A white tiger desperately tries to nurse its stillborn cub back to life as children are instructed to clap and shout at the tormented animal, owned by despot Kim Jong-un.
The Mirror watched in horror as the disturbed beast cried out, while its mate paced up and down the tiny cage in front of their bloodied and lifeless young.
These are the sickening and distressing scenes at the world’s most vile attraction, Pyongyang Central Zoo in North Korea.
Inside North Korea
Our zoo guide excitedly told us: “Our Supreme Leader said the tiger was the symbol of bravery and courage and loved by all Korean people.”
But despite the dictator’s words, little comfort or compassion is afforded to the defenceless animals kept here.
Welfare experts reacted in complete disbelief after being shown the conditions, where animals suffer every day after being captured from around the globe and gifted to the North Korean leaders.
Jong-un has also told of his love of the deadly snakes in the reptile enclosure, where we saw more scenes of cruelty.
Elsewhere we witnessed many traumatised animals with their heads wedged into the corners of their tiny enclosures, and crocodiles kept in barely two feet of water.
Rare green and loggerhead turtles swam in an algae-covered tank, which looked as though it had not been cleaned since former North Korea dictator Kim Jong-il “gifted” them to the zoo in 2001.
Some of the huge turtles, apparently favoured by Jong-un, were seen being manhandled by a callous keeper, who grabbed them by their tails and tossed them into a putrid pool.
On the other side of the park, a dozen seals packed into a tiny enclosure wailed with stress, a lion roared in torment while staring into the corner of his tiny cage, and a malnourished Bengal tiger paced maniacally.
Experts said all of them were showing “classic signs of torment” and last night described the attraction as “one of the worst cases of psychological abuse of animals ever seen”.
Despite the large plot, with huge grounds and towering exhibition buildings – including a natural history museum with models of dinosaurs – we saw only two zookeepers during our two-hour trip with our Korean minders, who thought nothing of the tragic conditions.
One told us how Jong-un had visited the reptile exhibition in May 2016 and remarked how he loved the snakes for being “the symbol of longevity in life”.
The Mirror spent eight days in the hermit kingdom, where repressive despot Jong-un rules with an iron fist.
We yesterday exposed the startling difference between the gleaming capital city Pyongyang, home to three million of the “elite”, and the desolate countryside, where some 20 million farm workers scratch out an existence.
And we showed how citizens slavishly consume the propaganda-fuelled rhetoric constantly pumped out by Jong-un and his cronies, while the country is battered by some of the world’s harshest sanctions.
Our probe proves Jong-un’s regime thinks nothing of spending millions on creating a dystopian image of perfection while abandoning basic values and rights for humans and animals.
Dr Chris Draper, head of welfare at animal rights organisation Born Free Foundation, said the zoo was “totally inappropriate” for all the animals.
He said: “Their cages are small, bare and there is no means of retreat from public view for them. It is most alarming to see the mother [tiger] and stillborn cub. There should’ve been a vet on the scene straight away.
“There should have been intervention prior to this horrendous situation and, at the very least, immediate action should have been taken after the birth to establish why it occurred.”
Humane Society International’s Wendy Higgins said: “This is a devastating, rare insight into the shockingly poor existence of animals at this zoo. [They] are confined to heartbreakingly small enclosures, often almost entirely barren, in which all they can do is pace or swim the same circular route.
“Tigers, lions, sea lions and turtles all have complex, specific environmental needs that are essential for their mental and physical well-being, and here we have a classic example of a facility that meets virtually none of those needs.
“It’s little wonder that we see big cats here demonstrating stereotypical repetitive cage pacing, classic signs of mental distress as the animals struggle to cope with the monotony and deprivation.
“This kind of zoo teaches nothing of the true nature of these animals because they exist as mere shadows of themselves.”
More heartbreaking scenes came as groups of schoolchildren looked at the exhibits.
They were often encouraged by their teachers to clap and shout at the animals to get their attention – one of the worst things for a captive animal’s mental wellbeing, experts said.
A red-eared turtle, which we were told had special significance in Korea as it brought healing properties, lay in a small puddle of putrid water.
It had so little liquid that its tiny head popped out from the surface as it lay on the floor.
The conditions were so awful that algae had grown on its shell, weighing down its tiny frame.
The desperate scene was at complete odds with a fable our guide told us, in which the animal was so respected for its amazing qualities that an army of 200,000 men had been instructed to find and take care of it.
The zoo was opened in 1959 by Kim Il-sung, Jong-un’s grandfather and the original Supreme Leader.
The Kim dynasty has continued each one’s obsession with capturing animals, with Il-sung visiting 20 times, his son Kim Jong-Il 31 times and current leader Jong-un six times.
However, their interest has done nothing for the welfare of the animals.
Inside North Korea
One roof for tourists and dignitaries
During our eight-day stay, we were ordered to stay at a hotel on an island and warned we could not leave without our government minders.
The Yanggakdo Hotel is accessed by a bridge over the Taedong River, just outside the centre of Pyongyang.
Dignitaries and foreign tourists are also put there.
We watched as specially invited North Korea “friendship” delegations arrived in time for last Sunday’s military parade and Mass Games.
We were bundled into a lift with controversial French actor Gerard Depardieu, a dubious guest of honour at the nation’s 70th anniversary foundation celebrations.
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He is reportedly a “friend” of Russian president Vladimir Putin and holds dual French-Russian nationality.
There were also oddball visitors from France, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria and Britain.
Some told us they were on “trade missions”, while others seemingly wanted to satisfy their warped obsession with Kim Jong-un’s regime.
We saw European men dressed in traditional North Korean casual suits with badges bearing images of the “Great Leaders” Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
It was yet another example of the blurred lines between reality and fiction in this most bizarre of nations.
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