Lifestyle & Belief

Apps for Apes: Orangutans use iPads at Milwaukee zoo (VIDEO)


A 29-year-old Sumatran Orangutan female Bini holds her 10-week-old baby Bulan in her arms at the Berlin Zoo.


Michael Kappeler

You've heard it before: Apple's iPad is so intuitive, everyone from your two year old to your technologically impaired grandparents can use it.

But apes? Apparently so. For the last six months, a Milwaukee county zoo has let three orangutans play with a donated iPad. The verdict? The device is intuitive to them too.

"We show them the iPad, and read them stories, or let them have different apps," said Jan Rafert, curator of primates and small mammals at the zoo, to the LA Times. "We don't let them hold them, but they can do some of the paint apps by sticking their fingers through the mesh."

According to the LA Times, it all began when the zoo's gorilla keeper mentioned on her Facebook page that she'd like to get iPads for her gorillas. She was joking, but a zoo volunteer took it seriously and donated a used iPad to the zoo. While the gorilla didn't enjoy the device, the orangutans did.

A conservation group, Orangutan Outreach, is now involved with the project and is hoping to get the program, called Apps for Apes, started at other zoos.

According to Richard Zimmerman, the executive director of the group, other zoos are waiting to get iPads for their orangutans. The next step: outfitting the devices with WiFi so that the orangutans from different zoos can use FaceTime.

While there's no published research on how orangutans interact with iPads, Zimmerman explains that Apps for Apes has two main goals: to provide stimulation for orangutans who are easily bored in captivity, and to raise awareness for orangutan conservation in Malaysia and Indonesia, where the animal's habitat is threatened. 

Orangutans are intelligent, inquisitive creatures, reported They enjoy playing games like Doodle Buddy and Flick Flick Football.

Zimmerman hopes that by seeing the animals using the same gadgets as us, we'll be more likely to support charities that protect them in the wild.

But, the possibilities are endless.

"We are planning to eventually incorporate the devices into rescue and rehabilitation centers in Indonesia in order to allow orangutans in zoos to communicate with their semi-wild cousins," the researchers said, the Daily Mail reported.  

Orangutans are not the only animals to be smart enough to use iPads. A year ago, Jack Kassewitz, a research scientist, found that dolphins could use custom-developed software to help humans communicate with them.