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(Yonhap Feature) Pair of N. Korean dogs are state guests at Seoul zoo amid frozen relations

All Headlines 09:00 July 06, 2010

By Kim Hyun

SEOUL, July 6 (Yonhap) -- Many animals in urban zoos live under pressure because of limited space and resources, but those sad conditions are not shared by a pair of dogs at the Seoul Zoo, whose "state guest" status guarantees them special treatment for a lifetime.

Uri and Duri, a male and female of the North Korean indigenous Pungsan breed, live in a spacious enclosure overlooking a lake, furnished with separate kennels, a small garden, a pond and art installations. They are fed premium dog food and taken on long walks every day, luxuries that are less frequently afforded to other inhabitants.

The pair was a gift from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to mark the first inter-Korean summit with President Kim Dae-jung in 2000. The South Korean president at the time took the white, chubby puppies to his residence, Cheong Wa Dae, and a few months later sent them to the national zoo so every visitor could adore them.

"Some people visit the zoo just to see Uri and Duri," Choe Mi-seon, the dogs' keeper, said, patting on the head of Duri as it coyly rubbed its cheek on her hand, wagging its curled tail.

"Especially those who come from North Korea, the elderly whose home is in the North," she said, "The dogs are so friendly that they let any visitor take a picture with them."

The Pungsan breed originates in the mountainous region of Pungsan, renamed in 1990 as Kimhyongkwon County, in Ryanggang Province in western North Korea. Bred to hunt tigers and other beasts, Pungsan dogs are said to be agile and ferocious toward other animals, but friendly and loyal to humans. They have thick, coarse fur coat, mostly white or light yellow in color, and boast a wide chest, thick neck and strong legs that are fit to hunt in the lofty, snow-covered mountains of the North.

Their average height ranges from 55-60 centimeters, and their weight from 20-30 kilograms. Along with Jindo dogs bred from the southern island of Jindo in South Korea, the breed is considered one of the two most precious and beloved canine species on the Korean Peninsula. The North Korean government has designated the Pungsan dogs as a natural heritage.

The North Korean encyclopedia describes Pungsan dogs as "mild in temperament," but "piercingly clever, and when confronted with another beast, it becomes very ferocious. It is highly vigilant, intelligent, calm yet agile and brave."

Uri (meaning We) and Duri (Two) were originally called Jaju (Independence) and Dangyol (Unity) where they were born at the Central Zoo in Pyongyang, but they were renamed in the South as symbols of reconciliation between the two Koreas.

After giving birth to 15 puppies in their adopted home over the decade, the couple developed a touchingly puzzling habit. The husband Uri chewed and spitted out food, and it was afterwards eaten by Duri. The habit doesn't seem to be pathological and may possibly be a sympathetic one for the aging female partner, but it sometimes gave Duri diarrhea, forcing their keepers to separate the two for a while.

"We really don't know why. We thought, maybe they like each other too much," Yoo Mi-jin, an official at the animal planning department at the zoo, said. "But we were told from zoologists it isn't any sign of a disease."

Both born in April 2000, the pair is now 10 years old, equivalent to the human age of around 60. They are less agile and their fur less vivid, but they continue to be a major attraction for zoo visitors, Yoo added.

Animal exchanges across the inter-Korean border began in 1999 when relations began to thaw under the liberal administration of Kim Dae-jung. Scores of tigers, foxes, birds, grizzly bears and other indigenous and foreign rare species were exchanged across the heavily militarized border on seven occasions between the Seoul Zoo and the Central Zoo. Since the last one in late 2006, the exchanges came to a halt after conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office, taking a tougher stance on Pyongyang's nuclear drive.

In late June, Seoul severed all trade and exchanges with its communist neighbor, except for basic humanitarian purposes, after a team of investigators concluded that North Korea attacked and sunk a South Korean warship in March.


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