[monkeywire] Orangutans play video games at Ga. zoo

Rina Majmudar rinamajmudar at gmail.com
Wed Apr 11 16:12:50 EDT 2007


   Orangutans play video games at Ga. zoo

By DORIE TURNER, Associated Press Writer 24 minutes ago

Four-year-old Bernas isn't the computer wizard his mom is, but he's
learning. Just the other day he used his lips and feet to play a game on the
touch-screen monitor as his mom, Madu, swung from vines and climbed trees.

The two Sumatran orangutans at Zoo Atlanta are playing computer games while
researchers study the cognitive skills of the orange and brown primates.

The best part? Zoo visitors get to watch their every move.

The orangutans use a touch screen built into a tree-like structure that
blend in with their zoo habitat. Visitors watch from a video monitor in
front of the exhibit.

"That's so cool," Jeri McCarthy told her three daughters as Bernas drew a
red, blue and yellow picture on the screen. "He can't get enough!"

Zoo officials hope the exhibit will raise awareness of the rapidly
diminishing wild orangutan population, which is on track to completely
disappear in the next decade, and potentially provide keys to their

"The more we understand about orangutan's cognitive processes, the more
we'll understand about what they need to survive in the wild," said Tara
Stoinski, manager of conservation partnerships for the zoo. "It enables us
to show the public how smart they are."

In one game, orangutans choose identical photographs or match orangutan
sounds with photos of the animals — correct answers are rewarded with food
pellets. Another game lets them draw pictures by moving their hands and
other body parts around the screen. Printouts of their masterpieces are on
display in the zoo.

The computer games, which volunteers from IBM spent nearly 500 hours
developing, test the animals' memory, reasoning and learning, spitting out
sheets of data for researchers at the zoo and Atlanta's Center for
Behavioral Neuroscience, a partner in the project.

The data will help researchers learn about socializing patterns, such as
whether they mimic others or learn behavior from scratch through trial and
error, said Elliott Albers with the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience.

Researchers hope the data can point to new conservation strategies to help
the 37,000 orangutans living in the wild on the Indonesian islands of Borneo
and Sumatra.

"Hopefully we can get the animals to find better sources of food more
easily," Albers said.

The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago are
also conducting such orangutan research. Visitors can also watch the animals
use computers at the National Zoo, Stoinski said.


On the Net:

Zoo Atlanta: http://www.zooatlanta.org
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