The sight of a chain-smoking chimpanzee may have drawn crowds to a North Korean zoo, but the ape’s habit is “beyond tragic” and representative of how animals are being “cruelly exploited for entertainment and profit”, wildlife charities have warned.
Pyongyang’s newly renovated Central Zoo boasts a new “star” - 19-year-old chimp Azalea.
Keepers at the zoo, which re-opened in July, said Azalea smokes about one packet of cigarettes a day - yet they insist she does not inhale.
The disconcerting images show Azalea lighting her own cigarettes and puffing away.
Her trainer throws the chimpanzee a lighter and if one is not available she lights up from an already lit cigarette if one is tossed her way, the Associated Press reports.
The images have sparked outrage from wildlife and animal rights charities who say such tricks are “detrimental” to the animal’s health.
Madeline Taylor, from the Captive Animal Protection Society, said: “To hear that Azalea, the chimpanzee held captive in a North Korean zoo smokes a pack of cigarettes everyday is beyond tragic.
...these acts are so far removed from how those animals should naturally liveMadeline Taylor, Captive Animal Protection Society
“Zoos across the world often use gimmicks to attract the public, whether that is sea lions ‘waving’ in a show, an elephant pulling a heavy weight or a chimpanzee smoking a cigarette.
“All of these acts are so far removed from how those animals should naturally live and completely unnecessary in modern society.
“Finally, people around the world are questioning the ethics of zoos. Azalea raises yet more questions of how animals suffer in many ways when forced to live behind bars.”
Tim Phillips, vice president of Animal Defenders International, said: “The sight of this chimpanzee smoking cigarettes in a barren enclosure in a North Korean Zoo is utterly tragic. Her behaviour has been grossly distorted by captivity.
“This is our closest relative in the animal kingdom, an animal that shares 98% of the same DNA as humans, and there are striking similarities in behaviour, emotions, and intellectual performance between ourselves and apes like Azalea, yet she has been reduced to this.
“The mocking laughter of the crowds watching shows that there is no educational value, this poor animal has simply been turned into a lonely, disturbed figure of fun.”
Alyx Elliott, head of campaigns at World Animal Protection UK, said the images were “another heart-breaking example of wild animals being cruelly exploited for entertainment and profit”.
This month TripAdvisor agreed to stop selling tickets to cruel wildlife attractions following an ongoing campaign from wildlife organisations such as World Animal Protection.
Such attractions now banned include elephant riding, tiger selfies and swimming with dolphins.
The functions of zoos continue to face scrutiny.
Elisa Allen, director at PETA UK, said the images were “more proof that zoos are not motivated by animal welfare”.
People on social media also criticised the zoo’s actions for providing the chimp with cigarettes.
The Associated Press reports that the sight of the smoking chimp seemed to delight visitors to the zoo who “roared with laughter” on Wednesday.
Azalea, one of two chimpanzees at the zoo, was reportedly “egged on” by her trainer, who also prompted her to touch her nose, bow and dance.
Thousands of visitors a day visit the zoo, with attractions ranging from elephants, giraffes, penguins and monkeys to a high-tech natural history museum with displays showing the origins of the solar system and the evolution of life on Earth.
There is also a dog pavilion, which includes canines from German Shepherds to Shih Tzus.
The zoo has performances featuring other animals trained to do tricks, including a monkey that slam dunks basketballs, dogs trained to appear as though they can do addition on subtraction on an abacus and doves that fly around and land on a woman skating on an indoor stage.