Meet The Italian Psychiatrist Who Treats Both Humans And Chimpanzees

A program in Uganda helps chimpanzees deal with their emotions through sign language and art. Mariangela Ferrero can compare their woes to those of her human patients near Turin.

"Tell me how that makes you feel..."
"Tell me how that makes you feel..."
Antonella Mariotti

TURIN - “They killed my mother. And they killed her to take me...”

Michael was around 10 years old, which is still young for a gorilla, when he realized that he could communicate with sign language. And naturally, he went straight to his therapist, in her white coat, and told her about the day his mother was kidnapped. “I still hear gunshots. At night I can still see them cutting off my mother’s head.”

Michael died a few years ago. But there are many other apes with traumatic and violent pasts that can be helped to recover emotionally and adapt to their new life of freedom at the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda. Here, for part of the year, Italian Mariangela Ferrero works as a psychotherapist. For the rest of the year she works with human patients in Pinerolo, near Turin.

In the heart of Africa, she works with the primates and has put in place the Picture Making Emotional Enrichment (PME) program. “As with humans,” she says, “pictures help the primates to establish a rapport with others from their species, thus returning to a new life in freedom.”

Just like humans, all apes are able to draw, even if they’re not all “artists.” “Some however, understand that the material that we offer them is for drawing and they’re inquisitive. And, when they finish one, they give that specific picture a title,” she says.

This relationship between primates and pictures has already been noted, but what Ferrero brings forward is the use of drawing for emotional recovery; with humans, art therapy has been used for quite some time now. “PME has given us some very interesting results in regard to the improvement of mental well-being and painting production,” explains the psychotherapist.

Meet Medina, the shy artist

There are two reasons that convinced Ferrero to continue on with the project. “One has to do with enthusiasm, the other with hope. On my second day at Ngamba Island, a very gentle adult chimpanzee named Pasa, who, after having observed the first session of PME with one of the other monkeys, decided to lock herself in the enclosure, refusing to go back to the forest like usual in the evening. She completely refused all efforts to get her to leave. Then, when the staff decided to leave her, Pasa called me, letting me know she wanted to paint something.”

Another similar case was with Medina: “He’s a sweet and shy five-year-old chimpanzee who would withdraw into himself in group situations, had difficulty making his needs known or playing with the others. He was always worried and protected his food. However, he had a special talent for using complex techniques in pictorial experimentation.”

Medina uses crayons instead of tempera, and even folds up his artwork to make some of them three-Dimensional. “When he's finished,” says Ferrero, “he pauses to observe the result. He’s the best artist among all the participants at PME. Art allows him to overcome the trauma he experienced when he was young, and now he has a better relationship with the other chimpanzees.”

The PME project unfortunately now risks closing. “We need funds to go on. I work for free but we need materials and structures. The mental health of animals is just as important as the physical – just like for humans.”

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How Facebook's Metaverse Could Undermine Europe's Tech Industry

Mark Zuckerberg boasted that his U.S. tech giant will begin a hiring spree in Europe to build his massive "Metaverse." Touted as an opportunity for Europe, the plans could poach precious tech talent from European tech companies.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

PARIS — Facebook's decision to recruit 10,000 people across the European Union might be branded as a vote of confidence in the strength of Europe's tech industry. But some European companies, which are already struggling to fill highly-skilled roles such as software developers and data scientists, are worried that the tech giant might make it even harder to find the workers that power their businesses.

Facebook's new European staff will work as part of its so-called "metaverse," the company's ambitious plan to venture beyond its current core business of connected social apps.

Shortage of French developers

Since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his more maximalist vision of Facebook in July, the concept of the metaverse has quickly become a buzzword in technology and business circles. Essentially a sci-fi inspired augmented reality world, the metaverse will allow people to interact through hardware like augmented reality (AR) glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.

The ambition to build what promoters claim will be the successor to the mobile internet comes with a significant investment, including multiplying the 10% of the company's 60,000-strong workforce currently based in Europe. The move has been welcomed by some as a potential booster for the continent's tech market.

Eight out of 10 French software companies say they can't find enough workers.

"In a number of regions in Europe there are clusters of pioneering technology companies. A stronger representation of Facebook can support this trend," German business daily Handelsblatt notes.

And yet the enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. In France, company leaders worry that Facebook's five-year recruiting plan will dilute an already limited talent pool, with eight out of 10 French software companies already having difficulties finding staff, daily Les Echos reports.

The profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg displayed on a smartphone

Cris Faga / ZUMA

Teleworking changes the math

There is currently a shortage of nearly 10,000 computer engineers in France, with developers being the most sought-after, according to a recent study by Numéum, the main employers' consortium of the country's digital sector.

Facebook has said its recruiters will target nations including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland, without mentioning specific numbers in any country. But the French software sector, which has so far managed to retain 59% of its workforce, fears that its highly skilled and relatively affordable young talent will be fertile recruiting grounds — especially since the pandemic has ushered in a new era of teleworking.

Facebook's plan to build its metaverse comes at a time when the nearly $1-trillion company faces its biggest scandal in years over damning internal documents leaked by a whistleblower, as well as mounting antitrust scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators. Still, as the sincerity of Zuckerberg's quest is underscored by news that the pivot might also come with a new company name, European software companies might want to start thinking about how to keep their talent in this universe.

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