Natural World: The Chimpcam Project

Natural World: The Chimpcam ProjectHow does a chimpanzee see the world? A research project at Edinburgh Zoo is designed to answer just that question in an innovative new way - by training chimps to use video touch screens and giving them a special chimp-proof camera.

How will they react to tools which in evolutionary terms are a few million years ahead of them?

As chimp specialist Betsy Herrelko finds out, trying to communicate with chimps using video technology has its trials and tribulations as power struggles, bites and fights get in the way of the hairy chimp directors.

However, by the end of the programme we are privileged to see the world's first film shot by chimpanzees.

Watch the full documentary now (playlist)

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Ratings: 7.92/10 from 13 users.

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Comments and User Reviews

  • Equidae

    Those are some couch potato chimps. But in all seriousness their reactions to the tv monitors was more interesting than their interaction with the cameras, if you could even call it an interaction, as they never seem to grasp the connection between the view screen and the lens.

  • Sadie the Celt

    absolutly fascinating, at long last someone is pushing the boundaries in order to gain vital knowledge on the intelligence of Chimpanzees. This subject has always intrigued me, and I think, every hunam being also. Well Done Betsy. Good work.

  • Pete Bollini

    Interesting research. I am wondering just how much the human reinforcement (good Cindy, that's it) and the hums and hahs affected their behaviour. No criticism here, just curious since it might be an important point in understanding them more.

  • IrishKev.

    Wow, so thats how you get a Ph.D. Tune in next week kids and see her take them to McDonalds and the IMAX. Monkeyshines!

  • Pete Bollini

    Perhaps the project will develop some important insight into how chimps think but exactly how can using a video camera make them happier beings? In other words, are we just using them as experimental animals? Sadly, I think this is the case.

  • ez2b12

    @ IrishKev.

    Yes this and about six to eight years of college gains one a Phd. Let's not over simplify. While I agree that this particular research may not be as earth shattering as say Dian fossey's it is far from pointless or simple. Besides the true measure of her research would be in how she interpretted what she observed in my opinion.

    As we and chimps share a common ancestor we can gain alot of knowledge about that ancestor and our own intelligence through the study of these animals. I thought it was refreshing to see someone that is at the point of recieving a Phd be so accesible and unassuming.

    I will agree that perhaps she could have chosen a better thesis for her studies, chimps reactions to video seems somewhat unimportant to our understanding of their intelligence. That said maybe she was trying to be original as most other facets of their imaginations have already been researched.

  • Pete Bollini

    Maybe we should give the chimps Phds for studying human beings.

  • Mike

    I hope she failed.

  • coyote03

    great footage! I'd have to agree with Equidae on this one. The research and video done by those that Betsy sites is quite impressive. However, her own research doesn't really seem to draw any definite conclusions (although it was an admirable attempt). Despite this, it is a very interesting and entertaining documentary full of some incredible interactions between these chimps. Most of the footage is pretty amazing :)

  • sp

    Waste of time. Nice doc about chimp but nothing about what is describe in the summary.

  • IrishKev.

    @ ez2b12

    Monkeyshines!!

  • jw

    all the chimps at that compound seemed to have lots of skin problems and horribly mangy coats compared to the wild chimps shown later. whats up with that?

  • Equidae

    Chimps evolved for equatorial african rainforests, not a scottish zoo. So undoubetably these chimps have different skin parasites, and are less active. Causing poorer skin conditions and contributing to what would seem to be a generally bigger girth than wild chimps who while substansial are much leaner. They don't just have more skin, but in fact seem to be overweight, especially the higher ranking ones. Their coats are probably normal, they just don't have the hair follicles to cover their apparently greater body mass. Giving them appearance of less hair when in fact it's just thinner.

  • ez2b12

    @ Irishkev

    Oh alright, monkeyshines it is. Can't argue with a fellow Irishmen.

