Orangutans, it turns out, love the iPad and its games just as much as some humans do.
A budding program at the Milwaukee County Zoo is working to place iPads into the giant, gentle palms of their orangutans. Two of the zoo's orangutans already look forward to weekly sessions with an iPad. They even have favorite apps, shows and games, but they haven't yet been given free rein with the Apple device because keepers worry they might get frustrated and simply snap one in half.
"One of the biggest hurdles we face is that an orangutan can snap an iPad like you or I could rip cardboard," said Richard Zimmerman, executive director of Orangutan Outreach, which hopes to extend Milwaukee's iPad enrichment program to zoos around the country. "Even the little guys like Mahal are incredibly strong. A big male could take it apart in about five seconds."
Before extending the program, allowing the orangutan's to have personal iPads, Zimmerman and his group needs to find an orangutan-proof case. But the program is still making strides in its infancy in Milwaukee.
It started as an April Fool's joke, Scott Engel, the iPad Enrichment Coordinator at the zoo, tells me.
"A friend of a friend who is a gorilla keeper at the zoo was half-joking about getting an iPad to use with gorillas after seeing a story in the UK Sun," he said.
While the Sun's story was an April Fool's Day joke, Engel thought, 'Why not?' So he contacted Milwaukee County Zoo to float the idea of using his old iPad to work with orangutans. Now Engel spends 20 minutes three-to-four days a week working with MJ and Mahal.
Engel started by showing the two the device through the glass where visitors usually stand. The first thing he did was turn on his iPad 2's camera and let the two use the device as a sort of mirror.
"It was amazing to see how they welcomed this strange device into their area," he said.
Once they were used to the iPad, the keepers started using the device in a back area where the orangutans could reach through a cage door and touch it. Last week, the two had their first chance to go completely hands and feet on with the device, though it still isn't allows in the enclosure with them.
The orangutans both have their favorite apps, often spending quite a bit of time finger-painting with DrawFree, watching television shows and even playing games. They've tried iFishPond, Flick Kick Football and seem to really love the interactive book The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore.