The orangutans at Milwaukee County Zoo were introduced to the high tech devices back in May 2011 as part of an enrichment program and they are allowed access to them twice a week. The orangutans are naturally curious and seem to find the iPads stimulating.
The orangutans already have their favourite apps, including a fingerpainting app called Drawfree, simple games like Flick Kick Football and interactive picture books.
The favourite activity by far, however, is using applications like Facetime and Skype to watch and interact with other orangutans. In fact, this activity has been so popular that the zoo plans to hold weekly sessions with other zoos, such as Phoenix, Atlanta and Toronto so that the animals can communicate “inter-zoo” with one another.
Orangutans can communicate with each other by squeaks and grunts as well as body language and eye movements. They are fascinated with the images of other orangutans on the ipad, as well as viewing images of themselves.
Heavy Handed Orangutans
Unfortunately, the orangutans are not particularly gentle when it comes to handling the iPad, and there is a real risk of breakage during use. An orangutan can snap an iPad as easily as we can tear a piece of cardboard.
The keepers have to closely supervise the orangutans as they use the iPads to make sure that they do not run off with them or break them. There is also a risk of the iPad being slowly taken apart by a curious creature, keen to see what is inside. To prevent this, the keepers tighty hold the iPad and push it through the bars of the cage, keeping a firm grasp on it all the time that it being used.
Seeing these beautiful animals having fun interacting with technology should serve to increase awareness about the plight of the wild orangutan. The rainforests where they live in Borneo and Sumatra are disappearing at an astonishing rate. Of the three sub-species of orangutan, the Sumatran species is classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Redlist.
Zoo visitors who come to see the entertaining orangutans are encouraged to donate money to charities dedicated to the preservation of the threatened rainforest habitat of the orangutan.
These intelligent, curious creatures are amazing to watch, and zoos are doing all that they can to preserve the species and raise public awareness of the dangers that they face in the wild. Hopefully, these beautiful rainforest dwellers will continue to be around for future generations to enjoy.
BBC News: “Orangutans could video chat between zoos via iPads”
NYDaily News: “Orangutans latest users of Apple’s iPad”