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Apes at National Zoo use iPads while weathering cold

Wednesday - 1/23/2013, 1:39pm  ET

Why Apes choose to stay inside to play

Jen Zoon, National Zoo spokesperson

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Neal Augenstein, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Hairy hipsters at the National Zoo are using Apple iPads in the warmth of the Great Ape House, as the Washington area endures a bitter cold snap.

"Today being incredibly cold is a day they're inside, and so that sort of indoor enrichment is one we'd offer today," says animal keeper Erin Stromberg.

The zoo began participating in the Apps for Apes program last year. Since then, zookeepers have increased the number of apps to keep the orangutans interested.

"Right now the most popular apps are the piano app. We have bongos and drums, apps that are made for toddlers with animal sounds. We have matching games. And one orangutan likes the koi pond, where the fish just swim around and make noise -- it must be very soothing," Stromberg says.

While not able to read, Stromberg says the apes clearly enjoy experimenting on the tablet computer.

"It's like dealing with a child. If you give them a box of crayons to play with and that entertains them for a while, that's something they like," Stromberg says.

The zookeepers bring the iPad to the animal enclosure, and hold it while the ape plays.

"They can't hold it because they're seven to ten times stronger than we are. They would certainly destroy it," says Stromberg.

Apparently the apes aren't overly concerned with having the latest iPad model.

The National Zoo has six orangutans using iPad. Stromberg says Orangutan Outreach appreciates donations of iPads.

"It can hopefully get more zoos involved. We'll even have the opportunity to Skype with other orangutans at different zoos," she says.

Most animals at the National Zoo are afforded the choice of going outdoors or remain in their heated exhibits.

"Just like us they normally choose to stay inside on a cold day," says zoo spokesperson Jen Zoon.

Cold-blooded animals, such as Komodo dragons can't regulate their body temperature, so are kept indoors, says Zoon.

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