Not ostriches with heads in the sand

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2000:

PYONGYANG, N. Korea– – Get-rich-quick speculation on ostriches isn’t done yet, the North Korean news agency KCNA disclosed on March 27.

“In recent years the state has taken a series of measures to breed ostriches on a large scale,” KCNA said, touting ostrich-farming in terms now familiar to bankrupted participants in the boom-and-bust industry worldwide.

North Korea, one of the most insular and repressive nations in the world, is desperate to find a quick, easy way to recover from chronic food scarcity and a collapsed economy.

“Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have died of hunger since the mid-1990s,” said the South African Press Association. “North Korea is now relying on outside aid to stave off further starvation among its 22 million people.”

About 800 South Korean farmers also invested in ostriches, and reportedly have about 30,000 ostriches among them, but the South Korean Agriculture and Fisheries Ministry has warned them to scale back, as they cannot produce meat and eggs cheaply enough to cut into the limited global demand.

South Africa monopolized ostrich production for more than a century. Feathers were the major export item. The industry waxed and waned with fashion trends until the anti-apartheid boycotts of the 1980s, when a brief shortage of feathers for use in band uniforms induced speculators to smuggle ostrich eggs to other nations, touting not only feathers but also ostrich leather, meat and eggs as growth commodities.

The ostrich product market was quickly glutted, however––and was even more glutted once the anti-apartheid boycotts ended in 1994.

The recent legacy of the ostrich boom includes the March 28 conviction in England of Esther Evans, 36, for theft and fraud, in connection with allegedly helping her husband Martin Evans, 38, and several partners to cheat 115 investors out of as much as $1.4 million. The counts directly involving Esther Evans cost investors about $450,000.

There was also the early March arrest and 14-count fraud indictment of Howard Irving Freiberg, 42, of Littlerock, California. Freiberg allegedly bilked investors of more than $800,000, some of it spent to promote a Las Vegas concert by accordion-playing parodist Weird Al Yankovic in an apparent attempt to recover the losses.

In Illinois, the Department of Agriculture and Peoria Animal Welfare Shelter as of mid-February 2000 were probing the alleged deaths due to “stress” of many of about 350 ostriches formerly kept on the Chillicothe farm of furrier Jeff Broms, 43.

“As a veterinarian, I would question what is going on at the farm re the nutrition and housing,” American Ostrich Association president Amy Raines, DVM, of Oklahoma City, told Associated Press.

In October 1999, former investment consultant and attorney Andrew John Smith, 32, pleaded guilty in Bisbane, Australia, to three counts of misappropriating New Zealand ostrich investors’ money in 1995. Smith drew three months in jail, suspended.

ANIMAL PEOPLE files indicate that other Down Under ostrich investors were luckier, managing to sell breeding stock to Japan before prices fell. Once as high as $75,000 for a breeding pair, ostriches now go for under $1,000.

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