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By Diana Madson
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A chain-smoking chimpanzee has become the hot attraction at the newly renovated Central Zoo in Pyongyang, North Korea outraging animal rights activists who say it's a form of animal cruelty.
The 19-year-old chimpanzee named Azalea became an Internet sensation Wednesday after the Associated Press posted photos of her smoking in her exhibit, a practice taught to her by zoo trainers to draw crowds. She can even light them herself, either with a lighter or an already lit cigarette.
"How cruel to willfully addict a chimpanzee to tobacco for human amusement," Ingrid Newkirk, president of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told The Huffington Post. "Gradually, zoos are learning that spectacles such as chimpanzee tea parties, elephant rides and photo ops with tiger cubs are inappropriate and exploitative. The big question now is why are we keeping wild animals behind bars at all."
While Azalea reportedly lights up a pack of cigarettes a day, zoo officials told the Associated Press that Azalea isn't actually inhaling the harmful smoke, but some aren't buying it.
"I doubt it, in the same way that I would doubt a human who smokes a lot but says he never inhales," primatologist Frans B.M. de Waal told the Huffington Post. "Like Bill Clinton."
The new zoo features traditional zoo attractions as well as unusual ones featuring animals that perform tricks—such as "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," according to the Associated Press.
"This exemplifies the problem with any captive wildlife displayed for profit," Carter Dillard, director of litigation for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, told The Telegraph. "They are made to do unnatural and freakish things to attract gawkers. The good news is that the civilized world is moving away from this, like the gradual elimination of orcas from places like SeaWorld."
Unfortunately in this case, the Associated Press reports the zoo is attracting thousands of visitors a day that seem to find extreme delight in Azalea's smoking habit.