Zookeepers Work to Combat Teen Gorilla’s Phone Addiction

A gorilla with a cell phone.
A gorilla with a cell phone. Stuartb / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Apparently it isn’t only human caretakers who have to worry about how much time their teenagers spend on their phones. 

Zookeepers at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago say that a teenage male gorilla named Amare is spending so much time looking at visitors’ phones that it’s distracting him from important real-life interactions with his peers. 

“We are growing increasingly concerned that too much of his time is taken looking through people’s photos,” the zoo’s Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes director Stephen Ross told Newsweek. “We really prefer that he spend much more time with his troop mates learning to be a gorilla.”

Amare, who is 16-years old and 415 pounds, lives with other teenage males at an important time in their development as they jockey for position. 

“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 told the Chicago Sun-Times. 

However, Amare is vulnerable to distractions because his favorite spot to sit in the enclosure is by the glass where visitors stop to view him and his buddies. These visitors have begun to interact with Amare by showing him pictures on their phone, including vacation and family photos, Illinois Public Radio reported.

“He is drawn to it so he pops down in his… corner and looks at these screens as long as they’ll be given to him,” Ross told Illinois Public Radio. “He’s pretty much riveted, except at meal time.” 

Ross said that Amare would amass hours of screen time every day. This led to a concerning incident the week of March 28, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. When one of the other teens in the enclosure rushed at him, Amare didn’t respond at all. Instead of paying attention to this typical peer interaction that helps establish hierarchy among young male gorillas, Amare was looking at the human phones. 

“It seemed to almost surprise Amare because his attention was very much distracted,” Ross told the Chicago Sun-Times.

In this case, Ross said that there were no negative repercussions to Amare’s distraction. However, if this behavior persists, it could have “severe developmental consequences,” Ross told Newsweek. In response, zookeepers have roped off the visitor area by his favorite spot and put up signs advising visitors against sharing their photos with Amare, according to Illinois Public Radio. Ross told the Chicago Sun-Times that it was fine to take photos and videos of the gorillas, but not to turn the screens around.

“We’re asking the public to partner with caretakers in [the] future well-being and development of Amare into an adult gorilla,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter