Smithsonian Zoo Introduces iPad Tablet Computers To Orangutans
January 23, 2013

Smithsonian Zoo Introduces iPad Tablet Computers To Orangutans

[Watch Video: Smithsonian Orangutans Using iPads for Enrichment]

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

The Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC has recently begun using Apple iPads to interact with a zoo favorite, orangutans.  The Smithsonian now joins 12 other zoos around the world who use this high tech program appropriately called “Apps for Apes.”

According to Smithsonian officials, this program is great for enriching the daily lives of these primates by giving them a variety of activities. Some of these orangutans have even showed an interest in music, with one preferring to play the drums in GarageBand while another tinkles the virtual ivories in the same app. A third orangutan prefers instead to lazily watch fish swim inside the screen in the Koi Pond app. With a more motivated third member (and possibly a bass player) these apes could start a band which would make Davy Jones proud.

“Apps for Apes fits perfectly in this new era of zoo keeping,” said Becky Malinsky, great ape keeper at the National Zoo in a press statement. “It´s about changing up the day-to-day lives of our animals. We already vary their food, toys and social interactions every day, but the iPad offers another way to engage their sight, touch and hearing.”

The National Zoo first entered this program last year when a benevolent family member of a zookeeper donated their old iPad to the Ape House. (The program is currently accepting these kinds of donations.)

Malinsky and fellow zookeeper Erin Stromberg began to talk to other Apps for Apes participants to discover which apps the apes were more likely to respond to. Currently, the DC zoo has a portfolio of 10 apps, including GarageBand, Koi Pond and others meant to stimulate the cognitive abilities of the apes. The apes can draw, choose pictures and even tap icons to play different sounds.

"Apps for Apes is all about giving orangutans in human care choice over their environment," explained Erin Stromberg in a statement to AppleInsider.

"With the iPad, we're hoping to tap less into the critical-thinking outlet and more into a creative outlet. If they're engaged in an app, we'll keep going. If not, they have the choice to walk away," she said.

These apes have the choice to use the iPads twice a month, but handlers hope to one day increase the time spent with the tablets. While touch screens have been used before to stimulate the primates, the iPad is being used simply as a fun toy; something to allow the orangutans to express their creative side or simply blow off some steam. One day, these orangutans could even use FaceTime on the iPads to interact with other monkeys on other continents.

All told, the Apps for Apes program highlights just how transformative and versatile a product can be when it´s done right.

The extreme simplicity and intuitiveness of the iPad lends itself to so many different applications, so as stimulating apes or being used to take orders at a restaurant or even create an entire record.

This story is further proof that the iPad is mostly only hindered by one´s imagination.