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.


Man eats $120,000 piece of art — a banana taped to wall

Updated 08 December 2019

Man eats $120,000 piece of art — a banana taped to wall

MIAMI: The move was bananas ... or maybe the work was just too appealing.
A performance artist shook up the crowd at the Art Basel show in Miami Beach on Saturday when he grabbed a banana that had been duct-taped to a gallery wall and ate it.
The banana was, in fact, a work of art by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan titled “Comedian” and sold to a French collector for $120,000.
In a video posted on his Instagram account, David Datuna, who describes himself as a Georgian-born American artist living in New York, walks up to the banana and pulls it off the wall with the duct tape attached.
“Art performance ... hungry artist,” he said, as he peeled the fruit and took a bite. “Thank you, very good.”
A few bystanders could be heard giggling before a flustered gallery official whisked him to an adjoining space for questioning.
But the kerfuffle was resolved without a food fight.
“He did not destroy the art work. The banana is the idea,” Lucien Terras, director of museum relations for Galerie Perrotin, told the Miami Herald.
As it turns out, the value of the work is in the certificate of authenticity, the newspaper said. The banana is meant to be replaced.
A replacement banana was taped to the wall about 15 minutes after Datuna’s stunt.
“This has brought a lot of tension and attention to the booth and we’re not into spectacles,” Terras said. “But the response has been great. It brings a smile to a lot of people’s faces.”
Cattelan is perhaps best known for his 18-carat, fully functioning gold toilet called “America” that he had once offered on loan to US President Donald Trump.
The toilet, valued at around $5 to $6 million, was in the news again in September when it was stolen from Britain’s Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of wartime leader Winston Churchill, where it had been on display.