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Missing link? Orangutans at Miami zoo use iPad to communicate

J Pat Carter / AP

A trainer uses an iPad as she works with an orangutan at Jungle Island in Miami. The devices are too fragile to actually hand over to the apes - the trainers must hold them.

J Pat Carter / AP

Linda Jacobs says orangutans are extremely intelligent but limited by their physical inability to talk.

The Associated Press reports — The 8-year-old twins love their iPad. They draw, play games and expand their vocabulary. Their family's teenagers like the hand-held computer tablets, too, but the clan's elders show no interest.

The orangutans at Miami's Jungle Island apparently are just like people when it comes to technology. The park is one of several zoos experimenting with computers and apes, letting its six orangutans use an iPad to communicate and as part of a mental stimulus program. Linda Jacobs, who oversees the program, hopes the devices will eventually help bridge the gap between humans and the endangered apes.

"Our young ones pick up on it. They understand it. It's like, 'Oh, I get this,'" Jacobs said. "Our two older ones, they just are not interested. I think they just figure, 'I've gotten along just fine in this world without this communication-skill here and the iPad, and I don't need a computer.'"

Video: Baby orangutan steps out in Madrid

It's important to note that training the orangutans isn't done to entertain Jungle Island workers or guests. Because the animals are so intelligent, Jacobs said their minds must be kept active to prevent them from getting bored or depressed. The challenge is making the enrichment activities enjoyable.

"They need a lot of stimulation," Jacobs said. "Training isn't mandatory, but they love it." Read the full story.

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J Pat Carter / AP

The software was originally designed for humans with autism and the screen displays pictures of various objects. A trainer then names one of the objects, and the ape presses the corresponding button.

J Pat Carter / AP

While Jenna Hogg, pictured, and other trainers have developed strong relationships with the orangutans, the iPad and other touchscreen computers offer an opportunity for them to communicate with people not trained in their sign language. Pictures taken in February and April 2012 but made available today.

Esteban Cobo / EPA

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