Apps for Apes: Zoo's Orangutans Play With iPads

Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013  |  Updated 5:54 PM EDT
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Jen Zoon, Smithsonian's National Zoo

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Say you've got a bunch of orangutans just hanging around, looking for a new hobby.

Yes, there's an app for that.

The six orangutans at the Smithsonian's National Zoo have iPads among their newest toys, the zoo announced Tuesday. Keepers introduced the devices after joining a program known as the Apps for Apes and consulting with other keepers to determine... wait for it... which apps were the most popular among orangutans.

We would have given anything to be there for that discussion. Anything.

The zoo's orangutans now have about 10 apps to play with -- including musical instruments -- and keepers say the apes have their clear favorites: Bonnie bangs on the drums, Kyle likes the piano, and Iris prefers just watching animated fish swim in a digital koi pond.

The zoo said in a release:

Staff study animal behavior and determine what kinds of enrichment are appropriate for each species and, occasionally, individual animals. They may alter an exhibit; train an animal; introduce new smells, sounds, foods and objects; or enlist an animal in a research project. Since 1994, the National Zoo’s orangutans have used touch-screen monitors as part of a cognitive study that tests orangutan memory, tool use and social learning.

Speaking of social learning... keepers say they hope that eventually their orangutans will be able to video-conference with orangutans at other zoos.

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