By Jan Uebelherr, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
MILWAUKEE - Primates all over America are discovering the Apple iPad - and that includes Mahal and his surrogate mother, M.J., two of the Milwaukee County Zoo’s orangutans.
The zoo is using four donated iPads, plus another belonging to a volunteer, for enrichment activities that include free apps (finger painting, music) and videos of other animals at the zoo...
The gorillas were wary of the new device, and remain so.
"They were all very scared," said Richard, the primary gorilla keeper. "It’s a different species. Orangutans are curious about everything. Gorillas are afraid of everything.
"Because it’s something new and different, they’re real hesitant to even approach it. Hodari, the youngest one (16), had the most curiosity. ... Hodari was able to figure out the finger painting," Richard said.
"Maji (an older gorilla) just wanted to break it. He couldn’t figure out what the whole thing was, and he just wanted to get hold of it."
But the inquisitive orangutans were another story.
Mahal’s first look at the iPad was a photo of himself. His reaction: He threw his arms into the air and clapped.
"They were enthralled," Engel said. "One of the first things we did was take advantage of the built-in camera on the iPad, and turn the camera on them, because they’re used to looking into a mirror and recognizing themselves."
Engel and the keepers looked for other ways to use the iPad and came up with videos of other animals in the Milwaukee zoo as well as other zoos.
M.J. likes to watch videos of Tommy, a male orangutan who was separated from Mahal and M.J. about a year ago after he became rough with Mahal.
"Mahal loves the penguins," said Engel, who made a video of them at feeding time. "He just sat there watching them, with his arms folded across his chest. He jumped back when the penguins flapped a wing..."
Khan and Engel also use free apps - some of them mimicking the enrichment activities they already use, but with less mess, such as the finger-painting app.
"The reason I liked that one is if I give them regular finger paints, they eat ‘em," Richard said. "It’s like coloured pudding..."