Ape Apps: Orangutans Learn With iPads At Miami Zoo

May 14, 2012
Originally published on May 14, 2012 6:49 pm



Finally, this hour, the latest stage of evolution in communication between people and apes.



SIEGEL: That's right. At the Jungle Island Zoo in Miami, six orangutans are playing games and building their vocabularies on iPads with the help of Linda Jacobs.

LINDA JACOBS: We ask them to identify a particular object. For instance, I'll say, can you show me the mango? And if they hit the proper icon with the mango, it responds, mango. So, it's not just about hitting the button, but they get an immediate response, which is perfect.

BLOCK: Jacobs says the orangutans are allowed to play with the iPad as long as she gets to hold it.

JACOBS: They are so curious and so strong that their natural curiosity would be to just take the whole thing apart. And that would be the end of my iPad. So, I sit outside the cage with the iPad and they manipulate it from inside the cage.

SIEGEL: Participation is not mandatory, Jacobs says. And, in fact, she has noticed a generational divide.

JACOBS: Our older two, Coney, who's 35 and Sinbad, who's 33, don't really have much interest in the iPad. Whereas the younger group, especially the eight year old twins - it's like they were just born knowing how to do it.

BLOCK: Just like with humans, the kids always catch on faster. So, if you happen to stroll by the orangutans on a visit to Miami's Jungle Island Zoo, you may see eight-year-old twin sisters, Peanut and Pumpkin, tapping and swiping on the iPad.


SIEGEL: I'm Robert Siegel.

BLOCK: And I'm Melissa Block. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.