Nineteen-year-old Azalea, a chimp who’s probably as smart as your kid, has to live in North Korea’s Central Zoo in Pyongyang. But that’s not why she’s smoking a pack a day. It’s because some arsehole trained her to use a lighter, to puff smoke and then bow and dance for delighted families all day.
According to The Guardian, the smoking chimp has been a grand attraction since the renovated and restocked zoo re-opened in July. Zoo officials claim that Azalea, whose Korean name is Dallae, does not inhale. That’s a really cute way to deny the cool-looking animal cruelty happening here.
With photogenic chain-smoking Azalea, the zoo doesn’t seem to be trying to rehabilitate its less-than-stellar image outside of the DPRK. To idiots who want to visit North Korea, the travel guide Lonely Planet once described “forlorn” animals in “inadequate compounds”. In the past, the zoo had been very secretive about where they got their exotic animals, like hyenas and antelope, before plopping them onto some caged concrete.
But the real grizzly report came out in 2006 in the Asia Times which claimed that unfortunate creatures from the zoo were likely borrowed for filming Fighting Animals, a video series of “savage, staged fights” involving endangered species like Korea’s Siberian tiger. The report described grainy, dramatic tapes of fights between a yellow-throated martens and a feral-looking house cat, a brown bear and a wild boar, as well as weasels, eagles, rams and farm animals. Videos like this “would need the cooperation of the zookeepers to match up the different animals in shared cages and goad them enough to maul one another”.
But the new zoo is new, and there is a Dog Pavilion where Shih Tzus and Schnauzers do tricks and then another monkey slam dunks some basketballs. Hoorah.