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.


At 90, Alaska Native woman is 1st counted in US Census

In this Monday, Jan. 20, 2020 image, Lizzie Chimiugak looks on at her home in Toksook Bay, Alaska. (AP)
Updated 22 January 2020

At 90, Alaska Native woman is 1st counted in US Census

  • The decennial US census has started in rural Alaska, out of tradition and necessity, ever since the US purchased the territory from Russia in 1867

TOKSOOK BAY, Alaska: Lizzie Chimiugak has lived for 90 years in the windswept western wilds of Alaska, born to a nomadic family who lived in mud homes and followed where the good hunting and fishing led.
Her home now is an outpost on the Bering Sea, Toksook Bay, and on Tuesday she became the first person counted in the US Census, taken every 10 years to apportion representation in Congress and federal money.
“Elders that were before me, if they didn’t die too early, I wouldn’t have been the first person counted,” Lizzie Chimiugak said, speaking Yup’ik language of Yugtun, with family members serving as interpreters. “Right now, they’re considering me as an elder, and they’re asking me questions I’m trying my best to give answers to, or to talk about what it means to be an elder.”
The decennial US census has started in rural Alaska, out of tradition and necessity, ever since the US purchased the territory from Russia in 1867. The ground is still frozen, which allows easier access before the spring melt makes many areas inaccessible to travel and residents scatter to subsistence hunting and fishing grounds. The mail service is spotty in rural Alaska and the Internet connectivity unreliable, which makes door-to-door surveying important.
The rest of the nation, including more urban areas of Alaska, begin the census in mid-March.
On Tuesday, Steven Dillingham, director of the census bureau, conducted the first interview after riding on the back of a snowmobile from the airport to Chimiugak’s home.
“The 2020 Census has begun,” he told reporters after conducting the first interview with Chimiugak, a process that lasted about five minutes. “Toksook Bay isn’t the easiest place to get to, and the temperature is cold. And while people are in the village, we want to make sure everyone is counted.”
Dillingham was hours late getting to Toksook Bay because weather delayed his flight from the hub community of Bethel, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) away. Conditions didn’t improve, and he spent only about an hour in the community before being rushed back to the airport.
After the count, a celebration took place at Nelson Island School and included the Nelson Island High School Dancers, an Alaska Native drum and dance group. Later, the community took over the commons area of the high school with a potluck of Alaska Native foods, including seal, moose and goose soups, herring roe served with seal oil and baked salmon.
Robert Pitka, tribal administrator for Nunakauyak Traditional Council, hopes the takeaway message for the rest of the nation is of Yup’ik pride.
“We are Yup’ik people and that the world will see that we are very strong in our culture and our traditions and that our Yup’ik language is very strong,” he said.
For Chimiugak, she has concerns about climate change and what it might do to future generations of subsistence hunters and fishers in the community, and what it will do to the fish and animals. She talked about it with others at the celebration.
“She’s sad about the future,” he eldest son Paul said.
Chimiugak was born just after the start of the Great Depression in the middle of nowhere in western Alaska, her daughter Katie Schwartz of Springfield, Missouri, said. Lizzie was one of 10 siblings born to her parents, who lived a nomadic lifestyle and traveled with two or three other families that would migrate together, her son said.
Lizzie and her 101-year-old sister from Nightmute, Alaska, survive.
In 1947 Lizzie married George Chimiugak, and they eventually settled in Toksook Bay after the town was founded in 1964 by residents of nearby Nightmute. There are five surviving children.
He worked maintenance at the airport. She did janitorial work at the old medical clinic and babysat.
Like other wives, she cleaned fish, tanned hides and even rendered seal oil after her husband came home from fishing or hunting. Her husband died about 30 years ago.
She is also a woman of strong Catholic faith, and told her son that she saved his life by praying over him after he contracted polio.
For her own hobbies, she weaved baskets from grass and remains a member of the Alaska Native dance group that performed Tuesday. She dances in her wheelchair.
She taught children manners and responsibility and continued the oral tradition of telling them stories with a storyknife.
Chimiugak used a knife in the mud to illustrate her stories to schoolchildren. She drew figures for people or homes. At the end of the story, she’d use the knife to wipe away the pictures and start the next story with a clean slate of mud.
“She’s a great teacher, you know, giving us reminders of how we’re supposed to be, taking care of subsistence and taking care of our family and respecting our parents,” her granddaughter Alice Tulik said. “That’s how she would give us advice.”