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September 06, 2011

Zoo Monkeys Using iPads for Learning Enrichment

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

While it may sounds like the title of a Frank Zappa song, it would appear that our closest primate cousins are getting a blast out of iPad-based learning.

The Montreal Gazette is reporting that the Milwaukee County Zoo's orangutans are happily using four donated Apple (News - Alert) iPad tablet computers to play with monkey-friendly apps, including finger painting and seeing photos of other zoo animals. Zookeepers are also reporting that they are using Skype (News - Alert) to connect their orangutans to other orangutans in other zoos.

Orangutan Outreach, a nonprofit that works on behalf of the endangered orangutans, is working with zoos on starting up similar programs. While other zoos have used computers with touch screens to encourage the monkeys to interact, Milwaukee is apparently the first to Apple iPads.

Claire Richard, the primary gorilla keeper at the Milwaukee County Zoo, got the idea to use iPads after seeing a fake story on April's Fool's Day in a British newspaper. The article jestingly reported that a local gorilla had stolen a man's iPad and run amok with the popular mobile game app “Angry Birds.”

When Richard saw coverage of the April Fool's Day story on Facebook (News - Alert), her first reaction was, “I want one of these for Maji [one of the gorillas at the Milwaukee Zoo].”

A zoo supporter and freelance photographer donated an iPad, and encouraged other individuals (including a customer at an Apple store who overheard the photographer's intent) to donate three more.

While the gorillas were reportedly wary of the iPads, the orangutans were happy to learn new tricks.

“They [the gorillas] were all very scared,” said Richard, the primary gorilla keeper. “It’s a different species. Orangutans are curious about everything. Gorillas are afraid of everything. Maji [an older gorilla] just wanted to break it. He couldn’t figure out what the whole thing was, and he just wanted to get hold of it.”

Sort of like the mobs of people who line malls all over the country once a year, queuing outside Apple stores, desperate to get their mitts on the newest iPad release. Now they'll have to compete with orangutans, apparently.

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Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny
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