HOUSTON—The chimps at the Houston Zoo typically spend their mornings swinging from ropes, munching on lettuce or lounging on hammocks. But now, they are going high tech. Believe it or not, the apes are into iPads.
The Houston Zoo is using the popular Apple tablet as a tool for animal enrichment.
"They are like us, they get bored," said chimp trainer Helen Boostrom. "They need to be challenged mentally; the iPad helps with that."
The tablets mimic what the chimps might encounter in the wild. The devices allow them to solve problems, use tools and use their hands.
"They all have apps they seem to like," said Boostrom. "They like the noisy apps, fishing apps are also pretty popular, and anything bright, colorful and noisy."
The Houston Zoo is one of a handful of zoos across the country that have started using iPads as an enrichment tool for both chimps and orangutans.
Trainers hold the iPads just outside the animal’s cage and place the devices in heavy cases so the primates don’t break them. Trainers typically use the devices with the animals early in the morning, before visitors arrive. Too many people around will distract the animals.
"They really like videos of themselves and other apes," said Boostrom.
Zoo officials hope to soon use Skype or Facetime to link up to other zoos so the animals can interact with each other via video.