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Louisville Zoo orangutans learn on iPads

9:38 PM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
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(COURIER JOURNAL) -- The Louisville Zoo's two male and two female orangutans have been learning to use an iPad as part of the Apps for Apes animal-enrichment program.

The program gives the animals access to music, musical instruments, cognitive games, paintings and drawings. And they can see photos and videos that let them interact at least on some level with other orangutans, said Jane Anne Franklin, assistant mammal curator and also the zoo's animal training supervisor.

The program is being coordinated by the nonprofit Orangutan Outreach organization that raises awareness of orangutans' endangerment.

The zoo's orangutans - Amber, Bella, Segundo and Teak - have been working with apps that include drums and a xylophone. Others include a koi pond where they poke at fish, a rock blaster and a Simon Says app.

Apps that seem to be most popular are interactive ones with colors and sounds, zoo officials said.

The Louisville Zoo is one of only 13 worldwide participating in the Apps for Apes program.

Orangutans are considered highly intelligent and require mental stimulation to keep from growing bored and depressed.

Freedom of choice is critical to their well-being, zoo officials said.

"They like to choose everything from their afternoon snack to their daytime companions and sleeping area. What they do each day depends on how they feel, and the more choices they have, the better. Just like humans, orangutans like options," the Orangutan Outreach website says.

The quality of life of orangutans living in zoos and sanctuaries depends in large part on the enrichment they receive, and the apps project is designed to provide that stimulation. Zoo officials say orangutans seems to have an innate ability to work with touchscreen technology.

Franklin said the orangutans began using the apps around Christmas and that more offerings probably will be downloaded.

The program is intended to raise awareness of the critical need to protect orangutans in the wild, and to promote the conservation efforts of Orangutan Outreach.

Usually at least one of the zoo's four orangutans in on exhibit in the zoo's Islands area, Franklin said.

Reporter Sheldon S. Shafer can be reached at (502) 582-7089.

Sheldon S. Shafer, The Courier-Journal

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