How do we decide which apps to introduce to the chimpanzees and the orangutans?
When trying to develop new enrichment activities, a good starting point is to look at the natural history of the animal. What would they be doing in the wild? How do we encourage these natural behaviors with our enrichment activities?
Orangutans are semi-solitary, meaning they spend most of their time alone, though offspring stay with their mothers for 8-9 years. They also live high in the canopy of forests, which generally has dense foliage making it easier to stay out of sight.
On the other hand, chimpanzees live in large groups called communities. They are very social and spend a majority of their time interacting with other chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are very expressive having many vocalizations and facial expressions in order to communicate with each other. They also are known for their loud and impressive displays.
The major portion of the diet of both chimpanzees and orangutans consists of brightly colored fruit. Both species also use tools to help them obtain their food. Chimpanzees, particularly younger individuals, can become easily distracted when faced with a new challenging task. In contrast, orangutans can spend hours completely focused on the same task.
Now we have some background on orangutans and chimpanzees, but how does that help us pick out apps for them? And how is the iPad encouraging natural behaviors? Obviously, apes in the wild are not using iPads.
While apes in the wild may not be using iPads, a natural behavior for them is to observe their environment and investigate when something is different or unusual. The iPad can be used to continuously provide the apes with new apps to study. Another natural behavior for apes is problem-solving, which specific apps can be used to encourage.
We know that both chimpanzees and orangutans are curious as well as liking brightly colored objects as these often signal delicious food. So we want to look for apps that have lots of bright colors. Since chimpanzees are easily distracted, they will probably do better with apps that have lots of movement to keep their attention. Orangutans may be interested in apps that have lots of movement but as they are more focused they may also use apps that are not so busy. We started out by looking at apps that were aimed at young children. These tend to be bright and aimed at keeping the user’s attention.
Apps include: Zoo Sounds and Various interactive storybooks
Both the orangutans and chimpanzees at the Houston Zoo already enjoy painting, so painting apps were a good option.
Apps include: Doodle Buddy, Paint Sparkles, and Finger Paint
Chimpanzees, especially males, who often produce noisy displays, may appreciate apps that are very noisy.
Apps include: Music Sparkles, Tap Drums, and Monsters
Orangutans are very goal-oriented so apps that involve completing a task may pique their interest.
Apps include: Cat Fishing, Tap Tap Ants and Match Animals
Since both species are naturally curious about the world around them, apps that include videos, pictures, and audio of nature as well as other animals were also introduced.
Apps include: Sound Touch Lite, Go to the Zoo, and Discover Uganda
The basic camera and video app for the iPad can be useful in capturing exciting behaviors and playing it back to them. Most of the apes become particularly excited when they are viewing themselves on the iPad.
Now that you have learned how we go about picking iPad apps to introduce to the Houston Zoo chimpanzees and orangutans, perhaps you can suggest a few apps that may capture their interest.
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