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Miami Zoo Orangatans Use iPads to Communicate

Helping bridge the gap between humans and apes

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I’m not sure if this is testament to the brainpower of our evolutionary cousins or a slam against iPad users, but it seems they have taught Orangutans at the Miami Zoo to use iPads.

The Miami Jungle Island park is teaching six Orangatans to communicate, play games, and watch videos using iPads. The programs director, Linda Jacobs, thinks the iPads will help bridge the communication gap between humans and primates. They are seen in this report from CBS Tampa using drawing apps, and watching videos of themselves and other orangutans, but Jacobs says they love to play any game designed for children.

The iPad is part of the enrichment program at the zoo, which aims to keep the animals engaged and stimulated mentally and physically. Jacobs said in an extended interview with CBS Tampa that the implementation of iPads was based on a suggestion from someone who had previous used it with dolphins.

The communication software being used was originally designed for people with autism, but modified to be extended to orangatans.

So far the program has been beneficial in helping the Orangatans express their wants or needs to park caretakers. They can even identify body parts making it easier for veterinarians to give treatment. It also helps humans in that the orangutans are now able to communicate with people not familiar with their sign language.

Jacobs wants to have screens built into the animals cages, with corresponding screens outside in the observation area, allowing zoo patrons to interact and communicate with them in the software that they are familiar with. She believes this and the various other software will help keep the orangutans active and engaged. They are highly intelligent creatures and can easily get bored and depressed if not stimulated mentally.

Mirroring human society, the iPad is popular among the children and teenagers of the clan, but the elders show little to no interest.

“Our young ones pick up on it. They understand it. It’s like, ‘Oh I get this,’” Jacobs said to CBS Tampa. “Our two older ones, they just are not interested. I think they just figure, ‘I’ve gotten along just fine in this world without this communication-skill here and the iPad, and I don’t need a computer.”

Miami Zoo Orangatans Use iPads to Communicate
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