Charlie ‘the smoking chimp’ died recently at a South African zoo. It has been speculated he adopted the unhealthy habit when he was a circus animal in America, and had been trained to do it to entertain crowds. According to zoo reports, the cause of death was old age; Charlie was fifty-two, a very old age for a captive chimp.
So how does an old captive chimp living in a zoo gain access to cigarettes, and how are they lit for smoking? The answer is zoo visitors who threw lit cigarettes between the bars on the chimp enclosures. Zoo staff tried to stop Charlie from smoking but apparently his hobby/addiction was known well enough some visitors were already prepared to supply him.
It seems especially cruel to throw lit cigarettes inside a wild animal enclosure considering most of the animals don’t smoke, and would likely be stressed by burning objects being thrown into the habitats. Also, Charlie would have had no idea what an addiction is, nor about the side effects of smoking such as lung cancer.
While this might seem like a silly news article, it appears some zoo visitors are completely unaware their behavior could make animals sick or stressed. Encouraging such actions can also trigger behavioral problems in animals. If those chimps develop behavioral problems, they would be singled out for punishment, like being placed in solitary confinement.
A recent article about human and wild animal interactions which resulted in injuries for the people, addressed the problem from the point of view that the animals may have been provoked, yet the animals are still blamed. In one particular case, a wild buffalo charged and ran into a woman. “According to several people who wrote in, it appeared that a stick had been thrown at the buffalo before it attacked. Some say there was already something on the buffalo’s head that it was trying to shake off. The footage also shows a man purposely striding toward the buffalo. It’s clear that the animal was being stressed by what could be construed as aggressive human actions toward it, and it naturally reacted.” (Source: Gaiam.com)
An incident at a San Francisco Zoo with a tiger, which may have involved taunting and teasing the animal resulted in one patron death, and two other patrons being bitten badly after the tiger somehow escaped its enclosure. Also the animal was put down.
The San Francisco zoo put up a sign sometime later asking patrons not to taunt the animals, throw things inside the enclosures or yell at them — all common sense restraints one would imagine all zoo visitors already know and heed, but as we see this is not the case. Should signs near zoo animals now also indicate lit cigarettes should not be thrown in cages or enclosures?
Image Credit: Delphine Bruyere