Experts from a Scottish university have explored technology that would allow zoo animals to get their own versions of Spotify and Netflix.
Specialists at the University of Glasgow have developed a “media player for monkeys” that allows primates like gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans to use interactive computer systems to access sounds and videos.
Touchscreen systems entertain and engage animals with cognition-boosting interactions as they might in the wild.
The researchers focused on a group of three white-faced saki monkeys at Korkeasaari Zoo in Helsinki, Finland, and how they respond to audio and visual stimuli like a primate-focused Spotify or Netflix.
A small computer played in a wooden and plastic tunnel placed inside the monkey enclosure. The primates would trigger video or sound by passing through infrared beams and could listen or watch for as long as they chose to stay.
It was placed in the enclosure for 32 days and the monkeys had the opportunity to watch rain sounds, music or traffic noises, videos of worms, underwater scenes or shapes and colors abstract.
The device recorded what they were watching and listening to and found that the sakis’ interactions were usually short, lasting only a few seconds.
Over time, their interactions decreased, but they interacted more with visual stimuli than with audio stimuli.
The research was led by Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas from the University of Glasgow, together with her colleague Vilma Kankaanpaa from Aalto University in Finland.
Dr Hirskyj-Douglas, from the University of Glasgow School of Computing Science, said: ‘We have been working with Korkeasaari Zoo for several years now to find out more about how white-faced saki could benefit from computer systems designed specifically for them.
“Previously we explored how they interact with video content and audio content, but this is the first time we have given the option to choose between the two.
“Our findings raise a number of questions that deserve further study to help us build effective interactive enrichment systems.
“Further study could help us determine whether the brief interactions were simply part of their typical behavior or reflected their level of interest in the system.
“Similarly, their different levels of interaction over time could reflect how engaging they found the content, or simply that they were getting used to the presence of the tunnel in their enclosure. Although they chose the audio more consistently than video, the results were not statistically significant enough for us to know for certain which they prefer.”