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Smoking Malaysian orangutan forced to kick the habit

Shirley is not being provided with any more cigarettes because “smoking is not normal behavior for orangutans,” according to one zoo official.

Do they do patches for orangutans?
Do they do patches for orangutans?
Image: AP Photo

A CAPTIVE ORGANGUTAN often spotted smoking cigarettes given to her by zoo visitors is being forced to kick the habit, a Malaysian wildlife official has said.

Government authorities seized the adult ape named Shirley from a state-run zoo in Malaysia’s southern Johor state last week after she and several other animals there were deemed to be living in poor conditions.

Shirley is now being quarantined at another zoo in a neighboring state and is expected to be sent to a Malaysian wildlife center on Borneo island within weeks.

Melaka Zoo Director Ahmad Azhar Mohammed said Shirley is not being provided with any more cigarettes because “smoking is not normal behavior for orangutans.”

“I would say she is not addicted … but she might have formed a habit after mimicking human beings who were smoking around her,” Ahmad told The Associated Press.

Shirley was so far displaying a regular appetite for food and no obvious signs of depression or illness, Ahmad said. Results from her blood tests and other detailed health examinations were not yet available.

Mood swings

Nature Alert, a British-based activist group, wrote to Malaysian officials about Shirley earlier this year, saying conservationists who visited the Johor zoo often saw people throwing lit cigarettes to her in a pit-like enclosure.

The group said Shirley seemed to suffer severe mood swings, sometimes looking drowsy and on other occasions appearing “very agitated” without a cigarette.

Authorities last week also reportedly seized a tiger and a baby elephant that were kept chained at the Johor zoo.

It is not clear when Shirley started smoking. Officials have estimated she is around 20 years old. Orangutans, which are native to rainforests in Borneo and Indonesia’s Sumatra island, can live up to about 60 years in captivity.

Other countries such as South Africa and Russia have also reported cases of primates learning to smoke after zoo visitors ignored warnings and tossed cigarettes into the cages of chimpanzees.

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Associated Press

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