Toronto Zoo orangutans may get iPad
By Valerie Hauch
Feb 29, 2012
Source: Toronto's Star.com
When the tire swing or the rope hammock no longer entice, what’s a bored orangutan to do? Reach for the iPad, because there’s an app for that ape.
The Toronto Zoo is at “the top of the list’’ to get a donated iPad from Orangutan Outreach, a conservation group spearheading an Apps for Apes program.
Founder and director Richard Zimmerman said he has been watching the Milwaukee Zoo’s iPad program involving its three orangutans, which started last year, and is extending Apps for Apes to other zoos.
“It’s incredibly exciting,’’ he said.
In Milwaukee, a keeper holds an iPad through a mesh screen while the primates have fun manipulating a painting app with their fingers.
Zimmerman, whose charitable group raises funds for orphaned and rescued orangutans in their native Malaysia and Indonesia, and promotes awareness of orangutan conservation issues, said the painting program stimulates the primates, who get bored in captivity.
“Orangutans like to paint and they’re capable of using this digital device,” he said, adding “there’s no paint to eat.’’
Zimmerman has been in touch with the Toronto Zoo about sending an iPad once more devices are donated. “We wish it could go faster.’’
(Funds donated to Orangutan Outreach only go to its overseas programs.)
A Toronto Zoo spokeswoman said it’s trying to get donated iPads for the orangutan enrichment initiative. Staff have been working with York University animal behaviour expert Suzanne MacDonald to line up suitable primate-friendly apps.
“They have performed a couple of trials with iPhones, and there is response from the orangutans,’’ said the zoo’s Katie Gray.
Zimmerman is about to send an iPad to the Centre for Great Apes in Florida, and has already sent them to Atlanta. The Memphis Zoo is on his list but he doesn’t have one yet.
Once a number of zoos have iPads, Zimmerman hopes orangutans can get to “know each other’’ via a video chat app. He has no doubt orangutans can recognize other orangutans when they see their images.
At the Memphis Zoo recently, he visited a orangutan named Jahe, who used to live at the Toronto Zoo with her mother, Puppe, and brother, Budi.
Zimmerman showed Jahe, who’s about 12 years old, a photo of Puppe and Bude on his iPhone.
Jahe “was very close to her mother and her brother, they had a very strong relationship. She recognized them,’’ said Zimmerman. “Unscientifically speaking, they show recognition the same as we do — their eyes light up. She really demonstrated recognition.’’