Trending: There's an Ape for that

You might be fed up with your little monkeys always wanting to play with your iPad, but for a group of orang-utan experts, that's exactly what they want. Gillian Orr reports


Humans are not the only primates going ape over iPads, so are, um, apes. Several zoos in the US have started to introduce their orang-utans to computers as part of their mental stimulus programmes, and it turns out the animals are big fans of the hi-tech tablet. Staff at Miami's Jungle Island turned to the iPad on the suggestion of dolphin researcher Jack Kassewitz. The main app used is Tap To Talk, which displays pictures of various objects such as a mango or a bucket, one of which the trainer then names, and the orang-utan then presses the corresponding button.

The software was originally designed for children with autism. "There's not really an end goal," says Ashley Serrate, of Jungle Island. "We just want to enrich the lives of orang-utans and keep making sure they have fun."

At Milwaukee County Zoo, the orang-utans enjoy many of the apps that children typically like, such as fingerpainting and the drum and guitar music programmes. Suggesting they can be every bit as narcissistic as humans, many of the apes love nothing more than to watch video footage of themselves.

Orang-utans' intelligence should not be underestimated and the use of the tablet computers not only aids communication but keeps them engaged and stimulated, preventing them from becoming bored or depressed. However, the iPad is not without its obvious limitations.

"One of the challenges is that their fingers are so large," says Serate. "So a lot of the time they touch with their fingernail or they don't touch it with the pad of their finger and they make mistakes."

Unaware of the device's fragility, the apes can be rough with them, meaning their keepers have to hold them rather than let them take off and explore.

With iPads costing at least £400, it is an expensive experiment but Orangutan Outreach, a US company which seeks to raise public awareness of conservation, is asking for donations of old and unwanted iPads to use as part of a nationwide programme called Apps for Apes. It hopes to use video- conferencing to reconnect orang-utans with friends and family members who have been transferred to other zoos, something it has dubbed "primate playdates".

And orang-utans are not the only animals to have become touch-screen enthusiasts. Te internet is awash with videos of curious species negotiating the gadget. As previously mentioned, dolphins were one of the first converts and experts hoped the touch screen would allow the dolphins to choose from an assortment of symbols to represent objects, actions and emotions. Endangered Sulawesi crested macaques monkeys from Marwell Wildlife, Hampshire, are being taught how to operate iPads to allow scientists at Portsmouth University to investigate fundamental aspects of their cognition.

Even cats are getting involved. Cat-food brand Friskies has launched several iPad games for cats, as well as recently unveiling You vs Cat, which allows owners to flick virtual pieces of food towards a goal, as their pet attempts to deflect the objects away. iPads might have started out as something to read books and watch films on but it seems that plenty of people (and creatures) out there are following Apple's plea to "Think Different".

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