Dallae, who is 19 years old, smokes roughly a pack of cigarettes each day.
Among young Americans, such a habit would put her in the minority; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2014 that for every 100 people aged 18 to 24, only 17 were smokers.
But Dallae is not American, nor is she human. She is a chimpanzee at the Pyongyang Central Zoo. And that she has learned to smoke, according to witnesses, has made her a star among the zoo animals in the North Korean capital.
When she puffs on a cigarette, onlookers “roar with laughter,” as the Guardian reported recently. “Her trainer seemed to be encouraging the smoking and prompted her to touch her nose, bow thank you and do a simple dance.” She appears to have been taught to use a lighter. On Wednesday, an Associated Press photographer caught Dallae on camera as she ignited a fresh cigarette from a smoldering butt.
Pyongyang Zoo officials said the chimpanzee, whose name when translated from Korean means Azalea, does not inhale the smoke. (Smoking remains a popular habit among North Korean men, with nearly half — 46 percent — estimated to smoke daily by World Lung Foundation’s Tobacco Atlas. North Korean women only smoke at a rate of 2 percent.)
Animal rights advocates saw that as a weak defense and condemned zoo for teaching the chimp to light up. “How cruel to willfully addict a chimpanzee to tobacco for human amusement,”said PETA president Ingrid Newkirk in a statement to Time magazine.
North Korea built the Pyongyang Central Zoo in 1959, under a directive from Kim Il-sung. At the time of its opening, according to the zoo’s official history, the only animals exhibited were a pack of 50 badgers. The zoo reopened in July after a two-year-long hiatus, and now receives thousands of visitors each day, according to the Associated Press. (It has many more species than it did six decades ago. One popular attraction is its dog pavilion, which houses Shih Tzus and German shepherds.)
The zoo has been criticized in the past for its treatment of animals. In 2006, Asia Times argued that a North Korean pseudo-nature documentary, showing fights between animals that would have no reason to encounter each other in the wild, was likely filmed at Pyongyang Central Zoo. In one scene, a tiger and lion do battle within a man-made enclosure.
“Though there is no explanation of why the two are poised to fight, it is assumed the battle is between two territorial animals being forced to share a small cage,” Asia Times reported. “The two tear into each other, with the lioness often fighting from her back.”
As for Dallae, animals are not exempt from the negative effects of cigarettes simply by virtue of being nonhuman. Secondhand smoke is known to harm dogs and cats. Even fish can be hurt from errant cigarette stubs, as one San Diego State University study found that a single butt in a liter of water is enough to kill many species of fish within 96 hours.
Nor is she the first chimpanzee reported to smoke. A Russian chimpanzee named Zhora was treated for alcohol and nicotine addiction in 2010, after visitors to his zoo refused to stop tossing cigarettes and booze into his enclosure.
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