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Puppe, one of six Sumatran Orangutans at the Toronto Zoo, and her baby. Its been found that they enjoy using the iPad and that it is an additional way to keep these intelligent animals stimulated.
Photo Credit: Toronto Zoo

The Toronto Zoo and “Apps for Apes” 2.0

Sumatran Orangutans are highly intelligent.

Richard Zimmerman is with Orangutan Outreach, a conservation group based in New York. He proposed an idea called “Apps for Apes” with the idea that enabling the animals to access computers would stimulate them and keep them from boredom and perhaps enable communication with human keepers

The Toronto Zoo received an iPad early last year from a donor and they’ve been working with their six orangutans since then, with beneficial results.  Now the idea has reached a new phase. This year, the Toronto-based innovation company SplitElement Inc. has been working with the zoo to create apps specifically designed for the orangutans.

Christopher Lewis is with SplitElement

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Shortly after the tablet arrived, it became clear that the orangutans enjoyed the extra diversion. They seemed to like to watch videos, and play memory games.

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The SplitElement team L-R: Demi Kandylis (founder), Adam Hunter, Christopher Lewis © Split element

One of the problems is that orangutans fingers are not as dexterous as human fingers so there was some difficulty,  and then tended to touch the small icons on the screen with their finger nails which didn’t successful activate the icon.

SplitElement began working on apps specifically suited to the animals.

The result is a programme called “Orangutapp”.  One of the things they now enjoy is being able to select which daily enrichment foods they want to eat…touch the icon for grapes, the carekeeper gives them grapes, touch kale and they get kale.

The Toronto zoo says it’s just the first step in developing “interspecies communication”. It also is giving the zoo insight into the likes and dislikes of the orangutans.

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The Orangutans like watching videos, and playing memory games, and now they enjoy selecting for themselves which enrichment foods they want. Apps like this are breaking down the barriers and helping to work toward interspecies communication © Toronto Zoo

The orangutans for the time being cannot be left with the iPad as it would no doubt end up broken in play as orangutans are very strong.

Plans are in the works for create a large-scale interactive projected touch screen which will further facilitate the experience for the orangutans and help to again reduce barriers to communication.  In time, there may also be an app  available for the public

Lewis says the working with the zoo and the orangutans has been a marvelous experience, for him and the other company team members who are working on the project, founder Demi Kandylis, and Adam Hunter.

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Toronto Zoo carekeeper Matthew Berridge works closely with the orangutans and SplitElement helping to improve the Apps for Apes concept © Toronto Zoo

Lewis says as development continues and both  they and the zoo learn more about how the orangutans use and interact with the technology they will be able to continually improve it and develop other very helpful programmes.

This could involve such things as programmes to help the animals tell keepers if they’re not well, and where it hurts, such as a toothache or stomach ache, etc.

TORONTO ZOO

SPLIT ELEMENT Inc

ORANGUTAN OUTREACH- Apps for Apes

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Posted in Animals, International, Science and Technology
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3 comments on “The Toronto Zoo and “Apps for Apes” 2.0
  1. rajendra kumar says:

    Very nice and attractive zoo…..

  2. mrG says:

    interesting they should choose the restricted proprietary ipad platform rather than an open platform where they could more easily create custom hardware; my local reseller just took shipment of some very robust Android systems made for the (very niche) early-school market, sturdy brushed aluminium cases, extra-strength screens etc.

  3. Ursula Wagner says:

    What a lovely news for a change, simply amazing. I will forward that to our local zoo, incase they haven`t heard of it.

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