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Movie made by chimpanzees to be broadcast on television

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A chimp’s view of the world.  The world’s first film shot entirely by chimpanzees is to be broadcast by the BBC as part of a natural history documentary. The apes created the movie using a specially designed chimp-proof camera given to them by primatologists. The film-making exercise is part of a scientific study into how chimpanzees perceive the world and each other. It will be screened within the Natural World programme “Chimpcam” shown on BBC Two at 2000GMT on Wednesday 27 January. Making the movie was the brainchild of primatologist Ms Betsy Herrelko, who is studying for a PhD in primate behaviour at the University of Stirling, UK. Over 18 months, she introduced video technology to a group of 11 chimpanzees living in a newly built enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo, UK. The enclosure, which contains three large interlinked outdoor arenas, as well as a series of smaller rooms in which the apes can be studied by researchers, is the largest of its kind in the world. Despite the fact that the chimps had never taken part in a research project before, they soon displayed an interest in film-making.

Ms Herrelko set the chimps two challenges. The first was to teach the chimps how to use a touchscreen to select different videos. By doing so, Ms Herrelko could investigate which types of images chimps prefer to watch. The second challenge was to give the apes a “Chimpcam”, a recording camera housed in a chimp-proof box. On top of the box was a video screen that showed live images of whatever the camera was pointing at. Initially, the chimps were more interested in each other than the video technology, as two male chimps within the study group vied to become the alpha male, disrupting the experiment. But over time, some of the chimps learned how to select different videos to watch. For example, the chimps could use a touchscreen to decide whether to watch footage of their outside enclosure, or the food preparation room, where zoo staff prepare the chimps’ meals. The results still have to be analysed in detail, but it seems the chimps did not prefer to watch any of these images over the others.

Ms Herrelko is not sure why, but it could be that the images shown were too familiar to the chimps or because they have no way of asking to see something different. Then in the final the final stage of her work, she investigated what happened when she gave the Chimpcam to the whole group. Gradually, the chimps started playing with the Chimpcam, carrying it around the enclosure. The chimps soon became interested in the camera view screen on the Chimpcam box, watching what happened as they moved the Chimpcam around filming new images. Overall, they were more interested in the Chipcam viewfinder than they were the touchscreen in the research room. The apes are unlikely to have actively tried to film any particular subject, or understand that by carrying Chimpcam around, they were making a film. However, the result, as well as providing new information on how chimps like to see the world, may yet go down in television history. news from news.bbc.co.uk

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