Orangutans at Ouwehands zoo in Rhenen are using touch screen computers as part of an international research project into their emotions and intelligence – which scientists say could improve their chances of finding a mate.
The system has been dubbed ‘Tinder for apes’, but the researchers say it is more complicated than the dating app. They also hope it will show how clever orangutans are to a wider public, and have a positive impact on their protection in the wild.
The animals are not swiping left or right to find the most eligible partner but they are using touch screens to play games to measure things like attention span, memory and excitement levels.
‘Females are sometimes transferred to another zoo as part of a breeding programme,’ said project leader and cognitive psychologist Mariska Kret. ‘So far this was based on a genetic profile, but no account is taken of personal preference. We want to look at if we can predict whether there will be a match.’
The project is being carried out by Leiden University and Ouwehands zoo and is part of an international breeding project. Orangutans are on the World Wide Fund for Nature’s ‘critically endangered’ list.
It is up to the orangutans themselves if they want to take part, Kret said. Previous research has shown that apes who carry out computer tasks experience less stress. ‘It’s a welcome distraction for them too. It challenges them and is a form of relaxation,’ she said.
Other research will look at whether orangutans at the zoo mirror a smile. ‘Do they do so just like humans do? Emotions are very contagious for us, but what about in the great apes?’ says Kret.
It is the first time this type of research can be seen by the general public. ‘People can see how an orangutan performs computer tasks and looks at its peers’ emotions in the process, which is unique,’ Kret said.
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