Is this like Tinder for orangutans?
To better understand the emotions of orangutans and bonobos, an animal reserve in the Netherlands has launched a programme the Dutch press has dubbed “Tinder for orangutans”.
Apenheul Primate Park, near the central Netherlands town of Apeldoorn, is looking at how primates respond to images of their fellow species on a tablet computer. The responses vary from neutral to aggressive. The reactions are later evaluated by researchers.
The research, conducted with Leiden University, could improve breeding programmes for the apes.
How does it work?
"After seeing the photos, the monkeys have to push a button on the screen," the park said on its website.
"In this way we can measure their capacity for reaction. The study shows that primates pay attention to the emotions of their peers.
"We now know, for example, that bonobos use body language to recognise emotions."
The study aims to ensure that animals are properly matched with potential mates. The idea is if the apes respond unfavourably to the images, it would spare the park from an “incorrect match.” Bringing mates from other countries can be costly.
“Often, animals have to be taken back to the zoo they came from without mating,” Thomas Bionda, a behavioral biologist at the park, said.
“Things don’t always go well when a male and a female first meet,” Bionda told Dutch broadcaster NOS, The Guardian reported.
Has it been succesful?
Initial results indicate that bonobos, an endangered ape species, react most strongly to photos showing positive behaviours, such as sexual activity or searching for lice.
But the study had to be suspended after Samboja, a young female, destroyed a tablet while looking at potential suitors. Now, the park is aiming to use a stronger screen to resume research.
Once the scientists have a strong enough screen, they will examine whether appearance alone is enough to create a spark of attraction between two animals, according to The Guardian.
“This is completely digital, of course,” Bionda said.
“Usually, smell plays an important role too. But with the orangutans, it will be what you see is what you get.”