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A Dutch zoo is hoping a project dubbed “Tinder for Orangutans” could help find more suitable partners for their female apes by allowing them to choose potential mates before being introduced.
Researchers at the Apenheul Primate Park in the Netherlands will use a tablet to show their orangutans photos of possible partners from an international breeding program, and look at their responses to see whether they give more attention to certain images or photos.
“[Wouldn’t it] be nice if before moving a monkey, it could be seen whether [it] has a preference for a particular partner?” principal investigator Mariska Kret writes in a blog post about the research.
Thomas Bionda, a behavioural biologist at the zoo, also told Dutch broadcaster NOS: “Often, animals have to be taken back to the zoo they came from without mating.”
The four-year experiment is now underway, but not without some initial glitches.Samboja, an 11-year-old female, took time out from her usual routine to browse through pictures of possible partners from an international great ape breeding programme.
But successfully pressing the touchscreen, she tried pulling on the protective frame around the tablet before punching and smashing the device.
Researchers are looking for an orangutan-proof touchscreen before continuing with the investigation.
The orangutan population first became threatened in the 1970s and 1980s with illegal logging in Indonesia, where 80 percent of wild orangutans are found, said Biruté Mary Galdikas, president and founder of Orangutan Foundation International.
Today, researchers are uncertain how many orangutans remain in the wild but estimates range from 45,000 to 60,000, including both Bornean and Sumatran species, she says.
“Orangutans have always bred successfully in captivity,” says Biruté. “What has been a problem is to make sure that … they try to select the proper orangutans with breeding so that natural populations or natural subspecies of Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are maintained.”