x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Aping around

At a Malaysian zoo, Shirley the orangutan has learned, from watching humans, to pick up and smoke cigarette butts. Now she's going cold turkey, while many humans continue to smoke.

A rogue cow on the run from police in Germany, an inebriated moose stuck up a tree in Sweden, and a baby crocodile going for a dip in a public swimming pool in Australia. It seems there is no end to the delinquency sweeping the animal kingdom.

Now comes the story of a cigarette-smoking orangutan that has been attracting visitors by puffing on butts thrown into its cage. But even that odd sight has been outdone by a good old redemption story - Shirley the orangutan is now going cold turkey.

The female primate was removed from a state-run zoo in southern Malaysia last week, along with a tiger and other animals, after authorities discovered that they had been kept in poor conditions.

Shirley's rather atypical behaviour was, in fact, perfectly normal, according to zoologists, given the temptation of aping the behaviour of the public. The irresponsibility of visitors was forgiven less easily.

"Orangutans are very smart animals," zookeeper Ahmad Azhar told AFP. "They will follow what people do." Talk about peer pressure. Most people agree that blindly following the herd is not necessarily the wisest move. But at least Shirley, unlike many an addict, is on the road to recovery.

For the zoo-attending public, we are not so sure. Who is the dumb primate now?