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Chimps at city zoo get behind the camera for BBC documentary

THE DIRECTOR might have called "lights, camera, action" . . . but the crew didn't stop monkeying around.

Chimps at Edinburgh zoo have proven their technological talent after spending the past 18 months filming a new documentary.

Around 11 chimpanzees living on the Budongo Trail have been carrying around a special "chimpcam" and shooting each other getting up to lots of monkey business.

The unique footage produced will make up part of a BBC documentary following behavioural scientist Betsy Herrelko, from the University of Stirling, who has been observing how chimps react to modern technology.

The show, called The Chimpcam Project, is set to air on Wednesday night on BBC2 at 8pm.

The curious chimps were introduced to their special role by showing them video footage of chimps in the wild. Then, following training from the keepers, the tech-savvy animals learned to touch the screen to select different images, such as the keepers preparing food or their outside enclosure.

The final part of the project involved placing a chimp-proof video camera into the enclosure.

The Chimpcam was encased in a sturdy box – just in case they went a bit bananas during filming – and it had a monitor on the side so that the chimps could see what they were filming.

Producer John Capener said he developed the idea for the experiment when he watched a television programme a couple of years ago that was so awful he thought a chimp could do better.

He said: "The idea stuck in my head and I wondered if chimps really could film. They're very strong and aggressive, but I thought if we could find a way for the camera to survive it would make for some interesting footage.

"We were dealing with an average group of chimps, but they worked with us very well and gave it their best. I'm pretty sure they understood the filming."

Miss Herrelko, 25, added that the footage had explored the extent to which the chimps were aware of what they were seeing and filming. She said: "What happened was completely up to the chimps. We were along for the ride, and we got a new eye view of how they see the world.

"They never got bored of filming unless the monitor died."

Altogether the team shot four hours of footage, much of which is shown on the documentary.

Mr Capener said the project's success encouraged him to look at further animal cam projects.

He said: "There are lots of other animals I'd like to try this with, such as orangutans, although there is the risk that they could be too bright and would unscrew the camera. Dolphins would also be good, although there are obvious practical problems with that."

A zoo spokesman said the chimps were still being given regular access to the Chimpcam following the project's success. She said: "It has been a fascinating study. In addition to the research, the documentary gives an insight into the politics within our chimpanzee group and the – sometimes violent – battle for the alpha male.

Other behavioural research studies are planned with different species around the zoo, so this is just the beginning."

 
 
 

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