A photograph of a chimpanzee is going viral, but for a very unexpected reason — in the photo, the chimpanzee is smoking a cigarette.
Azalea, a 19-year-old female chimpanzee, lives at a newly opened zoo in Pyongyang, North Korea, called the Korea Central Zoo, or sometimes the Pyongyang Central Zoo. According to a recent report, Azalea — or “Dallae” in Korean — smokes a pack of cigarettes each day. She even knows how to light her own cigarettes with a lighter, or the end of a lit cigarette.
While it’s not clear how Azalea started to smoke, it’s believed the zookeepers encourage her to entertain the zoo’s visitors.
“Though such a sight would draw outrage in many other locales, it seemed to delight visitors who roared with laughter on Wednesday as the chimpanzee, one of two at the zoo, sat puffing away as her trainer egged her on,” The Associated Press reported. “The trainer also prompted her to touch her nose, bow thank you and do a simple dance.”
Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, isn’t impressed by the zoo’s treatment of Azalea.
“When I first heard about Azalea, the smoking chimpanzee, I was sickened,” Bekoff told The Dodo. “There is nothing natural about this and it sends all the wrong messages about just who other animals are.”
“‘Zoo’ animals all over the world are seriously misrepresented and mistreated, so this is just another example of what so many zoos do,” he added.
While the chimp’s treatment is disturbing, Azalea isn’t the first animal who’s been trained to smoke. In 2015, a chimp in the Tianshan Zoo in China was seen chain-smoking, using the butt of his old cigarette to light a new one.
The Korean Central Zoo, where Azalea lives, also has a monkey who shoots basketballs, dogs who “solve” math equations on abacuses and doves who perform with a woman skating in an indoor stage.
“Azalea is just one more example of a sentient individual being used for our entertainment and pleasure, to their detriment,” said Bekoff. “Is her smoking any more injurious to her health and dignity than other forms of mistreatment? I’m not so sure it is. But it provides a good rallying point for people who want to improve the lives of captive animals.”