Apple’s iPad has been in the news recently in Canada, and not just over rumors about retina displays and 4G LTE capabilities. The Toronto Zoo has been shortlisted by Apps for Apes, a program that repurposes donated iPads for orangutan enrichment.
Orangutans are closely related to humans (sharing 97 percent of our DNA) and it appears that they may also share our fondness for technology. When given access to an iPad, the great apes enjoy free drawing apps (most apes lack credit cards or overflowing iTunes accounts), drumming apps and watching videos of other orangutans.
Apps for Apes has already supplied iPads for use by orangutans in Florida, Atlanta and Milwaukee and, as you can see from the video below, the beneficiaries are making good use of the devices. No one is about to hand an iPad to a creature that has somewhere in the neighborhood of seven times the strength of a human and a fondness for swinging from branches, ropes and climbing structures 20 feet up (even a case that meets US military specs is probably insufficient protection), but they are given access to the device through the mesh of their enclosure.
A Wired Science article last year reported on the finding by a team of Swiss anthropologists who concluded that orangutans may have the ability to learn socially.
What would happen if social media were thrown into the mix? That’s one of the questions posed by the Apps for Apes program. In an interview on CBC, one of the possibilities raised was the use of video chat on iPads to allow one of the Toronto Zoo’s orangutans to interact with her offspring and grandchild, currently residing at a zoo in Memphis. The Apps for Apes representative believes that orangutans have displayed signs of recognition when shown photos of their family members on an iPhone, so the concept of the great apes conducting a meaningful FaceTime chat may not be that far-fetched.
I’m only going to bring this up because someone is bound to ask in the comments. No word on whether RIM has stepped up to offer a PlayBook to the zoo (which is located only 80 miles from the company’s headquarters). With all the other orangutans rocking iPads, a PlayBook may not be much use anyway and that 7-inch display is probably a bit small. End of cheap shots.
When the iPad 3 drops next month and you’re wondering what to do with that ancient iPad 2 that’s taking up space — assuming you don’t have a tablet-hungry kid at home waiting to get started on the wonderful world of iOS gaming with your hand-me-down — you could always consider donating it to an orangutan.