Chimp uses touch screen to learn to walk

Cape Town - A chimpanzee has learned to walk again using a touch screen.

Reo, a 24 year old chimpanzee became paralysed from the neck down in 2006 when he got acute myelitis when a portion of his spinal cord became inflamed, resulting in impaired functioning of his legs.

The chimpanzee underwent 10 months of physiotherapy which enabled him to move about using his arms.

Scientists at the Primate Research Centre at Kyoto University in Japan where Reo was a test subject in a cognitive research project decided to help the chimpanzee walk again so that he could integrate with the other chimpanzees.

They put their cognitive research technology to use practically by training and encouraging the animal to walk again.

The rehab equipment consisted of a touch monitor showing cognitive tasks and a feeder presenting food rewards at a distance of 2m from the monitor, to encourage him to walk between the monitor and the feeder repeatedly.

They could do this because Reo had already learned to perform tasks on the touch sensitive panel in order to earn food rewards.

Reo spontaneously walked from the monitor to the feeder to receive rewards, and returned to the monitor to perform the next trial.

 “Comparison of Reo’s locomotion in a no-task period and under the final setting revealed that the total travel distance increased from 136.7m to 506.3m, movement patterns became multiple, and the percentage of walking increased from 1.2% to 27.2% in PM session,” the scientists reported.

A video of Neo, the chimp tells the story:

The scientist say "the findings of this case study suggest that cognitive tasks may be a useful way to rehabilitate physically disabled chimpanzees, and thus improve their welfare in captivity".