  • Anthony

    fascinating to think what separates the consciousness of humans and our closest ancestors, I do wonder what factors drove humans to develop the brain structure we now have. The doc obviously wasn't a big-budget affair and after all only drew on the 2 year research of a lone phd student at a small zoo. So I wasn't expecting earth shattering insight but nonetheless I found it quite interesting. I wonder how the result of the chimp cam may have differed if the chimps where able to view themselves in the lcd of the box cam, instead of the side mounted lense, having two lcds one on front and one on the back may have stimulated greater interest in the box and also given it social significance as the chimps might have associated it with the monitors in the research room. further more the fact they could view images of themselves would have linked in with the known evidence for self awareness in the mirror experiments mentioned. Its difficult to draw useful conclusions without really affirming the chimps used the box camera for an intentional purpose.

  • zol

    Nitpicking, but ...
    "How will they react to tools which in evolutionary terms are a few million years ahead of them?" suggests that old "Great Chain of Being" influenced approach to evolution, in which non-human animals were assumed to be at more primitive stages on the same path.
    Chimps are not ancestors, but cousins, even if they don't appear to have changed as much since we diverged.

  • Lizzy

    Cute doc. but I think at the end the chimp was just touching the screen (twice: down & up) to get her reward not necessarily to prefer a picture. I don't know that's just my opinion! But it will be interesting when & if they make the connection of the camera lens with what they see on the screen.

  • Tom

    The documentary equivalent of vanilla pudding. Some good footage of chimp interactions, particularly the hierarchical politics, but Betsy's thesis premise--self-awareness/how chimps react to video--really went nowhere. The chimps had no idea that there was a camera in the box, or if they did, they really didn't care. Hmmm... No interest in seeing themselves on camera. Maybe chimps are smarter than humans after all.

  • Juancho

    This research was absolutely enthralling to me. I couldn't stop watching, and I put it on in order to GET TO SLEEP! Haha. It was just great how it sucked me in, and I was emotionally attached in a sense because when they kept shooting the monkey's eyes, and shooting them sunbathing, when Emma got hurt, when they were using tools, I was moved at every instance.

    I learned a LOT from this Doc, and I didnt expect to, like I said I only put it on to fall asleep to it.

    I hope you passed with flying colors Betsy, because despite what some of the ppl above said, this is GREAT research.

    The monkeys may not understand the concept of the lens feeding the video at the end, but the whole Doc's ability to pick their brains progressively throughout the seasons and let us put ourselves in their shoes (furry feet?) for just a moment makes this such a valuable doc.

    Human beings are not so different at ALL from these chimps, questioning evolution after watching this is absolutely mind-boggling.

    Thank you for enlightening me once again TDF.

  • http://newspeak.zonkzone.net Immo

    I enjoyed watching this very much. Fascinating to see how in terms of politics and social ranking in a community we humans are on a par with Chimpanzees. Our use of language and propaganda might be more evolved and we are certainly more thorough in destroying oppositions, but the basic aspects are I think the same.- With regards to the actual Phd project imperatives I think it is a nice attempt to understand our close relatives minds. I believe it has failed in relation to the Chimpcam's primary objective (gaining insightful footage taken by chimpanzees themselves) but I don't think this is a problem as the project gives some interesting information and questions throughout the research leading up to this point. It is a pity the chimpanzees did not seem to understand the video camera concept at all, means all the footage taken with it looked rather random and gives us no special hints about what they might think and enjoy. I think the main problem with the camera it is one step too big to take at a time. Just something seemingly so simple as a mirror takes a while to grasp for humans and chimpanzees alike when confronted with for the first time.- When you think of a camera, for it to be put to basic successful use it involves understanding recording "mirroring" our surrounding, "storytelling" and "retrospective playback" all at the same time.- I think "mirroring" those chimpanzees had already grasped. "Storytelling" they are probably capable of as well with regards to their impressive social politic skills. "Retrospective playback" of their footage I think the main problem. They will have to understand the quality of the footage they are recording serves a purpose when shown later in retrospective. But why would they need that for? For propaganda? Sentimental reasons? Entertainment? I think to them those concepts will seem like a lot of effort and dedication for very little benefit. But I guess chimpanzees might pick up a camera and record something for a banana if trained to do so. Then they would have to be trained to show us something relevant about themselves. But then are we not already forcing our mindsets onto them?

