Teenagers being addicted to smartphones is hardly a new phenomenon, but when the teen in question happens to be a 415-pound eastern lowland gorilla, then you might have a problem.
Strange? Yes. But that’s exactly what’s happened with Amare, a 16-year-old gorilla at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo who’s grown so fond of staring at smartphones that he failed to notice when a rival gorilla ran up from behind and jumped him.
Not his own phone of course – as smart as gorillas are, they’re still not capable of navigating an iPhone lock screen. Amare’s obsession comes from the endless pictures and videos shown to him by zoogoers through the glass divide in his enclosure.
Stephen Ross, who studies ape behaviour and cognition at the zoo, said that Amare’s caregivers noticed the gorilla was spending his days sitting in one corner of the habitat glued to guests’ phones. Amare, who lives in a gorilla bachelor pad with three other teenage males, was increasingly distracted to the point that he disengaged from his frat mates.
“It wasn’t until that point that we had to do something to help Amare make better decisions about his screen time,” Ross told the Chicago Sun-Times.
In order to encourage Amare to spend more time with his fellow apes, zoo officials installed a rope in front of the habitat’s viewing window, creating a buffer zone between Amare and the temptation of human visitors’ phones in order to wean the gorilla off his addiction.
But although human teenagers stripped of their screens can experience withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression and insomnia, scientists at the zoo started to notice positive changes in Amare’s behaviour right away.
“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 said, noting Amare’s increased enthusiasm for 'being a gorilla' by going outside more and interacting with his group mates.
Amare lives with three other male 'bachelor' gorillas, all in their teens and completely separated from an enclosure that contains a family group that includes a dominant male.
Zoo officials don’t want screen time to take away from an important pre-adult developmental period in which the bachelors are learning how to interact with each other and, in essence, be gorillas.
“It’s a typical sort of frat party, there’s a lot of playing, but there’s also some aggression and a lot of figuring out who’s the boss in that group,” Ross explained.
Could Amare become an easy target for bullying because he’s not paying attention to the other animals?
“It’s within the realm of possibility and something we really want to get ahead of,” said Ross, who also wants to avoid the possibility of Amare’s roommates becoming similarly engrossed by screens.
As a parent of teenagers himself, Ross thinks we can all learn from Amare.
“Understanding how he was driven to this behaviour and how we help him make good decisions — that’s all part of being human,” he explained.
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Featured Image Credit: FOX 32 Chicago