Video Shows Orangutan Smoking Cigarette That Visitor Tossed Into His Cage
Everyone was laughing when he picked it up.
In a recent video, a visitor to an Indonesian zoo can be seen smoking a cigarette as he peers into an orangutan enclosure. After taking a few puffs, the man flicks the cigarette into the enclosure, and the orangutan goes over and picks it up. Then the orangutan sits down and smokes it as onlookers laugh at him.
A volunteer working with the Indonesia Animal Welfare Society (IAWS) recently filmed this scene at the Bandung Zoo in Indonesia — the video has now been widely shared on social media.
Many viewers and animal welfare advocates were outraged — not only did they believe it was wrong for the man to give a cigarette to the orangutan, but they questioned why Bandung Zoo wasn’t supervising its visitors.
DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), echoed these views, and said he suspects that this wasn’t the first time the orangutan smoked.
“The fact that this orangutan knew what to do with the cigarette demonstrates that this is not the first time this type of incident has occurred, and may suggest that the orangutan has been given cigarettes and taught to smoke by zoological park workers,” Schubert told The Dodo.
If Schubert is right, the orangutan would face similar health risks from smoking as humans would if he were repeatedly exposed to cigarettes, he explained. “Not only could orangutans develop disease, including lung cancer, as a consequence of smoking but they surely could also develop an addiction to nicotine,” Schubert said.
But the more immediate issue, Schubert noted, is how stunts like this promote a lack of respect for animals who are already suffering in captivity. “[It] is a disgraceful act of human ignorance and demonstrates a profound disrespect for the well-being of the animal,” he said.
Unfortunately, smoking apes aren’t unheard of. In 2016, photos of a chimp named Azalea smoking at a North Korean zoo went viral — zookeepers reportedly taught Azalea to smoke to entertain their visitors, and she was smoking a pack a day. And in 2015, a chimp named Jia Ku was photographed chain-smoking at a Chinese zoo.
Bandung Zoo, where the orangutan lives, has also come under scrutiny for similar welfare issues. Last year, footage went viral showing a group of sun bears at the zoo, emaciated and starving, appear to beg visitors for scraps of food.
While the sun bears are reportedly in better condition now after pressure from welfare groups and the public, Marison Guciano, a spokesperson for IAWS, said this new incident with the orangutan raises fresh concerns about the zoo.
“I was angry,” Guciano said. “That guy needs to be educated. He has no respect for animals. To him, it’s just a bit of fun. Educating visitors is critical. Zoo employees can play a part in this education.”
“I blame the management of Bandung Zoo,” Guciano added. “It does not take sufficient care of the animals or care about their quality of life, or how visitors interact with them. The government does not make it a priority to standardize animal welfare standards across zoos. So, everyone is at fault — government, zoo management and visitors.”
The Bandung Zoo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Schubert hopes that Bandung Zoo will take steps to protect its orangutan, and respond to public pressure like it did in the case of the sun bears.
“Not only should the zoo immediately establish signage near this and other enclosures to advise visitors not to throw anything into the enclosure space, but it needs to ensure that staff are monitoring visitors to identify those who disregard such common sense rules and escort them from the facility,” Schubert said. “In addition, the zoo should initiate an investigation to determine if any of its staff have provided this animal with cigarettes in the past and, if so, they should be properly disciplined and all staff should be provided additional training on the proper husbandry of all animals in their care.”
Protecting this orangutan is particularly important considering how threatened they are in the wild — all three species of orangutan are critically endangered, and visitors to the zoo could walk away with the wrong impression if they see one being treated merely as entertainment.
“Orangutans are amazing animals whose populations in the wild are dramatically declining in number primarily due to a variety of anthropogenic factors including habitat loss,” Schubert said. “If people choose to visit any zoo to see wild animals in captivity, at a minimum they must treat the animals with respect and avoid any behavior that can harm the well-being and welfare of the animals.”
UPDATE 03/12/2018: Last Thursday, the visitor who threw his cigarette into the orangutan enclosure surrendered himself to the police, and he's now made a public apology for his actions.