These Chimps Are All of Us

These Chimps Are All of Us
Photo: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty Images

It’s well-known that pandemic times have forced humans to become very acquainted with their screens. In lieu of seeing other people in person, for instance, many of us see them virtually, whether for work or recreation. And don’t even get me started on all the show binging. (I’m currently watching a remake of Ugly Betty called Betty in New York and darn, Telemundo sure knows how to get me hooked). Well, dear readers, let me tell you: We are not the only ones getting more screen time.

In recent weeks, chimpanzees at two zoos in the Czech Republic — the Safari Park Dvůr Králové and the Brno Zoo — have experienced a key fixture of human pandemic life: watching others on screens. From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time every day, the chimps can check out what their very distant neighbours are doing — the zoos are about 181 kilometres away from each other — via a live Zoom call on a big screen. Their reactions, which you can see in the following images, are utterly fascinating.

The ‘Chimp Zoom Call’ Is Meant to Keep the Chimps Entertained

Photo: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty ImagesPhoto: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty Images

Zoo officials at the Dvůr Králové explained that the project is meant to keep the chimps entertained and make up for the lack of interaction with visitors due to the pandemic. The Dvůr Králové and the Brno Zoo, along with all other zoos in the country, are currently closed because of covid-19 restrictions in the Czech Republic.

In a smart move, officials have muted the sound on the chimps’ Zoom call. (They have obviously learned from human Zoom disasters).

Apparently, It’s Had Some Effect

Photo: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty ImagesPhoto: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty Images

The chimps have displayed plenty of interest in what their neighbours, and the humans that care for them, are up to. Zoo workers state that chimps have brought food close to the camera to show off to the other group of chimps or even just watch humans from the other zoo cleaning their neighbours’ enclosures.

“At the beginning they approached the screen with defensive or threatening gestures, there was interaction,” Gabriela Linhartova, curator of primates and carnivores at Dvůr Králové, said. “It has since moved into the mode of ‘I am in the movies’ or ‘I am watching TV.’ When they see some tense situations, it gets them up off the couch, like us when we watch a live sport event.”

The Chimp ‘M’ Is a Big Fan of the Livestream

Photo: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty ImagesPhoto: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty Images

Dvůr Králové officials affirm that the chimps at their zoo have tried to look behind the screen to find the source of the image they’re seeing, per a Google translation of a statement on their website. The project has proved to be especially popular for a female chimp known as “M,” who often finds a moment to check on her distant neighbours at the Brno Zoo.

A cooperation project of this nature to connect and enrich the lives of two groups of chimps during the pandemic is completely unique in the Czech Republic, Dvůr Králové officials stated.

Chimps Are Intelligent Animals and Need Stimuli to Remain ‘Active, Agile and Happy’

Photo: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty ImagesPhoto: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty Images

Some of you may be asking, why is it so important to keep chimps entertained? Michal Šťastný, a spokesperson for Dvůr Králové, told Live Science that chimps are very intelligent animals and need a lot of stimuli in order to remain “active, agile and happy.” Per the outlet, zookeepers are constantly looking for new ways to entertain and challenge chimps with items such as toys, food, and equipment.

Humans play an important role in keeping the chimps intrigued, Šťastný said. But the zoo has been closed for months.

“Chimps enjoy observing people and also their dogs, that are allowed in the zoo,” Šťastný said. “Sometimes they enjoy little games with visitors, such as chasing them, howling at them and other regular chimp games.”

Some Say That Chimps and Humans Communicate in Their Interactions

Photo: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty ImagesPhoto: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty Images

Interactions between humans and chimps are by no means a small matter. In fact, chimps and zoo visitors have also been known to interact via imitation. A 2017 study published in the journal Primates found that zoo visitors and chimps are just as likely to imitate each other. The actions copied by the humans and the chimps included hand claps, knocking on enclosure windows, or kissing.

“This is where things get interesting. Since both species imitated actions they were already highly familiar with, this imitation can’t have been a method of learning but rather appeared to be a way of communicating,” Lund University researchers Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc and Tomas Persson wrote in an article about their study in the Conversation.

Of course, since we’re living in a pandemic, the poor chimps are deprived of this type of communication as well.

The Project Is Expected to End at the End of March Because the Chimps Will Probably Get Bored

Photo: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty ImagesPhoto: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty Images

The project is expected to run until the end of March because of an issue as old as time: boredom. Zoo officials anticipate that the chimps would eventually get bored of watching each other on the livestream, Šťastný told Live Science.

“The video streaming has been a big success, but in time, the chimp’s attention is most likely going to fade,” Šťastný said. “That is why the keepers keep coming [up] with new ways of enrichment every day.”

If you’re interested in watching the chimps’ livestream in real-time, you still have time to tune in! Since the livestream runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. CEST, that’s 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. ET. Check it out here.

In the End, This Is Not Only a Cool Project — It’s Also a Call for Help

Photo: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty ImagesPhoto: Gabriel Kuchta, Getty Images

There’s no doubt that the zoos’ livestream project has captivated the internet. I mean, that chimp holding a half-eaten coconut while it gapes at the screen is pretty much me whenever there’s a new plot twist on Betty in New York (it’s a telenovela, folks, so this is a frequent occurrence). Sans coconut, unfortunately.

However, zoo officials stress that the “Chimp Zoom Call” is not only an interesting project, but a call for help. Dvůr Králové affirms that it has been closed since spring 2020, with almost no support from the Czech government. On its website, the zoo includes a link for donations for people who wish to help it support its chimps.

“The financial situation of every zoo in the country is getting more and more serious every day and the project is willing to show that despite being closed, the life in the zoo has to go on. The animals need daily care and food no matter what,” Dvůr Králové officials said in a statement.