The man who got a Pyongyang zoo chimpanzee to quit smoking has revealed how he believes North Korea can open up to the world.
Zookeeper Johan Wahlstrom, from Sweden, said he was stunned when he first came face-to-face with Azalea the chimpanzee, who was smoking a cigarette.
He told the Sunday Times: “One of the keepers walked into the chimpanzee’s enclosure and lit two cigarettes and gave one to the chimp to keep one to himself.
“Then they stood next to each other puffing away. They thought it was really funny.”
The Swedish zookeeper gave the North Koreans a swift ticking off after he saw what was going on and insisted the cigarettes had to go.
“You shouldn’t smoke if you’re human or a monkey. Zoos and circuses don’t go together. You shouldn’t make animals do things they wouldn’t do in the wild.
“They didn’t understand why. I told them this isn’t the kind of thing you do in a zoo. It’s not acceptable.”
Some 10 years on, Wahlstrom said North Korea invested in its zoo and believes that by persuading the country to join the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) that the country would start to open up to the rest of the world.
The Swede has been trusted in North Korea since he first made contact with a delegation from the country back in 1985.
Wahlstrom, 68, has now visited the communist country 27 times and has planned a 400-hectare animal park in Pyongyang.
He has since been able to bring animals to the zoo, notably cobras, boa constrictors, bushbabies, monkeys and Cuban crocodiles.
The veteran zookeeper said he is now attempting to convince the nation’s leaders to join WAZA.
He added: “They’ll get international contacts in a completely different way if they join. If they need giraffes, for example, they can get them from a Japanese park.
“They see the advantages. They’ve been isolated for all these years. They’ve got one connection to the world, they have me.
“I hope it works. The more that you can get them to open up, the better it is. Every crack in the North Korean wall is good.”
But, North Korea’s leaders are continuing to ramp up their hostile rhetoric with the country blasting its capitalist neighbour and Donald Trump following the failed diplomatic talks.