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What TV-Watching Chimps Tell Us About Human Behavior

In NYC's Village Petstore and Charcoal Grill
In NYC's Village Petstore and Charcoal Grill

STUTTGART — Banbo is the first one to get the idea. The 11-year-old female chimpanzee presses her thumb firmly on the button and changes the channel on the TV set up in her enclosed living space. Fifteen-year-old Liboso is less certain and still sometimes presses her feet against the screen. The rest of the group prefers to watch from a distance.

Apes are not the easiest crowd when it comes to television, as American primate researcher Amy Parish has discovered at Stuttgart’s Wilhelma Zoo. The 47-year-old is using the zoo’s bonobos to study primates’ interaction with the small screen.

The zoo has installed the world’s first bonobo cinema, with a screen set into the wall of the enclosure and five large buttons that the chimps can use to change channel. They can flick between footage showing three different types of behavior: sex, play or aggression. The lead actors are always apes and one film shows the life of wild bonobos in the Congo.

Amy Parish has been working with bonobos for 23 years and has carried out research in many zoos across Europe and America. She already knows the Wilhelma Zoo, as she conducted research here for her doctorate in the 1990s. During that time she discovered that bonobos — which have DNA extremely similar to that of humans — form social groups in which the females are dominant.

“The power definitely lies with the women,” Parish tells us. But how does that power balance manifest itself when it comes to TV? That’s what Parish wants to find out in Stuttgart.

Her research project is financed by a private U.S. foundation. As both a primatologist and anthropologist, Parish hopes that her research could provide clues about how violent films affect behavior, even among humans.

A groundbreaking project

Parish’s experiments are not the first to set apes before the small screen. However, the unique aspect of the Stuttgart study is that the animals can press the buttons themselves and choose between different programs.

“It’s a global pilot project,” says Parish, and it could provide answers to some intriguing questions. Which programs are the apes most interested in? Do males show different preferences than females? How do tastes vary within a group?

At first Banbo needed a bit of time to find the on switch. The female bonobo comes from a zoo in Britain, where a few years ago researchers showed apes video footage of other animals. According to one of the keepers, films of predators met with “disapproval,” while smaller animals elicited a chorus of oohs and aahs. “When a snake came onto the screen, they panicked and ran away screaming. Then a bit later they crept back to check that the coast was clear.”

It seems that the bonobos showed a marked preference for cartoons and wildlife films. They loved action and bright colors but were bored by political shows. Apparently when the TV broke down and had to be repaired, the mechanic who brought it back was welcomed with applause.

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First It Was Poland's Farmers — Now Truckers Are Protesting Ukraine's Special Status

For the past month, Poland has been blocking off its border checkpoints to Ukrainian trucks, leaving many in days-long lines. It's a commercial and economic showdown, but it's about much more.

Photogrqph of a line of trucks queued in the  Korczowa - border crossing​

November 27, 2023, Medyka: Trucks stand in a queue to cross the border in Korczowa as Polish farmers strike and block truck transport in Korczowa - border crossing

Dominika Zarzycka/ZUMA
Katarzyna Skiba

Since November 6, Polish truckers have blocked border crossing points with Ukraine, citing unfair advantages given to the Ukrainian market, and demanding greater support from the European Union.

With lines that now stretch for up to 40 kilometers (25 miles), thousands of Ukrainian truckers must now wait an average of about four days in ever colder weather to cross the border, sometimes with the help of the Polish police. At least two Ukrainian truck drivers have died while waiting for passage into Poland.

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The round-the-clock blockade is being manned by Polish trucking unions who claim that Ukrainian trucking companies, which offer a cheaper rate, have been transporting goods across Europe, rather than between Poland and Ukraine. Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, Ukrainian truckers have been exempt from the permits once required to cross the border.

Now, Polish truckers are demanding that their government reintroduce entry permits for Ukrainian lorries, with exceptions for military and humanitarian aid from Europe. For the moment, those trucks are being let through the blockade, which currently affects four out of Ukraine’s eight border crossings with Poland.

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