As reported by the Associated Press, a clip of an adult male orangutan smoking a cigarette in an Indonesian zoo has drawn understandable outrage from plenty. It appears that a passerby flicked his half-smoked cigarette into the animal’s enclosure, and, out of curiosity, the orangutan picks it up and takes several drags of it – much to the crowd’s amusement.
Although any mistreatment of animals is clearly a heinous act, it doesn’t help that many featured in this particular zoo’s controversies happen to be threatened to some degree. Both the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) are both listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “critically endangered”, which means they’re both one step away from being extinct in the wild.
Although once spread out across Southeast Asia, they’re only found today in the wild on the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. According to the WWF, their range has shrunk along with their numbers: In the last 100 years, their populations have shrunk by roughly four-fold, with most of these belonging to the Bornean species.
As you’d expect, habitat loss, poaching, hunting for food, and other effects of land use changes have triggered their precipitous decline. A study published this February estimated that 100,000 Bornean orangutans have disappeared in the last 16 years alone, something that the researchers framed as “alarming”.
As highlighted by a beautiful piece over on The Atlantic, there’s a lot we’re still discovering about these disappearing animals. Counterintuitively, orangutans are intelligent but naturally incurious in the wild, but they become far more investigative in captivity. That arguably makes the clip of the orangutan at Bandung Zoo even more distressing when you consider what they’re being encouraged to be curious about.
As it happens, a separate zoo in Indonesia featured another orangutan that regularly smoked cigarettes thrown to her by visitors. Eventually, after a decade of smoking learned by mimicking humans, she was moved to a separate location in order to help her quit her habit. Something similar also occured in Malaysia.
Activists have pointed out that the facility in question this time around, Bandung Zoo, has an already terrible reputation. There are various articles dotted around the Web that seem to support this view, with one report by The Jakarta Post telling tales of sun bears begging for food and elephants dying after being ill for several days without being properly tended to.
Although the death of the elephant forced a closure of the zoo, it was only temporary.
A change.org petition set up some time ago that asks the President of Indonesia to shut down Bandung Zoo has currently reached 996,956 signatures, and looks set to top a million after the latest revelatory video.