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A virtual field trip into the wild

Scots experts on the ‘cultures’ of wild chimpanzees will offer members of the public the opportunity to take an innovative virtual field trip to chimpanzee communities in the wild.

The psychologists at the University of St Andrews have designed an interactive exhibit offering aspiring primatologists a unique insight into the sights and sounds of Africa. The exhibit will be available for the first time at Edinburgh Zoo as part of National Science week, which kicks off this Saturday (13th March 2004).

Headed by Professor Andy Whiten, who leads an international team studying chimpanzee culture, the team’s research will be presented to visitors to the Zoo’s chimpanzee house.

At the touch of a button, visitors to the Zoo will be able to turn from watching the real chimpanzees, to making a lightning ‘virtual field trip’ to two different wild chimpanzee communities in West Africa and East Africa.

During the virtual trip, visitors can ‘travel’ to Gombe or Tai Forest to observe the behaviour of chimpanzees, who can be watched taking part in several activities such as cracking nuts, probing for termites, fishing for Ants and sponging for water. The task for visitors will be to detect which chimpanzee behaviours occur at each place and make virtual notes in a field note book. Once they have completed their ‘study’, participants can compare their notes with the expert’s observations.

Professor Whiten, a member of the Scottish Primate Research Group at St Andrews, appears in the virtual trip and lets visitors know whether they have made the correct observations.

He said: “The chimpanzee enclosure is one of the most popular at the Zoo. It seems the obvious place to introduce some new ways of letting people know what we are finding out about the behaviour of these apes, both in the wild and in captivity”.

The computerised package consists of touch-screen technology and was designed by Steve Smart of the University’s School of Biology.

He said: “Visitors can test their skills at observing animal behaviour. The challenge is to pick out the cultural traditions that make each of the two chimpanzee communities unique, much like two different human cultures.”

Back at Edinburgh, visitors will be able to try for themselves the tasks scientists use to understand the learning capabilities of chimpanzees. They will also have the opportunity to talk to the primatologists involved in the chimpanzee culture studies.

Iain Valentine, Head of Animals and Conservation at Edinburgh Zoo, said:

“It’s great that visitors will have the opportunity for some hands-on science. An important part of the Zoo’s mission is to inspire people so that they care about animals and conservation, and this is a very practical and fun way of doing this! ”

The exhibit, sponsored by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), will be open from 10.30 a.m. to 4 p.m. during Science Week, 13-21 March 2004 at the Chimpanzee House at Edinburgh Zoo.

Weblinks:

National Science Week Events: http://www.the-ba.net/nsw Chimpanzee Cultures Website: http://culture.st-and.ac.uk/chimp Edinburgh Zoo http://www.edinburghzoo.org.uk

ENDS

NOTE TO PICTURE EDITORS:

THERE WILL BE A PHOTO OPPORTUNITY AT THE CHIMPANZEE HOUSE AT EDINBURGH ZOO ON SUNDAY 14TH MARCH AT 11.00AM.

PHOTOGRAPHERS ARE INVITED FOR COFFEE + BISCUITS FROM 10.30AM IN THE MANSION HOUSE. ENTRANCE IS ON FOOT VIA THE MEMBERS’ GATE IN THE TOP LEFT HAND CORNER OF THE CAR PARK.

CONTACT: Amanda Alabaster, Edinburgh Zoo on 0131-314 0310, mobile 07931 512853 or aalabaster@rzss.org.uk

** JPEGS OF CHIMPANZEES AND STILLS OF THE ‘VIRTUAL FIELD TRIP’ ARE AVAILABLE FROM THE UNIVERSITY PRESS OFFICE – CONTACT DETAILS BELOW.

Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050 103, or email gec3@st-andrews.ac.uk Ref: Virtual trip Ed Zoo pr 100304 View the latest University news at http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk

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