SMOKING has long been pinned as an unattractive, unhealthy trait but for one chimp it was a habit forced upon her for the sake of amusing zoo guests.
Chain-smoking chimp Azalea, nou 25, was trained to light up and puff a staggering 40 cigarettes a day in a bid to entertain visitors to North Korea’s infamous Pyongyang zoo.
In a move that rattled animal rights activists, Azalea – whose Korean name is Dallae – would fascinate families by sparking up cigarettes using a lighter or one already lit – egged on by her trainer.
She can also be prompted to touch her nose, bow thank you and do a simple dance.
Azalea became the zoo’s star attraction in 2016 after the park was renovated following orders from leader Kim Jong-un for efforts to be made to modernise leisure centres around the capital and make them more impressive.
The zoo, located in the secretive state’s capital, is said to be a pet project of the despot – en, nie verbasend nie, over the years many tales have emerged about bizarre and spectacular exhibits.
They reportedly include basketball-playing monkeys, a parrot that can recite an ode to former tyrant Kim Il Sung, and dogs that can appear to count using abacuses.
But while the unusual sight of Azalea puffing her way through a pack drew in awe-struck crowds, it also attracted outrage from campaigners who slammed the spectacle as “wreed”.
Die meeste gelees in The Sun
Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, stated it was “cruel to willfully addict a chimpanzee to tobacco for human amusement”.
Keepers at the zoo, egter, insisted she did not inhale as they made their case against activists.
After a series of complaints and advice to cut the gimmick, Azalea finally kicked her 40-a-day habit.
Swedish zoo expert Jonas Walhstrom was among those who were adamant that the smoking had to stop immediately.
Jonas, who is the managing director of a wildlife park in Stockholm, has completed more than two dozen trips to the zoo over the past 30 years to assist staff – but was infuriated when he saw Azalea lighting up a cigarette.
“I strongly told them that it’s absolutely not possible to do that,” hy previously told the Sun Online.
“That’s what you could see in European zoos 30 jare terug.
“Luckily they’ve stopped it, nou, at least they’ve told me they have.”
Jonas’ trips to the country started more than 30 years ago when zoo officials invited him to help advise staff.
‘GIFTS TO THE LEADER’
He has since returned numerous times, and over the years gifted the zoo dozens of smaller animals, including galagos, fish, baby crocodiles, rattlesnakes, boa constrictors, turtles and meerkats.
“It’s a co-operation with the zoo in Pyongyang,” he said in 2017.
“They are quite isolated – I have quite a few contacts outside of work so I’ve been able to help them, to teach them a lot of good things so they can take care of the animals.
“I’m trying hard to teach them the importance of enrichment. I try to get them to bring in trees for the chimpanzees exhibits. It’s a bit slow, but finally they’ve listened to what I’m trying to say.
“Being in the far east, the zoo is good. Like some old cages where they’re keeping big cats but overall the exhibits, trainers – they’ve really turned it around.
“But of course they’ve had a lot of help from the Leader, as they say.”
The Leader is the title given locally to dictator Kim Jong-un, who Jonas said takes a personal interest in the success of the zoo.
“They have quite a lot (of animals) because of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader – they are after animal gifts,” hy het bygevoeg.
“Mao Zedong gave them giant pandas, Ho Chi Minh gave them elephants, Mugabe gave them rhinos and Gadaffi gave them camels. So beside every exhibit is a sign saying they are a gift from Ho Chi Minh, or whatever.
“Everything is officially gifts to the Leader and then he gives them to the zoo. I’m not necessarily happy with it, but that’s the system.”
Jonas described his work with the zoo as apolitical and said his motivation was to ensure the quality of life for animals in the zoo and the well-being of local species.