First we had driving dogs, and now we have Apps for Apes. Apps for Apes is a new initiative from conservation group Orangutan Outreach, a group dedicated to preserving and caring for the world’s orangutan population. Apps for Apes puts iPads into the hands of those orangutans – almost. The zookeepers still hold on to the tablets themselves, letting the orangutans play with the touchscreen through their cages. The apps used are all focused on sensory stimulation – musical apps using virtual pianos and drums, and artistic apps. The idea is that orangutans, not unlike humans, need varied sights and sounds to keep from getting bored and depressed, which can and does affect their physical health.
The initiative is a new way for orangutans in the care of the Smithsonian Zoo to get that varied stimulation in a novel way. The orangutans will even be able to see photos or videos of other orangutans on the iPads. I’m sure an orangutan Facebook is already in the works.
Actually using the iPads remains up to the choice of the orangutans. The Luddites of the primate world can eschew iPad time altogether. The orangutans that do show interest will be presented with a variety of apps by the keepers – once the orangutan shows some interest, he or she can start tapping away.
Orangutan Outreach is hoping the initiative will raise awareness about conservation efforts for orangutans, and the unique challenges inherent in trying to preserve a species so similar to humanity. They’re also looking for donations of old, unused iPads, in order to expand the program past the Smithsonian.