  • Jesse Wiseguy

    Not very good docu but it is entertaining

    As the college girl explained she wanted insight on the monkeys brain, i think she failed.
    This docu only shows that a monkey understand that when she push a red button she got some to eat . They never made a choise , slamming the touchscreen is food.
    Ok she knows red from green but when she had to choose betwoon 4 reds it did not matter to the monkey they al gave food
    So it proofs nothing, there are proffesionals that really made some progress in this experiments.

    Second the cam was fun but has no new value at all.
    Its the same gluwing a cam on a turtle or a other animal , its fun but not more than that.

    So i think the scientific value was almost 0 and it was the meaning of the documaker to give us some insights, that totally failed
    But the docu was fun because i was entertained

  • winston

    check out the videos on the short term memory studies of chimps/ They exceed human capabilities by hundreds of percentage points.

  • creutzfeld

    I hope the fat girl failed.

  • monkeys_eat_food

    it's official chimps are good enough film makers to have been the camera crew for the blair witch project :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Serhend-Adil-Sirkecioglu/507639427 Serhend Adil Sirkecioglu

    i have a problem with her research, its a great idea but the touch screen had no relation to camera and she did not bother teaching the chimps the relationship between the lens and the camera, not to mention that the narrator said video technology was second nature to humans, when it was foreign to us upon its introduction and its usage was conditioned over time through our use of still cameras then motion picture. she should have given the chimps a camera then a camcorder.

  • leewebster

    You failed

  • Brown Guy

    I agree with Serhend, this was definitely a research failure. I think the doctoral student's approach lacked focus and it appeared that she was trying to run as many different mini-experiments as possible hoping one of them would produce an influencial result. The most interesting part for me was the power stuggle. But I could not help but feel sorry for these chimps especially when they showed the clips of the ones living freely (even if with greater risk) in the wild.

  • fried_monkeymeat

    the box is bolted...
    so as long as we dont give him a screwdriver?... LOL!

  • Kevin Meadows

    Two main problems with the research.

    1) The touchscreen bares no relation to the video camera. The experiments devoted too much time to using a touchscreen and not using a camera.

    2) The monitor and camera were fixed at a right angle. Even for humans this set up (like on old Hasselblad cameras) takes some geting use too and can be a little tricky to figure out how to aim the camera at what you want. For inexperienced chimps it would be a huge intelectual leap to identify that relationship.

    Cameras where the monitor was fixed directly behind the lens would have made it easier for chimps to realize that, "Hey, what is on this little screen is a mini version of what I see on the other side of the funny box." The question would of course be if they figured out that relationship.

    As well, starting with a select number of cameras on bolted tripods that only allowed the camera to swivel would force the chimps into using the camera like a camera and not a football.

    Maybe starting with telescopes or binoculars would have been a good steeping stone.

    Interesting question, but the research was poorly designed and lacked focus.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ijustwanafly Kaya Hartley

    Notice how shes dialoguing as one would a children's book. Also, notice how you never see her eating during the film.

  • sknb

    What does eating have to do with anything at all? When do you ever see any talking head eating in a nature doc? Ridiculous. I bet you were a bully in school. She is beautiful, but that has nothing to do with it.

  • sknb

    People's comments on here are absolutely mean and ridiculous. I found this interesting and she clearly has the chimps best intentions at heart.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=690925337 Carmella O'Handley

    OMG... You use food to control the CHIMPS....This is not right.... Darwin s Theory of EVOLUTION is bullshit..we did not evolve from CHIMPS or MONKEYS...WE were created in GODS image.Which means when HE created ADAM He created ADAM in his image...But as long as you are making money from this all the power to you

  • chernencoffa

    I agree completely. I also couldn't help but notice the inconsistencies between her experiments. Why was the first experiment making them get a green ball and then they switch to a red dot on the touch screen? They might as well of started with the touchscreen. To me you wouldn't want to change any variables if your trying to go for one end result, but she seemed a little random and sloppy in her approach. I think she would have done well with some collaboration.

  • chernencoffa

    "Storytelling"? Do you think they have a language like our and can pass concepts to another chimp through sound and body language or something? Not saying it's impossible but really?