An adorable orangutan on a harmless excursion, or animal cruelty in action? People are torn over a new video that’s surfaced showing a helpless animal made to model outfits on a shopping trip with its owner in China.
In the video, Er Mao, a 3-year-old orangutan, is escorted to the children’s section of a clothing shop in Kunming and dressed up in various outfits for the amusement of its keeper and fascinated onlookers. The baby ape tries on a sweatshirt, pants, and sunglasses, as well as a frilly white dress, and is paraded around the store. Er Mao’s owner spins him around and makes him pose in the attire. The stunt quickly becomes a spectacle as customers surround the animal, cooing and taking pictures paparazzi-style.
Now animal rights advocates are speaking out, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), whose U.K. director, Elisa Allen, told the Daily Mail, “Orangutans, like other primates, are highly intelligent and belong in their natural habitat. They shouldn’t be used as props or for amusement. They’re also arboreal, which means their feet are suited for gripping tree limbs, not for walking — so standing on flat ground is painful to them.” Allen called the outing an act of exploitation and ridicule.
Chinese social media site Weibo also criticized the video. According to the Daily Mail, some of the site’s users feel the orangutan would be better off in its natural habitat than being used as a prop for people’s entertainment. “I think it would be happier living in lowland tropical rainforest rather than at the mall to sell,” wrote one user. “They shouldn’t impose their preferences on animals!” insisted another.
According to the Daily Mail, Er Mao’s owner took him on the trip to purchase clothes for the upcoming African Tribe Festival, though it points out that orangutans are native to Southeast Asia. “These highly endangered animals deserve empathy and our help in protecting their natural habitat, not to be exploited and ridiculed,” Allen told the publication.
In the video and in pictures captured during Er Mao’s shopping spectacle, the animal appears confused, while its owner smiles and seems pleased with the attention. Commenters on the Daily Mail weren’t as happy, though. “This is so wrong on so many levels. This animal needs to be in the wild,” wrote one person.
According to National Geographic, an orangutan — the word literally translates to “person of the forest” — is very intelligent and closely related to humans. The site claims that the animal is “not as gregarious as other apes,” and the males especially are quite solitary — suggesting that Er Mao might have been particularly sensitive to all the attention. National Geographic confirms that orangutans are most comfortable in the trees, and that due to deforestation, they’ve become endangered.