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Czech ambassador to the U.S. once killed a crocodile with a knife

Czech ambassador: A macho croc-killer

The homes of ambassadors are often decorated with expensive art, historical photographs and fancy awards. But Czech Ambassador Hynek Kmoníček's residence in Washington, D.C. is more like a zoo for dead animals.

Throughout his diplomatic career, Kmoníček has sharpened his hunting skills. He has served all over the world and has the trophies to prove it: a kangaroo from Australia, a snake from India, a crocodile from Sudan, a wolf from Mongolia.

"Are you a real man or just another European?" says Kmoníček with a laugh, imitating skeptical greetings when he gets to a country for the first time. "So sometimes you have to prove yourself. Sometimes the poor animal will be the victim."

Kmoníček became the Czech Republic's top diplomat in the U.S. last year and says that his time working outside of the US and Europe has made him numb "sudden changes."

"With my previous diplomatic experience, it was clear it is very hard to surprise me," he explains. "President Trump obviously announced that he intentionally wants to be unpredictable and I understand that for some bureaucrats it could be a tough thing, because diplomats love predictability."

When he was in Sudan, Kmoníček caught a crocodile and slaughtered it with a knife. He learned the process by watching his Sudanese diplomatic counterparts, who he says were more than a foot taller than him. They told him to aim the knife for the animal's blind spot right between its eyes.

"Would I do it normally? No. I was doing it as a job," Kmoníček says. "I am the kind of guy who usually tries to go native, with understanding that I can never be native. I can show the respect for the local traditions and I can be more accepted -- and not to accept the illusion that I became them. But you can be closer and it helps. At the end diplomacy is about human relations."

Kmoníček's crocodile escapade, for example, had tangible benefits. Showing off his strength in the wild outdoors of Sudan, he says, later helped Kmoníček negotiate the release of a hostage.

The U.S. and the Czech Republic have a unique relationship. Because the U.S. does not have diplomatic representation in Syria, the Czechs serve as the "protecting power" that represents American interests in the country. Kmoníček has met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad many times. Their first meeting came when Kmoníček was part of Czech delegation that attended the funeral of Assad's father in 2000.

Kmoníček describes the Czech role in the U.S.-Syria relations as that of a P.O. box -- meaning that they send messages back and forth between the two countries, but try to stay out of what the messages say. They also provide visa and passport services to people with dual U.S.-Syrian citizenship.

Kmoníček has not gone hunting in America, at least not yet. When asked if he would pick up a rifle with Mr. Trump's adult sons, who are both avid hunters, Kmoníček raises his eyebrows.

"Well, if there is a chance, I would definitely go."

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