'Tinder for orangutans': Dutch zoo to let female choose mate on a tablet

Orangutan Samboja will be shown males on a touchscreen in experiment aimed at learning more about mating choices

A Dutch zoo hopes to increase the breeding chances of a female orangutan by seeing if she will choose a preferred mate on a touchscreen before they are introduced.

In a four-year experiment it has called “Tinder for orangutans”, the Apenheul primate park in Apeldoorn will show Samboja, an 11-year-old female, pictures of possible partners from an international great ape breeding programme.

The aim is to gain greater insight into how female orangutans make their mating choices, Thomas Bionda, a behavioural biologist at the zoo, told Dutch broadcaster NOS.

Since the male orangutan could come from as far away as Singapore, the zoo also hopes to increase the chances of a successful encounter.

“Often, animals have to be taken back to the zoo they came from without mating,” Bionda said. “Things don’t always go well when a male and a female first meet.”

The research is part of a broader programme looking at the role of emotions in animal relationships, the biologist said. “Emotion is of huge evolutionary importance. If you don’t interpret an emotion correctly in the wild, it can be the end of you.”

Evy van Berlo, an evolutionary psychologist, told local paper Tubantia that earlier tablet tests with bonobos – who, along with chimpanzees, are the closest living relatives to humans – had shown they demonstrated heightened interest in photos containing “positive stimuli”, such as other bonobos mating or grooming one another.

The scientists’ main problem has been building a touchscreen tough enough to withstand Samboja’s attentions, Van Berlo said.

One tablet, reinforced with a steel frame, was tested successfully for the first time two weeks ago on two older orangutans, she said, but did not survive long when Samboja – whose mother, Sandy, is affectionately known as Demolition Woman – got hold of it.

Once the scientists have a strong enough screen, Bionda told NOS, they would examine whether appearance alone is enough to create a spark of attraction between two animals.

“This is completely digital, of course,” he said. “Usually, smell plays an important role too. But with the orangutans, it will be what you see is what you get.”


Jon Henley European affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Everything you always wanted to know about panda sex (but were afraid to ask) | Sam Knight
The long read: After years of disappointment, staff at Edinburgh zoo hoped that this month would bring the birth of a baby panda. But is captive breeding really the way to save the species?

Sam Knight

25, Aug, 2015 @6:00 AM

Article image
International Orangutan Day: support our red-haired cousins before it's too late | Carole Jahme
Carole Jahme: As orangutans are added to a list of the world’s 25 most endangered primates, we are discovering that these great apes are more like humans than we supposed

Carole Jahme

19, Aug, 2014 @1:41 PM

Article image
No more monkey business: why primates should never be pets
About 4,500 primates are in private hands in the UK – many of them suffering poor conditions. Is it time for a ban?

Ben Garrod

28, Feb, 2016 @7:59 AM

Article image
Secret footage obtained of the wild elephants sold into captivity in Chinese zoos
Animal welfare advocates have filmed some of the wild elephants captured in Zimbabwe last year and shipped to China

Christina Russo and Adam Cruise

06, Apr, 2017 @11:01 AM

Article image
Bright orange monkey born at Sydney's Taronga zoo is a rare François’ langur
Male infant called Nangua, Mandarin for pumpkin, is fourth langur to be born at the zoo, the only one in the region to breed the endangered species

Michael Safi and agencies

26, Nov, 2015 @12:56 AM

John Vidal on the Bangladeshi forest where tigers and humans are in conflict

John Vidal: In the Sunderbans forests between India and Bangladesh, climate change is pitting people against tigers - with deadly consequences

John Vidal

24, Sep, 2008 @11:01 PM

Article image
Bees translate dances of foreign species

Honeybees can communicate with others from far-off continents by learning to interpret their moves

Ian Sample, science correspondent

03, Jun, 2008 @11:01 PM

Article image
Orange cave crocodiles may be 'mutating' into new species
In 2008 an archaeologist discovered crocodiles living in remote caves in Gabon. Now, genetics hint that these weird cave crocodilians may be in the process of evolving into a new species.

Jeremy Hance

29, Jan, 2018 @8:50 AM

Article image
How a hi-tech search for Genghis Khan is helping polar bears
Researchers are going on a bear hunt, using AI and radar to spot dens and track the threatened Arctic predators

Graeme Green

27, Apr, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Famous baby giant armadillo found dead
Jeremy Hance: After two years of recording the surprising relationship between a baby giant armadillo and its mother, scientists have found the juvenile dead in the Brazilian Pantanal.

Jeremy Hance

29, Jun, 2015 @5:28 AM