The seven bonobos living at the Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary in Des Moines, Iowa, are a pretty smart bunch of apes. Among other things, they have a vocabulary of about 400 words – they don’t speak those words, but instead associate the meanings of
them with symbols known as lexigrams. Using large wall-mounted touchscreen displays, they are able to communicate with humans by touching the appropriate lexigrams on those displays. Now, the sanctuary wants to develop an app that could be used on mobile versions of the wall screens, so tablet-wielding bonobos could communicate from wherever they happen to be.
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.
When studying wild animals such as gorillas and chimpanzees, it's not uncommon to use photo or video traps - unmanned cameras that are triggered to capture images when creatures pass in front of them. Scientists can then retrieve the cameras and review the footage, to get an estimate of the numbers of a certain species within a given area, and to see what those animals have been up to. One of the problems with this approach, however, is that it's often hard to tell one animal from another - are you looking at several shots of several different apes, or is it the same individual every time? German scientists are developing wild primate-devoted facial recognition software, in order to answer such questions.