Last week on our sister site, ConferencingShopper.com, we announced that six orangutans living in Miami’s Jungle Island Zoo have been playing games, drawing, and expanding their vocabulary with the help of their new hi-tech toy, an Apple iPad®. This article showcases another facility that is using technology to enrich the lives of their orangutans, the Milwaukee County Zoo.
Trish Khan, the Zoo’s orangutan keeper, said that she has been using iPads with her orangutans since June of last year. They began working with the great apes through a public screen, and then one month later moved to working with them through the mesh barrier, where Khan is able to hold the iPad while they interact with it using their fingers. “As they started to realize that they could interact with it, it became even more positive,” she said.
In addition to games, drawing and growing their vocabulary, the apes are also using the iPads to view videos of other animals in the park as well as themselves, and utilizing many of the free apps that are geared toward children. One 4 year-old male named Mahal has taken a liking to a music app that allows the user to strum a guitar with a swipe of their finger, and beat on different drums. MJ, a 31 year-old female is a bit more sophisticated, and prefers interactive books and clips of another male orangutan, Tom, who also lives in the Milwaukee County Zoo.
All of this enrichment is vital to keeping these great apes happy and well balanced. Linda Jacobs, who is currently overseeing a similar program at Miami’s Jungle Island facility, explained that “orangutans can’t speak because they don’t have developed vocal chords and voice boxes, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a lot to say. It just means that they don’t have the right equipment to say it. They are communicating with each other with American Sign Language also. The iPad is just one way of communicating with them.”
Jacobs went on to say that although the iPad was clearly made for humans, the program she is using was designed for autistic children, “so a child who has no voice is able to communicate,” which is basically what they’re doing with the orangutans. “They have no voice, but they have all the ability. They’re trapped inside their body too.”
All of the positive responses stemming from the orangutan’s use of the iPad have driven Orangutan Outreach’s executive director, Richard Zimmerman to create an “Apps for Apes” program using donated iPads. Ultimately “Apps for Apes” is looking to utilize video conferencing to reconnect the orangutans with their friends and family members that are located in other zoos and facilities around the country.
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