North Korean zookeepers defend making chimp smoke cigarettes because she 'doesn't inhale'

Azalea has even been taught to use a lighter thrown into her enclosure by a trainer. Animal rights activists say her health is being jeopardised for the sake of 'a few cheap laughs'

Caroline Mortimer
Thursday 20 October 2016 15:11 BST
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Chimp who smokes a pack a day at Pyongyang zoo

North Korean officials have defended allowing a chimpanzee at a zoo in Pyongyang to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, saying the primate “does not inhale”.

Azalea, also known in Korean as “Dallae”, came to international attention after her 20-a-day habit was captured by an Associated Press photographer.

On a visit to Pyongyang Zoo, the journalist saw the 19-year-old chimp using a lighter which had been thrown down into her cage by her trainer.

The trainer also got her to touch her nose, bow, and do a simple dance in front of visitors.

The secretive state restricts foreigners’ access to the country and only allows tourists or press on special “guided tours” of approved attractions like the zoo.

During their visit, spectators reportedly also saw a monkey performing backflips and playing basketball.

Renovations to the zoo, which is also known as Korea Central Zoo, began in 2014 and it reopened in July.

The animals in the zoo had previously been described as looking “pretty forlorn” by the Lonely Planet travel guide.

The chimpanzee smokes at least a pack of cigarettes a day
The chimpanzee smokes at least a pack of cigarettes a day (AP)

It said: “Worst off are the big cats, nearly all gifts of long-dead communist bigwigs around the world – the wonderful lions, tigers and leopards are kept in woefully inadequate compounds and many have lost the plot as a result.

“The zoo’s two elephants and its hippo all look exceptionally lacklustre as well”.

Elisa Allen, the Director of Peta UK, condemned the photos saying it demonstrated that zoos were "not motivated by animal welfare".

She told The Independent: "Smoking is as dangerous to Azalea the chimpanzee as it is to humans, and yet her ‘caretakers’ facilitate her habit – just for the sake of a few cheap laughs and more bodies coming through the gates.

"Anyone who cares about protecting animals should donate to programmes that help them in their natural habitats, where they're free to engage in natural behaviour, and stay away from these glorified prisons that objectify sensitive animals."

It comes after it was reported that zoo animals were “starving to death” in Venezuela due to the country’s ongoing food crisis.

Union officials said some 50 animals had starved to death at Caricuao zoo in Caracas in July because there was not enough meat to feed them.

The predicament of the animals mirrors the problems gripping the country at large with thousands queuing on the streets for supplies as rampant inflation means the shop shelves are often bare.

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