Orangutans Using Ipads

By: John Zarrella
By: John Zarrella

The iPad has given millions of users a new way to think and to communicate.

That even goes for a group of orangutans in Miami.

John Zarrella takes us to the zoo.

Meet the orangutans at Miami’s jungle island. There are six here. Some are young and well, let's just say some are getting long in the tooth.

"Let me see those teeth. Let me see them open. Stay open. Stay open, open again. Oh, those are beautiful!"

And just like many of us, the four kids love playing with new gadgets. The older ones, Sinbad and Connie, well not so much.

"Those two just have no interest in it. These four can't get enough of it. And it's just, they understand. They catch on and Connie and Sinbad just sort of look at it as if to say, 'What is this new fangled thing?'"

This new fangled thing is an i-Pad. For a year now, they've been drawing and painting on it. Most recently, they've learned to identify symbols. The app called tap to talk shows a group of symbols like banana and peanut. The orangutan has to pick out the right one.

"Can you touch the peanuts? The peanuts. Good girl!"

Caregivers say they are amazed that there seems to be no end to the orangutans ability to learn. And the i-pad is another way to stimulate them, to enrich their lives.

"They're so underestimated in their intelligence. There's almost no limit to what they can learn."

These great apes may be smarter than chimpanzees says Patti Ragan, founder of the center for great apes sanctuary in central Florida. Here too the i-Pad is used to enrich the sanctuary's fifteen orangutans.

And to raise awareness to their plight. There are, according to the world wildlife fund, only 53-thousand or so left in the wild.

"Habitat destruction is leading to the deaths of probably two to three thousand orangutans in the wild a year right now."

The work with orangutan intelligence is already progressing beyond just recognizing symbols. They're skyping. Yep you heard me right. Using the i-pad 2 a zoo in Milwaukee and one in Toronto carried out the experiment.

"They're really interested to see each other in real time and they can recognize it's not just a recording, that it actually is real time."

Back at jungle island 14-year-old Hannah has taken a shine to me, letting me brush her hair and then returning the favor. So maybe she'd play the i pad word game with me.

"Touch mango. No huh. Come on. Where's the mango. Where's mango. She did it! She absolutely did it!"

She's amazing. I'm amazed.

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