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The teenage gorilla with an addiction to smartphones

Amare, the 16-year-old ape, has screen time cut after spending ‘hours’ looking at visitors’ phones

Staff at a Chicago zoo have had to put new measures in place to reduce the screen time of a teenage gorilla who appears to have become hooked on visitors’ phones.

Amare, a resident at Lincoln Park Zoo, shares an enclosure with three other “bachelor” apes. Zoo employees fear that he’s been missing out on important developmental progress that could make him a target for bullying.

Gorillas of his age commonly display aggression “to figure out who’s boss”, but Amare “was glued to a cellphone” when one of his fellow residents recently “rushed him” and “didn’t seem to notice” what had happened, reported the Chicago Sun Times. The zoo feared that without intervention the problem could worsen.

“Unfortunately, it seems that phone addiction can be a self-perpetuating problem,” said Metro. The more Amare shows an interest in visitors’ phones, the keener they are to take pictures of him and show him their camera roll.

NPR’s Morning Edition host Leila Fadel pointed out that many primates at Lincoln Park Zoo “regularly use tablets as part of training and cognition studies. 

“They do, however, stick to about five minutes a day with these activities,” she added, while Amare has been spending “hours” looking at phone screens.

Now, staff are “gently but firmly” taking steps to cut Amare’s screen time, Metro continued. 

“Amare is especially vulnerable because his favourite spot in the enclosure is right next to the glass partition,” the Chicago Sun Times reported. Now, staff have put up a rope to keep visitors at a greater distance from the partition, “and will gently intervene – explaining the situation – if it appears Amare is still being distracted by bright screens”.

Excessive screen time for “human adolescents has been tied to physical and mental health risks, multiple studies have shown, and the pandemic dramatically drove up children’s time on their phones”, said Newsweek

Stephen Ross, director of the zoo’s centre for the study and conservation of apes, “said the reasons to limit screen time for human and gorilla teens were not terribly different”, added the news site.

Scientists say they have already seen positive changes in Amare’s behaviour since the “buffer zone” was put in place.

“Amare is realising that it’s not really worth it for him to sit there in that corner, waiting for someone to come up and show him their phone,” Ross told the Chicago Tribune

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