Iris, a 25-year-old orangutan at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, uses an iPad as part of Orangutan Outreach's Apps for Apes program.
Credit: Elliott Fabrizio, Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Orangutans at the Smithsonian's National Zoo are now using iPad apps to keep occupied.
"It's about changing up the day-to-day lives of our animals," Becky Malinsky, a keeper at the zoo, said in a statement. "We already vary their food, toys and social interactions every day, but the iPad offers another way to engage their sight, touch and hearing."
So far, the apes are using 10 different apps, including cognitive games, drawing programs and ones that feature virtual musical instruments. According to their keepers, some of the orangutans are already showing their preferences — 36-year-old Bonnie likes to hit the drums, 16-year-old Kyle likes to play the piano, and 25-year-old Iris likes watching animated fish swim in a virtual koi pond on the screen.
The iPads were made available through Apps for Apes, an initiative from the conservation organization Orangutan Outreach, which has already provided tablet devices for the intelligent primates in 12 other zoos, including zoos in Houston, Atlanta, Toronto, Utah and Milwaukee. [10 iPad Alternatives]
"Primarily, we want the Apps for Apes program to help people understand why we need to protect wild orangutans from extinction," Richard Zimmerman, founding director of Orangutan Outreach, said in a statement. "We do that when we show zoo visitors how similar humans and apes are, be it through observation, talking with wildlife experts or seeing the apes use the same technology we use every day."
Orangutans are among humans' closest living relatives, and there are only a few tens of thousands of them currently left in the wild. They are found in the Sumatran rain forests, where they are critically endangered, and the Borneo rain forests, where they are endangered.