TODAY   |  February 02, 2013

Apps for apes: Zoos turn to tablets to keep animals engaged

Technology is bridging the gap between humans and some of our closest cousins - and keeping them engaged with apps on an iPad. One of the favorite apps used by the primates is one where they can play the drums and cymbals. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> judging by how many were sold over the holidays, it seems like a tablet computer is quickly becoming one of man's best friends . but primates are actually going ape for them, too. all part of a program at the national zoo in washington . here's tom costello.

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

>> what do you think, kiddo? you want to try it -- all right.

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

>> you've got to be gentle.

>> reporter: lots of apps. 16-year-old botang uses her long arms and fingers to tap. she loves the drums and cymbals.

>> reporter: 36-year-old bonnie prefers playing the keyboard or scrolling through photos of other animals. the program is called apps for apes. one of many ways 13 zoos including the smithsonian national 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's 39 years old. and like all aresignation torangutans, she has her own personality and is very challenged. researchers say the goal is to keep her and her friends engaged.

>> trying to break it up. the same thing day after day like a human would be repetitive and boring.

>> reporter: how many orangutans do you know get a shout out on "snl"?

>> man, and you think your screen gets dirty.

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

>> money, money, money, money. nope.

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