Edinburgh Zoo Primates Zoom in on The Chimpcam Project


By Shaun Milne

THE BBC is making a monkey out of its latest wildlife documentary – by using footage filmed by CHIMPS at Edinburgh Zoo.

A TV crew armed chimpanzees with a bash proof camera for an 18-month project at the site’s Budongo Trail in Corstorphine.

The results from the 11 strong group are to be aired by the network this Wednesday on BBC 2 at 8pm.

In a documentary called The Chimpcam Project, the primates appear to show an understanding of what they are filming on a viewfinder.

Producer John Capener said he got the idea after watching a show and thinking that chimps really could have done better.

He said: “The idea stuck in my head. I wondered if chimps could film.”

“They’re very strong and very aggressive, but I thought if we could find a way for the camera to survive it would make for some interesting footage.”


The team constructed a sturdy orange coloured box which had a monitor on the side acting as a viewfinder so the chimps could see what they were shooting.

John added: “I’m pretty sure they understood what they were filming.”

“We were dealing with an average group of chimps but they worked with us very well and gave it their best.”

So successful was the trial that the zoo has now made the Chimpcam a regular feature for the trail because the chimps were so enthused by it.

A spokeswoman said: “It has been a fascinating study.

“It 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.”

The chimps taking part were Cindy, Ricky and Louis who arrived from Africa, Emma who arrived from Whipsnade Zoo, and David, Kilimi, Kindia, Liberius, Lucy, Lyndsey and Qafzeh who were all born at Edinburgh Zoo.


The chimps were first shown video footage of chimps in the wild, then trained to use a touch screens to select different images including shots of their keepers, before finally being let loose on the chimpcam.

The project was supervised by behavioural scientist Betsy Herrelko, 25, from University of Stirling who observes how chimps react and adapt to modern technology.

Herrelko, who previously studied in the US and is an Honorary Research Associate with the Zoo, said: “What happened was completely up to the chimps.

“We were along for the ride and got a new eye view of how they see the world.

“They never got bored of filming unless the monitor died.”

Mr Capener is now dreaming up future projects.

He said: “There are lots of other animals I’d like to try this with such as orangutans, although there is a risk they could be too bright and unscrew the cameras.

“Dolphins would also be good – but there are obvious practical problems with that.”

More details can be found at http://chimpcam.com