Scientists left camera traps to record wild apes—watch what happens

March 14, 2019, Cell Press

Researchers analyzed video from remote camera-trap devices placed in ape-populated forests throughout Africa to see how wild apes would react to these unfamiliar objects. Responses varied by species and even among individuals within the same species, but one thing was consistent throughout: the apes definitely noticed the cameras—they poked them, stared at them, and occasionally tried to bite them. The study appears March 14 in the journal Current Biology.

"Our goal was to see how chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas react to unfamiliar objects in the wild, mostly to determine if the presence of research equipment, like , has any effect on their behavior and if there were any differences among the three great apes," says Ammie Kalan (@ammiekalan), a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. "We were specifically surprised by the differences in reactions we observed between the chimps and bonobos. Since they're sister species and share a lot of the same , we expected them to react similarly to the , but this wasn't the case."

"The chimpanzees were overall uninterested in the camera traps—they barely seemed to notice their presence and were generally unbothered by them," Kalan says. "Yet the bonobos appeared to be much more troubled by camera traps; they were hesitant to approach and would actively keep their distance from them."

Individuals within a species reacted differently to the cameras as well. For example, apes living in areas with more , such as near research sites, can get desensitized to unfamiliar items and become indifferent toward such encounters in the future. However, another member of the same species who has had less exposure to strange or new items, might be more interested in them.

The reactions of chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos to camera traps that were placed in ape-populated forests throughout Africa. Credit: Ammie Kalan

The age of the ape plays a similar role. "Younger apes would explore the camera traps more by staring at them for longer periods of time," Kalan says. "Like human children, they need to take in more information and learn about their environment. Being curious is one way of doing that."

The range of responses shown by the apes, and the complex differences both between species and within a single species, demonstrates a need for scientists to consider how animals will respond to the presence of unfamiliar monitoring equipment in their .

"The within and between variation in behavior towards the unfamiliar items might be problematic when trying to collect accurate monitoring data," Kalan says. "To curb this effect, it would be worth having a familiarization period, where the wild animals can get used to the new items."

Despite this potential complication, using camera traps to monitor populations of animals in the wild is still one of the most useful options. "Our knowledge tends to be limited by the number of groups or number of populations we're able to study, but using monitoring technology like camera traps is an effective way of solving that problem," she says. "I think it's really interesting from a behavioral flexibility perspective to consider how wild animals react to these new technologies. I would love for more researchers to investigate novelty responses while doing monitoring surveys."

Explore further: Studying species interactions using remote camera traps

More information: Current Biology, Kalan et al.: "Novelty Response of Wild African Apes to Camera Traps" http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(19)30163-0 , DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.02.024

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marcdion1974
2 / 5 (9) Mar 14, 2019
Why are the cameras being referred to as "traps". It comes across as aggressive. Would anyone refer to the cameras at a shopping mall as traps. If they were, I'm certain police would show up to investigate because the wording sounds dangerous and hostile. It's weird and doesn't inspire confidence in those researchers or the authors of this article.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.6 / 5 (8) Mar 14, 2019
Why are the cameras being referred to as "traps". It comes across as aggressive. Would anyone refer to the cameras at a shopping mall as traps. If they were, I'm certain police would show up to investigate because the wording sounds dangerous and hostile. It's weird and doesn't inspire confidence in those researchers or the authors of this article.
Youre an idiot. No other way to point this out.
antigoracle
4 / 5 (4) Mar 14, 2019
So, they cut the Bonobo porn out.
mollycruz
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 14, 2019
I 'spose it would be impossible to hide them from a curious monkey or chimp, but if so, we'd get to see them without the age old problem of the observer clouding the target with his presence.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 14, 2019
This is a better method of studying them rather than a human presence that is up close and personal. Being wild, it would be hard to tell whether or not the apes would be curious/friendly or curious/hostile. With a camera, about the only thing that could be damaged is the replaceable camera.
Whydening Gyre
4.5 / 5 (2) Mar 14, 2019
The expression on some of their faces was had me laughing.
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Mar 14, 2019
Meh. Face a million people with candid camera.
rrwillsj
1 / 5 (2) Mar 15, 2019
This brings up an interesting point, that I am loath to admit.

The chronic problem of the anthropologist & linguists contaminating & objectifying study subjects.
With similarities to the problems psychoanalysts have, convincing their patient's to speak openly & honestly about their lives.

I consider the ridiculous concept of Artificial Intelligence as wishful futility.
I do not share the belief that an AI can go beyond it's programmers influence & control to achieve sophont free-will.

However, as shown in this article, one can get a "truer" observation of behavior using machines to collect the data.
& there have been other articles discussing the work to develop AIs that can, with more accuracy, collect information from patients for analysis & diagnosis.

So I am very conflicted upon these subjects.
My major concern is...
Can we trust the programmers & technicians?
Carmen O
5 / 5 (1) Mar 18, 2019
It shows that primates are smarter than most people. They notice cameras recording them and some humans do not, and end up in jail.
rrwillsj
not rated yet Mar 18, 2019
carefi CO,
I have known cops who would take great offense at your comment.
Considering the number of LEO whose own images have resilted in officers being charged with unprofessional behavior or outright criminal acts.
Some of that recorded on police cameras.

Such as the Chief Magistrate of these United States.
Multiple times.
Not even counting the pics putin has in his vault.

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