A Dutch zoo is exploring the merits of Tinder-like software in boosting their orangutans’ sex lives, by allowing them more leeway in choosing a mate.

Gotta look good for that profile picture.
Image credits Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr.

As part of a four-year long experiment dubbed “Tinder for orangutans,” 11-year-old female Samboja of the Apenheul primate park in Apeldoorn, Holland, will be the first of her species to swipe, swipe, match. Thomas Bionda, a behavioural biologist at the zoo, will delight the orangutan with pictures of males on a touchscreen to learn more about the species’ mating choices.

Monkeying around

Well you might not know this was a problem up to now, but we kinda need orangutans to get down to business. Along with chimps, orangutans are our closest living relative — and of course, we cut down their habitat and even hunted them so much they’re now endangered.

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Part of the effort to preserve this species comes from zoos, where orangutans are encouraged to mate. Available males and females are shipped around all over the world to do just that, but it doesn’t always go according to plan. That’s why Bionda and the zoo have been trying to figure out how females decide which suitors are worthy, by allowing them to take their pick on a touchscreen tablet and examining the results for patterns. Since flying in males can be a long and costly procedure — they could come from as far away as Singapore — the zoo hopes this research will limit stale encounters.

“Things don’t always go well when a male and a female first meet,” Bionda said.

“Often, animals have to be taken back to the zoo they came from without mating.”

I know your pain, male orangutans.

The team’s main problem was developing a device that wouldn’t break under the Samboja’s rough handling. Their first tablet was reinforced with steel and made it past the two week mark. Then Samboja’s mother Sandy — also known as Demolition Woman — got her hands on the device and destroyed it. The scientists are now waiting for a strong-enough screen, after which they will test if looks alone are enough to guarantee a successful encounter in the species.

“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.”

Bionda however isn’t only interested in hooking up orangutans — his research plays into broader work looking at the role emotions play in animal relationships.

“Emotion is of huge evolutionary importance. If you don’t interpret an emotion correctly in the wild, it can be the end of you.”