A smoking orangutan has been sent to detox in Indonesia, illustrating how nicotine can be a powerful drug for any primate—and it carries the same health risks.
Humans aren’t the only primates who are prone to nicotine addiction. A 13-year-old orangutan in Indonesia picked up the habit – literally – and is now being sent to detox.
Tori, the orangutan in question, starting smoking by picking up still-burning cigarette butts discarded in her enclosure by zoo visitors. From there, she simply started imitating the actions of the human smokers, and an addiction was born. To curb the problem, Tori has now been moved to an improvised orangutan detox area (it’s really just an island in the middle of a lake in Indonesia's Taru Jurug Zoo).
The new digs will keep bad influences (aka zoo patrons) at a safe distance and provide Tori with plenty of distractions, including several trees to climb. It’s a definite step up from the concrete cage Tori called home at the zoo in Solo.
While zoo visitors no doubt thought it was funny to see the furry primate puffing away, zoo officials say they did try to prevent Tori’s smoking. Signs were posted that warned visitors not to give the animals food or cigarettes, but the humans paid them no attention.
“A common problem for zoos in Indonesia are naughty visitors,” zoo director Lilik Kristianto told The Globe. “Although there are signs prohibiting them from giving food or cigarettes to the animals, they keep on doing it. It is not rare that visitors even hurt the animals.”
Thankfully, Tori is now safe on her island. And she’s not alone. A male, Didik, has joined her, and he seems to be a good influence. While Tori would puff on the butts provided by careless zoogoers, Didik reportedly used to stamp them out. Sounds like everyone trying to kick the habit could benefit from a friend like him.
According to the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 70.9 million Americans ages 12 or older reported current use of tobacco, confirming that tobacco is one of the most widely abused substances in the United States. Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, and more than $96 billion of total US healthcare costs each year are attributable directly to smoking.
Most smokers use tobacco regularly because they are addicted to nicotine. Nicotine works by activating reward pathways—the brain circuitry that regulates feelings of pleasure. This reaction is similar to that seen with other commonly abused drugs.
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