Miami Zoo Give iPads to Their Orangutans

Miami Zoo Give iPads to Their Orangutans

In what appears to be a continuing effort to insure that the prophecy of the Planet of the Apes movies comes true, another zoo is supplying iPads to their orangutans in an effort to communicate with them.


The iPad is by far the most adored tablet in the human world. The numbers speak for themselves. But what you may not know is that members of the animal kingdom dig the 9.7-inch tablet too — particularly a clan of six orangutans at the Miami Zoo.

The handlers at Miami Zoo’s Jungle Island, in research that parallels that of other zoos, are interacting with orangutans using the iPad. The apes use the tablet to identify items, and express their wants and needs. This is accomplished with the use of an app originally designed for autistic children, which displays an array of object images onscreen.

“We’ll ask them to identify ‘Where’s the coconut?’, and they’ll point it out,” Linda Jacobs, who oversees the Jungle Island program, told Wired. “We want to build from that and give them a choice in what they have for dinner — show them pictures of every vegetable we have available that day, and let them pick, giving them the opportunity to have choices.”

While orangutans are quite intelligent, they lack voice boxes and vocal cords, which, up until now, made communication difficult. Zoo keepers had been using sign language to communicate with them. The iPad provides another form of communication. It also provides mental stimulation for the apes, and allows those that don’t know sign language a way to communicate.

The six orangutans at the zoo — 35-year-old Connie, 33-year-old Sinbad, 14-year-old Hannah, 12-year-old Jake, and 8-year-old twin girls Peanut and Pumpkin — were first introduced to the iPad last summer. They were first shown the iPad just to get them familiar with it. Then they were asked to touch the device without pulling it into their cage. “They catch on so quickly, it wasn’t long before we started showing them pictures and identifying different objects with them,” Jacobs said.

Much like many older adults, Sinbad and Connie aren’t as keen on the device as the other apes are. “I like to compare the two older ones to my parents — I keep trying to get them to use an iPad and they’re just not interested,” Jacobs said. The other orangutans, though, are very excited by the tablet. They take turns getting to use it, and all run to be the first one to handle it, Jacobs said.

Jacobs says there’s no limit to what the orangutans can learn, that it’s all about “developing the technology to make it possible”.

Since the orangutans have a curious nature, and tough nails, (all this technology, and they can’t afford a $5 pair of clippers?) the orangutans don’t get to hold the iPad, even though it’s housed in an Otterbox case. A trainer holds it outside the cage. If they handed the iPad over to the apes, their curious nature would lead them to take the device apart just to see how it works. Bye-bye iPad.

Jacobs hopes to set up a video conferencing network so apes can meet and interact with their worldwide counterparts. (Again, has no one else seen the “Apes” movies? Does no one else see the danger? Shouldn’t the Planet of the Apes movies be required viewing in college?) She also hopes this will bring more awareness to orangutans, which are a highly endangered species because of deforestation.

While I applaud the work of Ms. Jacobs and other researchers, I do dread the day when I have to say the words, “Take your stinking paws off my iPad, you damned dirty ape!”