Shirley the Smoking Orangutan Forced to Kick Her Habit

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"Smoking Shirley" the orangutan enjoys a smoke at Johor Zoo in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

We’re not monkeying around here. Shirley is being denied her beloved cigarettes in an attempt to return her to the wild.

Why is Malaysia’s Melaka Zoo forcing Shirley to quit her dirty habit? It’s not because of health concerns. No, zoo director Ahmad Azhar Mohammed put it quite simply: “smoking is not normal behavior for orangutans.”

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Shirley was seized last week from a poorly-run state zoo in Johor and transferred to Melaka Zoo. As her new keepers gave Shirley proper medical care, they found she had adopted quite a smoking habit. Mohammed chalks up her potential addiction to visitors at the Johor zoo that would toss their lit cigarettes into Shirley’s cage. And so goes the adage, “monkey see, monkey do.”

But no longer. The 20-year-old orangutan is reported to show no noticeable withdrawal symptoms after being forced to go cold turkey. But a British activist group noted in early 2011 that Shirley seemed “very agitated” without cigarettes. After a bit of rehabilitation at the Melaka Zoo, Shirley will be transferred to a wildlife center. And maybe it’s for the best: she’d have a tough time finding a light in the middle of the jungle.

Nick Carbone is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @nickcarbone. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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