Apps for apes: Orangutans get iPads in US, Canadian zoos

Updated 04 September 2012

Apps for apes: Orangutans get iPads in US, Canadian zoos

TORONTO: Humans aren’t the only species on the planet with a penchant for electronic gadgets. Zookeepers across the United States and Canada are discovering that apes also get excited about apps.
As part of a program called Apps for Apes, 12 zoos across the two countries have been incorporating iPads into the enrichment time allotted for orangutans, the giant furry red primates native to Indonesia and Malaysia.
“We’re finding that, similar to people, they like touching the tablet, watching short videos of David Attenborough for instance, and looking at other animals and orangutans,” said Richard Zimmerman, founding director of Orangutan Outreach, the New York City-based non-profit that runs the program.
Twice weekly, orangutans are provided with access to the tablets. The animals spend from 15 minutes to a half hour using different apps depending on their attention span.
Apps geared toward children that stimulate activities such as painting, music and memory games are among the most popular apps with the apes.
At the Toronto Zoo, zookeeper Matthew Berridge uses apps such as Doodle Buddy for drawing, Montessori Counting Board and Activity Memo Pocket, a memory game, in addition to playing YouTube videos for the apes.
“It’s a lot like when we’re showing children pop-up books,” said Zimmerman, adding that the orangutans are among the most intelligent primates, with the intelligence level of a young child.
Zookeepers are also investigating how communication apps, such as those for the autistic, can help the animals to express themselves better, according to Zimmerman.
“Let’s say an orangutan has a toothache. He or she would be able to then tap on the iPad on a picture of a tooth and communicate it that way,” he explained.
One very intelligent, but armless, orangutan at the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida is so intent on using the device that she uses her feet to navigate through the touchscreens.
“When you see the enjoyment and focus on their faces it’s special, especially for orangutans who are in an enclosure all day and you’re providing enrichment for them,” said Zimmerman.
Because the tablets are so fragile the zookeepers handle the apps while the animals navigate the touchscreen, but the organization is investigating creating larger, more rugged casings.
The program, which is not meant to replace physical stimulation or climbing, also aims to raise awareness about the threats orangutans face in the wild.
“We’re hoping that in that moment we can make a breakthrough with (zoo visitors] and say, ‘Listen, these are beautiful animals that are obviously curious and intelligent and not too far from us and this is what they’re dealing with in the wild,’” said Zimmerman.
Orangutans are critically endangered because of the rapid deforestation and expansion of palm oil plantations into their rainforest homes, he added.
The program, which relies on donated iPads, will soon be expanding to zoos across Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Europe.


Japan Airlines ditches ‘ladies and gentlemen’ for gender-neutral greetings

Updated 28 September 2020

Japan Airlines ditches ‘ladies and gentlemen’ for gender-neutral greetings

  • Japanese carrier will use the new forms of address from Oct. 1

Japan Airlines said on Monday it would swap “ladies and gentlemen” for gender-neutral greetings, following other global airlines in adopting more inclusive language for passengers.
Announcements at airports and on flights operated by the Japanese carrier will use the new forms of address from Oct. 1, the airline said. “Attention all passengers” and “Good morning everyone” will be among the terms adopted, local media reported.
Several airlines around the world have made a similar change in recognition of non-binary and transgender customers. Air Canada and European low-cost carrier EasyJet said last year they would drop “ladies and gentlemen.”
“We aspire to be a company where we can create a positive atmosphere and treat everyone, including our customers, with respect,” Japan Airlines spokesman Mark Morimoto told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.
“We have committed to not discriminate based on gender, age, nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or other personal attributes.”
The announcement comes as gender-equality advocates say corporate support for LGBT+ rights is growing in socially-conservative Japan, where same-sex marriage remains illegal and being openly gay seen as taboo.
In April, a Japanese charity that launched a scheme offering digital partnership certificates — allowing same-sex couples to tap into the same staff benefits as heterosexual couples — won the backing of businesses from banks to insurers.
About a third of Japanese companies have measures in place to support gay couples, according to campaign group Nijiiro Diversity.
But activists say discrimination persists, and even though about two dozen cities, towns and wards issue same-sex partnership certificates to gay couples, they lack legal standing.
In March, Japan Airlines announced it would allow female flight attendants to wear trousers and ditch their high heels at work, following a feminist campaign that took off.