The iPad and the rise of the Planet of the Apes

Orangutan Outreach's Apps for Apes is bringing iPads to zoo-bound primates. Can global dominance be far behind?

Apple CEO Tim Cook made no mention of it in this week's earnings call, but there's a burgeoning demand for iPads among the country's zoo-bound primates, thanks to the Apps for Apes initiative. However, not all apes are created equal: Orangutans introduced to Apple's tablet have loved the device, but gorillas haven't taken to the iPad with the same enthusiasm -- a development Corning obviously didn't consider when naming its Gorilla Glass.

According to Orangutan Outreach, sponsor of the Apps for Apes initiative:

Orangutans are highly intelligent creatures that require mental stimulation to keep from growing bored and depressed. Every orangutan is a unique individual with his or her own particular likes and dislikes, and freedom of choice is critical to their well-being. They like to choose everything from their afternoon snack to their daytime companions and sleeping area.

Don't we all?

Among the dozen-plus zoos participating in the Orangutan Outreach initiative are the Atlanta Zoo and the National Zoo in Washington. Participants are in touch with each other to compare and recommend apps that the apes seem to prefer. The orangutans' tastes, it seems, are not so different from a human child's, with special favorites being musical instruments, video watching -- particularly of themselves and other orangutans -- finger painting, and interactive books.

The Milwaukee County Zoo, which nearly two years ago pioneered the use of iPads to stimulate and enrich the lives its orangutans, took the effort to a new level when it outfitted its primate buildings with Wi-Fi to arrange "play dates" with orangutans at other zoos and wildlife preserves. Can the offer of a reality TV show be far behind?

Check out this video of orangutans at the Milwaukee County Zoo interacting with the iPad. Sadly, Mahal -- one of the orangutans featured in the video -- died last month from pneumonia.

Orangutans are among the most intelligent primates. A 2008 study of two orangutans at the Leipzig Zoo in Germany showed they could weigh the costs and benefits of gift exchanges and keep track of them over time -- the first nonhuman species documented to do so.

The Apps for Apes program goals include:

  • Provide stimulating enrichment and immediate gratification for orangutans
  • Make zoo visitors aware of the critical need to protect orangutans in the wild
  • Promote the conservation efforts of Orangutan Outreach

If you have a gently used iPad that you'd like to donate to an orangutan, you're invited to contact Orangutan Outreach.

This story, "The iPad and the rise of the Planet of the Apes," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.