Orangutans get iPads at Toronto Zoo

The Toronto Zoo is introducing its orangutans to iPads in an attempt to improve the quality of their lives.

The Toronto Zoo has become the only zoo in Canada to introduce its orangutans to iPads.

The zoo is working with a program, dubbed "Apps for Apes," which was started by the conservation group Orangutan Outreach. The goal of the program is to improve the quality of life of primates in zoos by providing them with additional mental stimulation in the form of Apple's tablet.

Apps for Apes collects donated iPads and then provides them to zoos with orangutans — the Toronto Zoo being one of them.

The zoo received iPads in March from an anonymous donor and started working with the primates soon after.

The staff who work with the orangutans had to teach them to touch the screen with their fingers — they were initially using their nails to manipulate the screen, and the tablet does not recognize that.

In April, orangutans Puppe and Budi used Skype to interact with Orangutan Outreach director Richard Zimmerman. The next month they used Skype to view other orangutans at the Milwaukee County Zoo, although the video was blurry as the primates moved so much.

The orangutans now use their fingers and knuckles to manipulate the tablets and are drawing and using a memory game with the device.

"Orangutans are intelligent animals," said Matthew Berridge, wildlife care keeper at the zoo in a statement.

"At the Toronto Zoo we provide our orangutans with various forms of behavioural enrichment, and the iPads provide an added form of enrichment for the orangutans".

The iPad is "the perfect device for orangutans, as they have an innate ability to work with touchscreen technology," according to the Orangutan Outreach site.

Zimmerman told CBC News in February that the program has been a hit at the Milwaukee Zoo, where orangutans are using iPad apps for painting, listening to music, and with programs such as Skype and Facetime.

iPads have been used with orangutans at a number of zoos, including the Milwaukee County Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, and the Smithsonian National Zoo.

At the Milwaukee County Zoo, iPads are presented to orangutans through the mesh in a cage. Orangutans are not given the iPad to hold for safety reasons.