Shocking video of a small monkey smoking a cigarette at a zoo has been slammed as "cruel" and "exploitative".
Hengshui Wildlife Park, in the Chinese province of Hebei, has since responded to the backlash and accusations of animal abuse, claiming the video was part of an anti-smoking campaign.
The video, which was uploaded to the zoo's official accounts last week before being deleted, shows the monkey sat on a small bench dressed in a purple onesie.
It can be seen puffing on the cigarette before it is removed from its mouth by a woman.
The monkey, which had been blinking repeatedly, appears to rub its eye because of the smoke before falling backwards.
The video has received widespread condemnation online after it was shared to social media and subsequently picked up by state-run media.
Users labelled the stunt as "sick" and called for action to be taken against the zoo.
PETA Asia Vice President Jason Baker told Yahoo News Australia it was disturbing to see such an incident that appeared to be for entertainment.
"How cruel to force a baby monkey to smoke for human amusement," he said.
"Gradually, zoos are learning that spectacles like monkey performances, elephant rides, and photo ops with tiger cubs are inappropriate and exploitative."
Zoo staff member denies abuse of monkey
A member of staff at the zoo told Red Star News that despite the cigarette being lit, the monkey had not inhaled the smoke and was merely posing for a video highlighting the health issues associated with smoking.
State broadcaster CCTV said zoos should be setting an example in how to treat animals, particularly as China becomes more conscious over the abuse of animals. It also questioned how suitable using a monkey was for influencing human habits.
Following concerns animal rights abuses had occurred at the zoo, the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation commenced an investigation.
Its deputy secretary general Ma Yong said the incident was "unreasonable" and likely illegal. He said further practices of the zoo would also be scrutinised.
China has the largest smoking population in the world, with about 316 million smokers, roughly 28 per cent of its population, according to the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Chinese public’s attitude towards animal cruelty has shifted in recent years, with younger generations increasingly advocating the end of animal abuse.
Notably the consumption of dog meat in China has faced enhanced resistance, with a surge in Chinese people now keeping dogs as pets.
"Much has changed in China, as animal protection is now in the forefront of many young people’s minds, so it’s not surprising to see the public outrage over stunts like this," Mr Baker said.
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