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.


First UAE sighting of one of the world’s rarest birds in Abu Dhabi 

Updated 20 September 2020

First UAE sighting of one of the world’s rarest birds in Abu Dhabi 

  • Known as a Steppe Whimbrel, the bird is estimated to have a global population of only around 100
  • It is believed to have travelled in time for the autumn bird migration

DUBAI: One of the rarest birds in the world has been spotted in Abu Dhabi by two members of the Emirates Bird Records Committee (EBRC), according to state news agency WAM. 
Known as a Steppe Whimbrel, the bird - estimated to have a global population of only around 100 - was seen by Oscar Campbell and Simon Lloyd at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Course, WAM reported on Saturday.
Believed to have travelled in time for the autumn bird migration, the Steppe Whimbrel is an extremely rare sub-species of the widespread Whimbrel, which regularly passes through the Emirates in spring and autumn.
The Steppe Whimbrel seen in Abu Dhabi is believed to have been born this year, making it the first time a juvenile Steppe Whimbrel has been spotted anywhere in the world, according to WAM.
“On August 29, we were studying around 20 whimbrels on the Saadiyat Beach golf course. We were stunned when one flew off showing the distinctive white wings, clearly different from the other birds,” Campbell and Lloyd told WAM. 
“We immediately realized the potential significance of this so we concentrated on observing the bird and obtaining photographs, allowing us to check the key identification features,” they said.
Campbell and Lloyd then shared their photographs with world’s top expert on Steppe Whimbrels, Gary Allport, who confirmed their findings. 
“The discovery of a Steppe Whimbrel in Abu Dhabi is remarkable in itself, and confirms our suspicion that the migration route of the sub-species passes through the Arabian peninsula region,” Allport said. 
“What is even more remarkable is that this is the first time ever, anywhere in the world, that a juvenile Steppe Whimbrel has been seen in the field…It’s an amazing find,” he added. 
The Saadiyat Beach Golf Course management was delighted with the discovery. 
“When you look at the significance of sighting the Steppe Whimbrel in Abu Dhabi, its history and the subspecies actually being declared extinct in 1995, it is pretty amazing,” Clinton Southorn, Cluster Director of Agronomy for managers Troon Golf, told WAM.
“This is one of the reasons the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club has worked hard to achieve its Audubon certification and showcase the positive environmental impact the course can have on the environment,” he added.