SOMEWHERE in an animal shelter in Munich, a tiny capuchin monkey named Mally is languishing. Little Mally is 13 weeks old, and was taken away from his mother at just nine weeks.
Capuchins normally spend the first year of life with their mums, and as a result poor Mally is confused. He spends his days repeatedly calling out in the hope of finding other members of his family, and has started treating a large cuddly toy as his surrogate mother. Oh, and there’s one other thing you should know about Mally: he belongs to the world’s most successful teen star.
When 19-year-old pop singer Justin Bieber attempted to enter Germany during his world tour two weeks ago with a monkey in tow, he discovered that even if you arrive in a country on a private jet and brandishing enough bling to sink a One Direction concert, you are still not immune to international law. Lacking documents certifying compliance with animal health and species-protection regulations, Mally was placed in quarantine.
Workers at the animal shelter where he is living are now worried about his future.
“A baby monkey is not something suitable to be on a world tour even if he is travelling by private jet,” said the head of the animal shelter, Karl-Heinz Joachim. “He should be out in the wild climbing trees and learning from other monkeys if he isn’t to have serious psychological problems later in life.”
Bieber is not someone I normally pay much attention to, given that I am over the age of 18 and prefer my music to sound like music, rather than a malfunctioning car alarm in a petrol station forecourt.
But I cannot abide cruelty to animals, and those who perpetrate it, and so this story caught my attention. Abuse of an animal, whether deliberate, by neglect or by not acting in the best interests the animal, is the lowest of the low. And by glamorising what has clearly been irresponsible ownership of a monkey (it was apparently given to Bieber as a 19th birthday present by a producer who labours under the moniker Jamal “Mally Mal” Rashid), Bieber sends out a dangerous message to his adoring hordes of Beliebers, who, if Twitter is to be believed, number some 37 million.
We all know that social media, while making the younger generation more connected, doesn’t necessarily make them more informed. When Baroness Thatcher died on Monday, One Direction singer Harry Styles tweeted RIP only to be bombarded by young 1D fans enquiring “who?” and “is he your friend?”
I wonder how many young men and women looked at the image of Bieber and little Mally and thought “hey, well if Justin’s doing it...”. Not that the blame should be laid fully at the door of a child star who has been so feted, coddled and pampered that he clearly lost touch with reality some time ago.
Instead his management, who, one hopes, still have some faint grip on what is right and wrong, should never have allowed the animal to be given to him, and then treated as a disposable accessory.
But one gets the feeling that those in charge of Bieber’s career probably view him, too, as a disposable accessory. After all, he’s a cash cow, and has been since he recorded his first demo tapes at 13. In fact, the parallels between Mally are stark, and sad. Taken away from normality much too young, plunged into a grown-up world, calling out in an attempt to make themselves understood and trying to find comfort in anything they can.
Bieber has had something of a public meltdown recently. He lunged at a photographer, pranced around in a gas mask, kept fans waiting for hours and wrote several Twitter rants, accusing the world of misunderstanding him. It sounds very much like the start of the classic child star downfall, and it’s upsetting to see.
There is a precedent for a child star who grew up to be a pop star with a pet monkey, and it is not a happy one. I understand that kids need role models, but canonising other children simply because they sing songs does no-one, least of all the children themselves, any good.
The animal shelter says Bieber’s management want Mally back.
The shelter would far rather they freed him for adoption, so he can go and live in a sanctuary with other capuchins, pointing out that he needs a quiet, normal environment “at this crucial stage in his life”.
Words, one suspects, that could be equally applied to Mally’s owner.