Going Ape for Apps, Zoo Keepers Use iPads To Entertain Orangutans

Want to teach an orangutan how to play a memory game? There's an app for that. As part of a program called Apps for Apes, a dozen zoos in the U.S. and Canada have turned to Apple's popular iPad tablet to teach apes about music, painting, and other activities using mobile apps intended for children.

Not just for fun and games, the iPad program is proving useful for apes to better communicate when something is wrong.

"Let's say an orangutan has a toothache. He or see would be able to then tap on the iPad on a picture of a tooth and communicate it that way," explains Richard Zimmerman, founding director of Orangutan Outreach.


Zimmerman says orangutans, like people, enjoy tapping on the tablet, watching videos, and looking at other animals on the iPad. It's an activity they get to participate in twice a week, spending anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour, depending on how their attention span holds up.

"We're hoping that in that moment we can make a breakthrough with [zoo visitors] and say, 'Listen, these are beautiful animals that are obviously curious and intelligent and not too far from us and this is what they're dealing with in the wild,'" said Zimmerman.