Visitors to Jungle Island at Miami zoo may be surprised at the interest shown by the orangutans to their iPads and tablets. This is due to a new project taking place in Miami and many other zoos across the world to introduce iPad technology to these intelligent apes.
The ‘Apps for Apes' program is the brainchild of Richard Zimmerman, who runs ‘Orangutan Outreach' for Jungle Island in Miami and other zoos. The aim of his conservation organisation is to raise awareness of the plight of these amazing creatures, whose very existence is threatened by the deforestation of their rainforest habitat for the ever expanding palm oil plantations. Without intervention, it is estimated that extinction could be a possibility within as little as three years. As well as his awareness campaigns, Richard has raised more than a million dollars already from his expanding, non-profit organisation.
With many iPads being donated by the public, the project is designed to stimulate the minds of the orangutans. Like their human cousins, some show no interest when presented with these gadgets, but the majority, with their natural curiosity and intelligence, actively embrace the technology.
The tuition is given through the bars of their enclosure, simply because their inquisitive brains would likely result in them dismantling the iPads – something that no warranty in the world is likely to cover!
While it may be some time before these great apes can download the Jungle Book to keep their offspring amused, staff are amazed at how adaptable they are with the touchscreen technology, whether it be musical instrument apps like piano or drums, drawing, painting or intellectual games. One app, used primarily to teach autistic children, allows the keepers to communicate with the apes by asking them to identify particular objects by pointing to them on the screen. The hope is that this app can eventually be adapted to a form of visual menu, where the orangutans can actually choose their own food by selecting it on the screen. There are also plans to show them images and videos of other orangutans in the future, even providing a link to their counterparts in other zoos around the world who are also involved with the program.
The true ability of these magnificent creatures to pick up technology is still unknown, but who knows, in the not too distant future, it may not just be the birds that are tweeting in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra!