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Animals Like Video Games, Too



At the Aquarium of the Pacific in California, the penguins have something in common with bird keeper Sara Mandel's cats.

Both animals like games on a tablet computer.

"I had actually purchased this game in the app store for my cats," said Mandel.

Then, she wanted to see if the aquarium’s penguins would like the game as much as her cats did. Mandel asked her supervisor if she could show the game to the birds.

"He laughed at me," she said.

But the penguins did show an interest in the tablet computer with the cat game, Mandel said. "I showed him [her supervisor], and he was pretty shocked."

Mandel said the penguins like playing with the electronic device as much as people do.

She explained how the tablet helps her care for the penguins.

"While they're kind of hanging out there, I can look at their flippers. I can make sure everything is good and healthy, and I can even sneak a scale right underneath where Lily [the name of a penguin] is standing."

Penguins are not the only animals that have used tablet computers. At Zoo Atlanta, in the American state of Georgia, orangutans, gorillas, and sun bears have also worked with the technology.

Researchers use touch screens with animals

In Britain, a group of researchers have shown touch screen tablets to parrots and tortoises.

With the parrots, the researchers use tablets to see how the birds explore and react to something new.

The touch screens helped researchers study how tortoises learn to move around a space.

Anna Wilkinson is a researcher at the University of Lincoln. She explained that a tortoise's neck length is a sign of whether the tortoise is comfortable in its surroundings. The longer the neck, the more at ease the animal is.

While working with the screen, Wilkinson described the tortoise's neck as "nice and long."

"The touch screens are fantastic because they give you a lot of flexibility. You can present animals with all sorts of different stimuli...They are also incredibly good because you can remove humans from the equation."

Wilkinson added that she used the electronic device to train other animals, including dogs.

Sara Mandel explained that people can be less dependable than a computer when providing help to animals, such as feeding them at a set time. She noted that humans can also distract the animals in a way that machines do not.

Researchers said the animals have short attention spans and become tired easily. Like humans, Mandel said, the younger penguins are more interested in the game on the tablet. The older penguins quickly lose interest.

I'm John Russell.

Elizabeth Lee reported on this story for VOA News. John Russell adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

tablet – n. a flat, rectangular computing device that is used for connecting to the Internet, watching videos, reading books

flipper – n. one of two flat body parts that stick out from the side of a seal, whale, etc., and are used by the animal for swimming

orangutan – n. a large ape that has very long arms and reddish-brown hair

gorilla – n. a type of very large ape that has black fur and that comes from Africa

parrot – n. a bright-colored tropical bird that has a curved bill and the ability to imitate speech

tortoise – n. a kind of turtle that lives on land

stimulus – n. something that causes a change or a reaction

distract v. to cause someone to stop thinking about or paying attention to something

spann. the distance from one end to the other of something; a reach between two extremes

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