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.


Homemade ‘Nikes’ give Filipino athlete a golden edge

Updated 14 December 2019

Homemade ‘Nikes’ give Filipino athlete a golden edge

  • Filipino schoolgirl Rhea Bullos bags three gold medals at an athletics competition without wearing shoes
  • Schoolgirl had her feet wrapped in tape and iconic Nike ‘swoosh’ logo drawn on them

MANILA: To some athletes, brands count for everything when it comes to performance.
Filipino schoolgirl Rhea Bullos bagged three gold medals at an athletics competition this week without wearing shoes, opting instead to wrap her feet in tape and draw an iconic Nike “swoosh” logo on them.
Bullos, 11, was one of several on her team of 12 athletes who made their own footwear because they had only two pairs of running shoes among them at the competition in the central province of Iloilo.
Trainer Predirick Valenzuela said Bullos showed her raw talent after taking up athletics only a month ago. A pair of running shoes could make a big difference in future, he said.
“Winning three medals in a competition like that is difficult, but she did it,” Valenzuela said by telephone from the central province of Iloilo.
“It’s every athlete’s dream to wear spike shoes,” Valenzuela added. “Not necessarily Nike, as long as they have decent shoes to be able to compete.”