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Orangutans using iPads at zoos - soon to use Skype

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January 4, 2012

Orangutans at select zoos are now using iPads, and will soon start Skyping orangutans at o...

Orangutans at select zoos are now using iPads, and will soon start Skyping orangutans at other zoos (Photo: Orangutan Outreach)

Turns out we aren't that different from other apes after all. Our primate cousins at a handful of zoos love to use iPads to combat boredom just as much as humans. Zookeepers say that the device is perfect for orangutans, and many have been taking part in guided touchscreen interactions with all sorts of apps, including music, games, movies, cartoons, art, painting, drawing, photos and videos. The orangutans have been playing with the iPads for the past several months, and now a U.S. charity is hoping to round up more of the tablets so the apes can Skype with orangutans at other zoos.

"They like many of the free apps that I think children would like - they like the free apps where you can fingerpaint, they like the apps where you can use the drums," says Trish Khan, Milwaukee County Zoo's orangutan keeper.

She adds that some of the orangutans' interest in the slates isn't that far off from how humans might use them. For example, she says that four-year-old male Mahal likes using video apps, primarily to watch footage recorded of himself, while MJ, a 31-year-old female, enjoys watching video of male orangutans.

The iPads help provide a little extra enrichment, physical and mental stimulation for the apes living in captivity. Zoo Atlanta and the Smithsonian National Zoo are among the other facilities that have demonstrated apes' skills with a touchscreen.

Now that the apes in Milwaukee have had several months to become familiar with the iPads, the U.S.-based charity Orangutan Outreach would like to go one step further, turning on WiFi on the tablets to allow the apes to watch and Skype with their compatriots at other zoos, sort of like a pixelized primate pen pal program.

The group's Richard Zimmerman told the BBC they're not yet comfortable just handing the tablets over to the apes, even with a protective cover.

"As soon as we hand them over to the orangutans, we figure the lifespan could be as little as 15 seconds - whether they meticulously take them apart or just snap them in half."

Some possible solutions include developing a new protective case or affixing the iPad to a wall - the image from the tablet could then be projected elsewhere for zoo visitors to watch.

Orangutan Outreach is accepting donations of cash or gently used iPads to get more tablets in the hands of apes and their zookeepers, who are interested in participating in the program. Zimmerman said that they're hoping first-generation iPads will become more affordable and accessible once the iPad 3 debuts in the coming months.

Watch Mahal and MJ in action in Milwaukee below:

Source: Extreme Tech

About the Author
Eric Mack Eric Mack has been covering technology and the world since the late 1990s. As well as being a Gizmag regular, he currently contributes to CNET, NPR and other outlets.   All articles by Eric Mack
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8 Comments

Well that explains the quality of most of the apps I've downloaded recently.

Lets hope some joker doesn't give Zimmerman an infinte number of donations!

christopher
4th January, 2012 @ 04:25 pm PST

This is great! Now we will have to air drop I-Pads, mobile phones & other hi tech into our rapidly diminishing jungles....And also provide electricity and charging outlets in the middle of the Borneo jungles. On the bright side, we will soon have military grade I-pads that can withstand the harsh jungle environments. And orang-utans that will know what we did to their cousins in labs all over the world.

No need to teach them words, we'll just show them videos....

Nantha
4th January, 2012 @ 05:01 pm PST

This is how Planet of the Apes really started.

Mark A
4th January, 2012 @ 08:27 pm PST

smarter than most ipad users, nicer to deal with too, unless they are in a spitting or biting mood, and the good mood is scary, their hug is quite strong, hold you close, wonderful animal

Bill Bennett
4th January, 2012 @ 08:31 pm PST

At least the orangutans are smart enough not to stand in line for days to buy one.

Joseph J Shimandle
5th January, 2012 @ 08:49 am PST

Wasn't it the Orangutans in Planet of the Apes that were the intellectual ones?

ebastro
6th January, 2012 @ 10:05 am PST

Contact Apple for a donation of iPads for the project... "so easy even an ape can use it..."

John Carman
19th January, 2012 @ 09:07 am PST

According to rumours those apples got us thrown out of the paradise...

Conny Söre
30th March, 2012 @ 09:59 am PDT
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