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Zoo gives apes choice of action or romance films

Hannah Cleaver · 25 Nov 2013, 16:05

Published: 25 Nov 2013 16:05 GMT+01:00

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Bonobo apes have long been beloved by researchers for their matriarchal group structure and have become famous for their use of sex as markers of social status.

Now the group in Stuttgart is being offered five different films to choose from, so a researcher can see what kind of things they like, and how the different members of the group end up in charge of what they watch.

The bonobo enclosure at the Wilhelma zoo and botanical garden in Stuttgart now has a modern flat-screen monitor built into the wall. There is no remote control for them to fight over, rather there are five buttons set into the wall under the screen.

Each button triggers a different film - but the bonobos are not being offered a choice between Pretty Woman or Die Hard - rather they can choose between short films featuring other bonobos.

"They are short films lasting between five and seven minutes," Karin Herczog, spokeswoman at Wilhelma told The Local.

"There is one featuring bonobos eating, one of them having sex, another featuring aggressive behaviour, one about them raising babies and a general one of everyday themes."

The idea is to figure out what is of most interest to the bonobos, and to see how the group arrives at decisions of what to watch. They will be filmed by a camera as they interact with the television.

Photo: S.Kern/Wilhelma Stuttgart

American bonobo expert Dr Amy Parish, who has been studying the animals for more than 20 years, has designed the experiment.

For now the TV is on for much of the day so the bonobos can figure out which button triggers which film, and get used to using the system.

When the experiment is over, the bonobos in Stuttgart will keep their telly - but only for a certain period each day so they don't turn into couch potatoes.

"Later we will introduce a television hour when they can watch it - but we will keep it switched off for most of the time so they don't spend all their time watching it," said Herczog.

READ MORE: Bionic tortoise on a roll with Lego wheel

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Hannah Cleaver (hannah.cleaver@thelocal.de)

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