when they come back from hunting.
In South Korea, you’re not allowed to hunt endangered species and you are only allowed to hunt animals which have a harmful effect on crops. North Korea’s regulations on hunting are very similar, but some people would take the risk – hunting animals illegally for money.
You need to go to remotely located towns deep in the mountain far away from big cities in order to hunt such animals. Animals such as tiger and bears live in forests located far away from major cities like Pyongyang. But small rural areas where such animals are likely to live are rarely found in North Korea. So most North Koreans aren’t familiar with hunting.
Thus, if any North Korean defector is reading this column, some of them might say “Oh, I never went hunting in North Korea. I didn’t see anyone go hunting in the North. North Koreans don’t go hunting” Some of them might even accuse me of lying! But I can tell you with full confidence that you can go hunting in North Korea.
Wild animals live in Huchang country and Yang-gang province, and the local authorities issue permissions to hunt so that people can go shoot animals such as bears and boar which destroy crops and threaten people. Some people who fail to obtain such permissions still hunt animals secretly so that they can sell the animals for money. Still, you need to be extra careful not to get caught by the authorities.
When people succeed in catching bears, the paws were only to be consumed by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il – ordinary people were never allowed to consume them themselves. My uncle still works as a vice chief of a police station in North Korea. Everything I put down in this column is what I heard from my uncle: he’s a credible source of information on the topic of hunting in North Korea.
Kim Jong Il had all the luxury and privilege to eat all the best parts of animals; it is a mystery to me why he couldn’t have lived longer. While ordinary people in North Korea are required to obtain permission to hunt, top elites of the regime put animals such as deer and rabbits in restricted areas and shoot them for fun.
Some people go hunting without obtaining official permission issued by the local authorities for the sake of money, but it is very rare for North Koreans to illegally trade guns since the punishment is very harsh. If you get caught for illegally trading guns, you’re subject to imprisonment for ten years and more.
While I was growing up and until I left North Korea, I had never heard of anyone illegally trading guns or any accidents occurred involving guns. When people try to hunt secretly without proper permission, they catch animals by placing traps in the bushes. But remember, if you get caught for hunting without permission, you’ll never be allowed to hunt again or in the worst case scenario, you will be sent to prison.
Even when you have succeeded in obtaining permission from the authorities, you’re not allowed to keep the animals: you need to report it to the authorities after you have hunted animals. If you caught a bear, for instance, it would be almost impossible to hide it and keep it at your home. People will notice it and report it to the local authorities. There is always someone watching in North Korea.
It’s smart to report to the authorities what you have caught when you return from hunting. There is no getting away. When my uncle was working as a vice chief in the local office of the Department of National Security, someone successfully caught a bear which weighed about 300kg.
As soon as they heard the news, security agents including my uncle went straight to the site and claimed the bear caught by the hunter, sending the paws immediately to Pyongyang so that Kim Jong Il could consume them. With the leftovers, high-ranking officials had a barbecue party in the evening.
That’s how people hunt in the North. Yes, people can go out hunting as long as long as you have obtained an official permission issued by the authorities. But even if you have caught a wild animal such as a bear, no one is allowed to have bear paws except the leaders – you got to hand them over.
Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Featured image by Adam Westerman