This is how wild apes reacted to camera traps in the African bush

March 14, 2019

Different species of wild apes and even different individuals within those species have been caught reacting to remote camera-trap devices in a new study.

The research was designed to analyse how the behaviour of apes changed when they believed that unusual objects were around them - to see whether scientists could be influencing the behaviour that they're studying.

According to the work published in the journal Current Biology, apes always noticed the cameras and often reacted to them - sometimes poking them, often staring at them, on occasion trying to bite them.

This means that scientists will have to take into account how animals respond to their studies.

"Our goal was to see how chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas react to unfamiliar objects in the wild," said Dr Ammie Kalan.

This was "mostly to determine if the presence of research equipment, like camera traps, has any effect on their behaviour and if there were any differences among the three great apes", she added.

Dr Kalan, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, also published the footage, adding: "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 genetic makeup, we expected them to react similarly to the camera, 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," Dr Kalan explained.

"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."

A significant discovery was how the age of the ape impacted their interactions with the cameras.

"Younger apes would explore the camera traps more by staring at them for longer periods of time," Dr Kalan said.

"Like human children, they need to take in more information and learn about their environment. Being curious is one way of doing that."

Dr Kalan continued: "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.

"I think it's really interesting from a behavioural 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."

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