Orangutans MJ and Mahal watch a video on an iPad held up to the glass of their enclosure at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
Mahal reaches his hand through the cage and rubs his knuckles over an iPad, drawing wide colors across the screen with his favorite app.
A few minutes later, Mahal presses his face up against the mesh, stretches out his long tongue and taps the screen to make it light up and play his favorite song, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
Soon Mahal and the two other orangutans at the Milwaukee zoo will be able to use their iPad for something even more exciting.
Already fascinated by videos of orangutans watched on the iPad, zookeepers are hoping a live video feed will be even more engaging.
“We’re excited to see where that goes,” said Trish Kahn, the zoo’s primate coordinator.
Several other zoos have also introduced tablets to primates with the help of the non-profit Orangutan Outreach, which launched the “Apps for Apes” campaign after seeing how much the Milwaukee orangutans enjoyed playing with the iPads.
The goal is twofold: to bring a powerful new enrichment activity to the orangutans and to get zoo visitors engaged in the fight to protect an endangered species.
“It’s really important for the public to connect with these animals because we’re losing them in the wild — they’re facing extinction,” Ms Kahn told AFP.
“For me the most important thing is for people to recognize these are sentient beings that are so incredible, that have all these wonderful adaptations and a profound brain.”
In addition to the playtime in their private feeding area, the zoo also offers iPad enrichment in the public viewing area, where volunteer Scott Engel shows them videos through the thick glass.
Mr Engel, a freelance photographer who has been visiting the zoo for years got the program going. He made contact with the Milwaukee zoo’s gorilla keeper over Facebook and offered to donate his old iPad after he upgraded to the new iPad and now comes to the zoo several times a week to show the orangutans videos — many of which he shoots himself.
“It’s just amazing to make a connection with an animal,” Engel said. “They can brighten your day.”