Nightly News   |  January 29, 2013

Ape apps a bit hit at National Zoo

At the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C., some of the primates have fallen in love with iPads – part of the zoo’s efforts to enrich the lives of endangered animals. NBC’s Tom Costello reports

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>>> finally tonight, attention all humans who have ever struggled with an electronic device . the national zoo in washington has equipped its apes with ipads and they found some very specific apps that are proving both highly attractive and highly addictive. our report tonight from our man in the field, nbc's tom costello.

>> reporter: ever had one of those days where you're sitting around and you just don't know what to do?

>> what do you think, kiddo? you want to try it out?

>> reporter: turns out at the national zoo , there's an app for that.

>> you got to be gentle.

>> reporter: lots of apps. 16-year-old battang, uses her long arms and fingers to tap. she loves the drums and cymbals. 36-year-old bonnie prefers playing the keyboard or scrolling through photos of other animals. the program is called "apps for apes" one way that 13 zoos, including the smithsonian zoo in washington are trying to enrich the lives of these endangered animals.

>> it engages their sight, their touch, sound. they can choose to sit here and participate or they can walk away.

>> reporter: but they're not. they're painting, fishing, playing instruments, and coming back for more. this is lucy, she is 39 years old. and like all orangutans, she has her own personality and she is very curious. researchers say the challenge to keep her and all of her friends constantly mentally engaged.

>> trying to break it up, make their day a little different. the same thing, day after day , just like a human would be pretty repetitive and you pretty boring.

>> reporter: how many do you know have gotten a shoutout on "snl."

>> orangutans at the national zoo are now being given ipads as a part of apps for apes program. marks and you think your screen gets dirty?

>> reporter: it turns out researchers are even using ipads to communicate with dolphins, but, of course, apes have hands and they love to break stuff .

>> no. nope.

>> reporter: but these apes also love their apps. tom costello, nbc news, washington .