iPads for Orangutans in Kansas City: part of a bigger movement

We are just beginning to appreciate the intelligence of other species.  An unexpected side benefit of recent developments in consumer electronics has been an increased ability to explore the realm of non-human intelligence.

And the Kansas City Zoo has enlisted its orangutans in one of those explorations.

The orangutan in this photo is unnamed in my Internet photo source, and I’m not sure what zoo it’s from.  Whoever this orang is, he or she is exploring some of the available apps.

The headline writers have been having a field day with the story (my favorite of the many predictable puns: “There’s an ape for that!”).

But at the heart of it is a project from the New-York-based nonprofit Orangutan Outreach, called Apps for Apes, that seeks to make life in zoos a bit more interesting for the primate species many believe is the next-most intelligent to humans.

This is Iris, of the Smithsonian Zoo, with her “Apps for Apes” iPad.

The Apps for Apes page for Orangutan Outreach explains that “Orangutans are highly intelligent creatures who require mental stimulation to keep from growing bored and depressed.”

It lists three goals of the Apps for Apes project:
“1. To provide stimulating enrichment & immediate gratification for the orangutans using iPads,
“2. To raise awareness among zoo visitors of the critical need to protect orangutans in the wild, and
“3. To promote the conservation efforts of Orangutan Outreach.”

Orangutan Outreach does NOT recommend allowing the apes to hold the iPads themselves, for safety reasons. This is an illustration published by Maclean’s.

One reason why it’s important for orangutans to be happy and interested in life, even when confined to zoos, is that their natural habitat in Sumatra and Borneo is disappearing rapidly. It may be gone as soon as 2022, so the day may soon come when the species must reproduce in zoos, if it is to continue to exist at all.

Having a healthy orangutan population includes their mental health–and with these intelligent apes it’s vital to keep them engaged.

IMAGE CREDITS: The first image of an orangutan using an iPad comes from Bubblenews.  I am not sure where it was taken.  The photo of Iris in DC is from an article on the RedOrbit website. The illustration from Maclean’s accompanies an article that pulls together information about various zoos, the Apps for Apes program, and the studies being conducted by Suzanne MacDonald of York University (York, ON).

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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