Chimp no longer has monkey on his back

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BEIJING (Reuters) – A chimpanzee in a northwest China zoo has quit smoking after 16 years with the help of her keepers, official media reported.

The staff, worried about her declining health, weaned 27-year-old "Ai Ai" off tobacco by distracting her with entertainment and a tastier diet, Xinhua news agency said.

"The zoo keepers tried every way to divert the chimp’s attention from cigarettes: a walk after breakfast, a music session after lunch and gym after dinner," Xinhua said.

She also got fried dishes and dumplings, as well as the usual diet of milk, bananas and rice, said one zoo keeper.

"I also put earphones on her so that she could enjoy some pop music from my walkman," he said.

"In the first few days, she squealed for cigarettes every now and then, but as her life became more colorful she gradually forgot about them altogether."

Xinhua attributed Ai Ai’s habit to solitude and grief.

Living in a safari park in Shaanxi province, she had taken up smoking in 1989 shortly after her mate died, it said. Then she had become a chain smoker after her second mate died in 1997 and her daughter was moved to another zoo.

Xinhua did not say who had first given cigarettes to her or kept supplying them.

The Xian Evening News said the zoo was trying to find another mate for her.