Yes, that’s a real chimpanzee smoking a real cigarette. Zoo officials in Pyongyang told the Associated Press during a visit on Wednesday that she doesn’t inhale, but animal rights activists still aren't pleased.
The 19-year-old female chimpanzee named Azalea—her Korean nickname is “Dallae”—smokes about a pack each day and can light them herself when tossed a lighter or an already-lit cigarette from a trainer, AP reports. Pictures from the visit, shot by longtime AP photographer Wong Maye-E, garnered attention and prompted a sharp rebuke from advocates against animal abuse.
“How cruel to willfully addict a chimpanzee to tobacco for human amusement," PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement released to TIME. "Gradually, zoos are learning that spectacles like chimpanzee tea parties, elephant rides and photo ops with tiger cubs are inappropriate and exploitive, with the big question now being, why are we keeping wild animals behind bars at all?”
Wong, based in Singapore, became the organization's lead photographer in North Korea in 2014. She and Eric Talmadge, the AP's Pyongyang bureau chief, try to make monthly visits into the country for about 10 days each. Part of that includes covering mass staged events, but she also hopes to lift the veil and focus on daily life or the quieter moments.
Alongside colleagues who were visiting on a business trip, Wong and Talmadge went to the zoo that had reopened over the summer and now welcomes thousands of daily visitors. AP noted that renovations to the zoo, built in 1959, began two years back in an effort by leader Kim Jong Un to construct additional leisure centers around Pyongyang.
In an email with TIME, she described how the scene unfolded. The exhibit is simple, with a moat separating people from the enclosure, and a handful of visitors from school children to the elderly were in that area as the keeper shouted instructions at Dallae.
"She would perform little tricks like touch her nose, bow and raise her arms to greet visitors. He would also break into a little tune for her and she would circle round as if she was dancing," she added. "Then later on, he asked a member of the audience for a cigarette and a lighter. He threw the cigarette into the exhibit and after she went to pick it up, he made her gesture with two hands out as he threw a lighter to her. She then lit her cigarette, and then threw the lighter back towards the keeper who was standing among the visitors still. It seemed to be a routine and part of the entertainment factor. It was part of her 'song and dance' number."
Wong said zoo-goers were amused, laughing at the sight in front of them.
"I did not see anyone mortified," she added. "People seemed to be entertained and laughed in delight when she started to puff the cigarette and then light a fresh cigarette with the previous one. Some of them were taking pictures with their cell phones, some took video off their phones too. Many seemed just amazed that a chimpanzee could smoke a cigarette."