Do animals suffer from addiction?

A teenage gorilla at a Chicago zoo is addicted to smartphones. He’s obsessed with visitor devices he can see through his glass enclosure and now authorities are cutting his screen time

A gorilla at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo stares at visitors’ phone screens that show him photos and videos through the glass wall. Representation image/AFP

The cell phone is one of the greatest vices of the 21st century. And the man is not the only one to suffer from it. An eastern lowland gorilla also has a smartphone problem.

But do animals suffer from addiction? We take a look

Too much screentime for this gorilla

A resident of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, Amare just can’t stop staring at his phone. He was so engrossed in the screen that he didn’t notice another gorilla charging at him.

Amare, of course, doesn’t have his own phone. Her addiction comes from zoo visitors showing her photos and videos through the glass divider in her enclosure.

The problem is real and now zoo authorities are doing everything they can to cut down on the 16-year-old primate’s screen time. They put a rope to keep people away from the glass partition. And if they see someone showing a video to Amare, they will intervene and discourage them from doing so.

“We are increasingly concerned that he spends too much time looking at people’s photos, we really prefer that he spends a lot more time with his troop mates learning how to be a gorilla,” said said Stephen Ross, director of the Lester E Fisher Zoo. Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, told the Chicago-Sun Times.

If Amare is too distracted by gadgets, he will miss interaction with other gorillas and have a lower social status in the group. This could lead to bullying and, as the zoo puts it, “serious developmental consequences”, reports United Kingdom Metro.

But the Chicago primate is not the first animal to suffer from addiction.

The Smoking Sheep

A sheep in Mandya, Karnataka, was reportedly addicted to cigarettes and tried to steal them from people gathered in teahouses. His addiction was so strong that he avoided his usual diet of green vegetables for tobacco. He was chewing tobacco and munching on bedis, according to a report by Mirror United Kingdom.

Phone-obsessed gorilla Trout craving meth Do animals suffer from addiction

Elephants enjoy the sweet marula fruit and get drunk. AFP

Yes, animals like alcohol… and get drunk

Alcohol consumption is all too common among primates.

West African chimpanzees are frequent drinkers, consuming the equivalent of three pints of strong lager a day. A 2015 study published in the Royal Society Open Science pointed to a group of wild chimpanzees in Guinea that raided palm alcohol production sites. They often drank from breakfast until dark – although, interestingly, only once was an individual observed drinking a bit too much, according to a report in The conversation. Chimpanzees were smart enough to regulate their intake.

Interestingly, in monkeys, younger individuals are more likely to drink than older ones. He is [possible] that adults drink less because they need to be more alert and perceptive of group social dynamics, according to a study by Jorge Juarez of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

Elephants also like to get drunk. They crave marula and enjoy the intoxicating effects of the juice. In the 1830s, French naturalist Adulphe Delegorgue wrote about the aggressive behavior of male elephants after feeding on marula fruit. But physiologists believe that in order for elephants to get drunk, they would have to eat fermenting marula fruit at four times their natural consumption rate for an entire day.

Recreational drug use?

Rough-toothed dolphins have been observed feeding on a pufferfish toxin. In 1995, marine scientist Lisa Steiner provided perhaps the first description of a peculiar behavior she witnessed near the Azores, where she discovered dolphins were immobile after playing with puffer fish, reports BBC.

Pufferfish venom, tetrodotoxin, is 120,000 times deadlier than cocaine and 40,000 times deadlier than methamphetamine. Marine biologist Christie Wilcox writes in Discover the magazine that the dolphins could explore the puffer fish and accidentally expose themselves to a little toxin. But she is extremely skeptical that the dolphins dosed themselves intentionally, with such precision to achieve a bit of numbness without accidentally overdosing.

The same cannot be said for other water creatures.

A 2021 study found that traces of methamphetamine and other illegal drugs that enter waterways could cause addiction in fish.

Laboratory experiments have revealed that brown trout, a common fish in Eastern European rivers, exposed to methamphetamine at concentrations such as those seen just downstream of sewage treatment plants, showed signs of addiction – like being less active – and withdrawal. In the wild, meth-addicted fish could have trouble reproducing and finding food, reports The National Geographic. According to research, trout exposed to methamphetamine preferred to swim in meth-laden water, particularly within four days of their drug supply being discontinued.

Another study found that cocaine in European rivers could interfere with the reproduction of critically endangered eels.

Phone-obsessed gorilla Trout craving meth Do animals suffer from addiction

Dogs can perceive television images just like us. AFP

TV addiction

Like the Amare gorilla, dogs too can become addicted to the screen.

Domestic dogs can perceive images on television in the same way as we do and, like us, they are susceptible to being affected and possibly even addicted. If a heated TV debate is stressing you out, the anxiety will rub off on the dog.

While television is good for entertaining dogs, too much screen time is not good for them. Dogs are notorious for displaying obsessive behavior and so if they’re obsessed with a screen, that’s not good news.

With contributions from agencies

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