Tuesday 22 June 2021

Primate park Apenheul hopes it is love at first swipe for orangutans

Is this the one? Photo: Tim Strater, Rotterdam via Wikimedia Commons

The Apenheul primate park in Apeldoorn is going to investigate if orangutan females will select a mate by looking at photographs on a touchscreen tablet.

‘Tinder for urangutans’, as it has been dubbed, is aimed at finding a suitable partner for Samboja, the park’s female orangutan who will be shown a series of photographs of males selected for an international breeding programme.

If she shows a preference for one of the males this would provide an insight into how animals read emotions, which, according to the park’s resident biologist Thomas Bionda, is vital in evolution.

‘If an emotion is misinterpreted in nature it can well be fatal,’ he told local paper Tubantia.

Apenheul is building on earlier similar research into emotion in primates. According to evolutionary psychologist Evy van Berlo, who is conducting the test, bonobo monkeys showed a higher level of attention when they were presented with photos containing ‘positive incentives’, such as bonobos grooming each other or having sex.

‘Bonobos are very close to humans on the evolutionary scale’, she told the paper.

However, the researchers’ first concern is how to make the touchscreen primate proof. Samboja has already demolished one screen but it is unclear if this was as reaction to a particular male.

Samboja may also have a technical interest in the working of things like her mother who managed to prise loose some welded screws and smashed a window with a rock, the paper said.

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