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Ape Social Networks Envisioned as Orangutans Take to iPads

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It must be kind of boring to be an orangutan in a zoo: hanging out with the same other orangutans every day, pining for the jungle, relegated to an object of amusement for kids and tourists. Soon, though, great apes across the world may be squealing and making faces at each other over Skype on zoo-provided iPads.

From TechNewsDaily:

(Director of conservation group Orangutan Outreach) Richard Zimmerman is working to get zoos across the country to introduce iPads in their orangutan enclaves and thus allow the apes to connect with their brethren thousands of miles away in "primate playdates" via Skype or other chat services. Zoos in Phoenix, Atlanta and Toronto are among those that have agreed to participate.

... Zimmerman’s hope is that orangutans soon will have complete access to iPads and will be able to see who is online and available at other zoos to “chat.” An orangutan in Milwaukee, for example, might choose to chat with his cousin in Phoenix, or he might prefer another ape in Atlanta.

Like your toddler who refuses to give back your iPhone, orangutans at the Milwaukee County Zoo are already enthusiastic about iPads. According to UPI, zookeepers there have found they especially like using the tablets to watch videos of themselves (the self-absorption of the social media age doesn't stop with humans, apparently), as well as playing with apps like Koi Pond, Magic Piano, and Tap Drums.

No doubt it won't be long before the apes are griping about their Facebook privacy settings and uploading sepia-toned pictures of themselves via Instagram.

The ape activists hope this sort of thing will help humans identify with our evolutionary cousins. “When people see that these are cool creatures doing stuff on the iPad, people will think, ‘Oh my god, we‘ve got to protect these animals,’” Zimmerman says.

Okay, well, if the experts say it'll take watching apes play Angry Birds to inspire people to support conservation, we won't argue with them. (By the way, these iPads are all donated, in case you're wondering about your tax dollars.)

One obstacle: No one makes an iPad case strong enough to protect the devices from large apes' propensity to snap them in half. So for now, they only get to touch the screen through the bars of their cages, or peer at it through glass.

Here's a video from Zimmerman's group of a Milwaukee orangutan playing with a finger-painting app:

The results aren't exactly impressive, so don't get too worked up about a social-media-enabled "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" scenario.

Unlike orangutans, gorillas haven't shown much interest in tablet computing despite zookeepers' efforts to get them onto iPads. "They were all very scared," Claire Richard, gorilla keeper at the Milwaukee zoo, explained to UPI. "It's a different species. Orangutans are curious about everything. Gorillas are afraid of everything."

Or maybe the gorillas are just open-source purists. We'll never know until they get to try an Android tablet, will we?
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