(Shane Keyser ~ The Kansas City Star)
The project, called Apps for Apes, involves orangutans in 20 zoos in North America and New Zealand and is designed to stimulate the animals' brains and enrich their lives, The Kansas City Star reported Tuesday.
"They seem to like the sounds or the drawings," said Stacia Pieroni, animal area supervisor at the zoo. "They really like watching the neon colors. That's just an assumption on our part, but they tend to lean toward things like that."
A female named Jill likes a game in which koi swimming in a pond dart away when she presses her finger on them. Another program involves touching pictures of wild animals, which produce the sounds the animals make. Other apps allow the apes to play music or produce colorful patterns by moving their fingers across the screens.
Not every orangutan is always interested but "sometimes they'll just sit there and [are] totally into it," Pieroni said.
As well as stimulating the animals, the program started by the not-for-profit Orangutan Outreach aims to help humans understand why it's important to save the endangered orangutans, which live in Borneo and Sumatra.
The zoo has three iPads and has downloaded about 20 apps so far, but many more are available.
"Right now they're just at the beginning stages," Pieroni said. "We will start an app for them and if they're interested we'll let them play for a while. If they're disinterested we'll pick another one. They're just like you and me. They each have their personal preferences."
The Kansas City Zoo has two groupings of Borneo orangutans. One includes the male Rufus, female Jill and 4-year-old Kalijon. The other includes the male Berani, female T.K. and female Josie. The zoo also recently received another female named Intan, who is a potential mate for Rufus.
The keepers hold the tablets outside the bars of the orangutans' cages and the animals extend their fingers to the screens. The animals are never allowed to hold the devices.
"Orangs are pretty curious but they're also very destructive, so it wouldn't take them too long to break them," said Sean Putney, director of living collections at the zoo.
The keepers also are experimenting with the iPad's camera feature. Orangutans are believed to be self-aware and Jill seems to recognize her "selfie" video on the iPad screen.
Zoo officials say they may eventually include demonstrations of the apes using the iPads with keeper chats so visitors can watch.