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The Milwaukee County Zoo has just taken animal enrichment to a whole new level. Instead of providing their resident gorillas and orangutans with a new swing or tree house to pass time, they are equipping them with iPads - complete with free apps and games!
The zoo's iPad project began after its primary gorilla keeper, Claire Richard, read an article in a British tabloid about a primate stealing an iPad and having some fun with the popular game 'Angry Birds'.
While the article was meant to be an April Fool's joke, Claire thought that would be an interesting experiment for her gorilla Maji, and posted her desire to get an iPad, on her Facebook page. Almost immediately, a zoo volunteer posted that it would also be cool to have one for her orangutan - Mahal.
When freelance photographer Scott Engel, a big fan of Mahal, saw these requests, he immediately offered to provide them with the popular tablet. Since then, the zoo's Apps for Apes program has received three additional donations - providing them with enough tablets to introduce the enrichment program to all the resident orangutans and gorillas.
So how have the primates taken to their new toy? The naturally cautious gorillas have been a little scared of the device. In fact Maji, the older of the two gorillas just wants to snap it into two. The younger one is warming up to it and has even figured out how to use the finger painting application.
The orangutans are a totally different story - Mahal and his surrogate mother M.J., took to the device right away. The first thing the zookeeper showed Mahal was a photo of himself - He was so enthralled that he threw his arms in the air and clapped cheerfully. Since then, they have shown him several photos of the other residents of the zoo. And while he seems to love all of them, his favorite are the penguins.
The orangutans have also mastered many apps and games, including finger painting, Koi Pond, Magic Piano, Fish Farm and are have even figured how to flick through an interactive book. Mahal also loves watching the video (see below) that portrays him as a secret agent 00/34 complete with spy music, produced specially for him by his biggest fan - Scott Engel.
The zookeepers believe that this enrichment program provides the animals with the mental stimulation that the smart primates are not able to get in a normal zoo environment. In fact, they are so encouraged, that they want to introduce them to Skype and video conferencing so that they can communicate with orangutans all over the country!
While other zoos have also begun experimenting using touch screens with their primates, only the Milwaukee ones are fortunate enough to get iPads - Did we hear someone say luckkkky??
Resources: montrealgazette.com, dailymail.co.uk