Teenagers being distracted by phones is a common occurrence nowadays, however, not so much when the teenager in question is a 16-year-old 188-kilogram (415-pound) gorilla called Amare. Amare is a current resident at Chicago’s Lincoln Park zoo, Illinois. His reported addiction seems to be caused by countless visitors approaching the glass enclosure to show him pictures and videos on their smartphones.
Amare currently lives with three other “bachelor” teenage gorillas, and was once so absorbed by a zoo-goer's screen that he was taken by surprise when another gorilla charged him, according to zookeepers. Although this aggressive interaction is normal and did not cause any injury, this sort of distracted behavior could cause Amare’s social standing in the group to decline and could eventually lead to “severe developmental consequences”.
"We are growing increasingly concerned that too much of his time is taken looking through people's photos, we really prefer that he spend much more time with his troop mates learning to be a gorilla," Stephen Ross, the director of the zoo’s Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Now the staff members at the zoo have installed a rope line to keep visitors and their screens farther away from the teenage gorilla. The zoo officials hope that this physical buffer zone will cut down on Amare’s screen time.
While it seems that technology, in this case, is a negative thing, zoos have used technology and screen time for a wide variety of enrichment programs. These programs can offer stimulating and engaging activities that help keep animals happy and healthy, especially in times when animals may suffer from isolation — such as during the pandemic lockdowns when zoos and parks were closed.
During the height of the pandemic in 2021, a closed to the public Czech zoo (Safari Park Dvůr Králové) connected its chimpanzees with other captive individuals via a video call. There were some mixed reviews from the chimps (some gave the screen a wide berth), others interacted positively with the footage. In another chimp enrichment program, in both Dvůr Králové and Brno Zoo, two big screens were installed in the chimp enclosure so that the animals could hang out in a digital living room together.
A more interactive example was when white-faced saki monkeys of Korkeasaari Zoo, Helsinki were given their own on-demand video player. This device allowed the monkeys to choose what they wanted to watch and when, and positively seemed to reduce stress-related behaviors, such as scratching.
For our more domestic friends, research have discovered through intelligent tracking devices for dogs, that dogs like to watch videos of other dogs (don’t we all). Even more adorable, is a special jacket that can artificially reproduce physical interactions. So, when chickens wear this coat, the humans can give the animal a virtual hug, which I think we all need from time to time!
Overall, even though technology for teenage Amare seems to have negative consequences, do not rule out all technology for our animal friends, as some find it as enriching as us humans.