Phone addicted gorilla is having to cut down his screen time

By Harriet Piercy

Published Apr 20, 2022 at 01:03 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

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Screen addiction is nothing new, it’s today’s problem of the masses—in humans, at least. Now, our fellow primate the gorilla has been inflicted with our issues too. Amare, a 415 pound, 16-year-old gorilla at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo has become totally obsessed with his smartphone. Help.

@yahoonews

Visitors at Lincoln Park Zoo can still take pictures of the teen #gorilla named Amare. #news #yahoonews #Chicago

♬ FEEL THE GROOVE - Queens Road, Fabian Graetz

Amare lives with three other male gorillas, and the four of them encounter hundreds of human visitors who shove their smartphones up to their glass enclosure, showing them pictures and videos. Amare in particular has become hooked, to the point where zookeepers have had to put up a rope to keep visitors away from the glass. He became so entranced by the objects that he failed to notice when one of his gorilla housemates ran up and attacked him. Do you feel sad yet? Because I do.

During development, male gorillas will often get aggressive with each other as a form of play fighting to establish dominance and hierarchy, Amare being distracted by what shouldn’t concern his daily life is leading him to “severe developmental consequences,” as Stephen Ross, director of the zoo’s Centre for the Study and Conservation of Apes, told the Chicago-Sun Times.

Ross continued to say that it’s “probably a cyclical phenomenon, the more he shows interest the more people want to engage in it. […] It’s something we’ve noticed and have talked about a lot in terms of a strategy to address it.” This truly is an issue, especially in Amare’s case as the four male gorilla enclosure is completely separate from another enclosure that contains a family group, including the dominant male. How could this affect the future of Amare when it comes—which we all hope it does—to interacting with a normal and mixed group of gorillas?

Compared to the gorilla’s housemates’ seeming lack of interest in screens, Amare isn’t completely to blame for the outcome, as he has become more vulnerable to the exposure of these screens due to his favourite spot in the enclosure being right next to the glass. The zoo has since asked visitors to respect the barriers that are now in place and hope that this will encourage Amare to spend more time with his fellow apes.

What’s interesting is that since the ropes have been put in place, Amare has already slightly withdrawn from his corner of the enclosure and into the rest of the space, whereas humans who are stripped of their screens, especially teenagers like Amare, can experience withdrawal symptoms like anxiety or depression. But Amare reacted positively straight away.

We’re seeing more and more interaction between apes and technology, especially when it comes to testing out new ways to communicate with them. Humans have craved the idea of being able to speak to animals well before Doctor Dolittle was a thing. Morally, how far can this go? We have no reverse gear, and what is to consider is how much we disrupt the evolution of an ecosystem without destroying the very essence of it. Without the animals to care for their natural landscapes, like rainforests, jungles and savannas, in ways that we can not, will the landscapes exist at all? 

What is truly ironic in this is the connection between mobile phones and gorillas. Amare is one of the Eastern Lowland gorillas, where the mining of minerals such as coltan—a metallic ore used in mobile phones and other electronic devices—is taken from. The demand for mobile phones continuously increases, and then so too does the mining of gorilla habitats.

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