Officials at the Indianapolis Zoo broke ground Tuesday on one of the largest exhibits at the zoo, a multimillion-dollar project sure to gain international attention.
"This promises to be the most innovative zoo exhibit in the entire world right here in our great city," Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said.
"Not just our state, not just the Midwest, not just Americans will come here and know about this place, but literally friends of nature world-wide," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said.
Indianapolis Zoo President Michael Crowther said the exhibit will be interactive.
"You and an orangutan will be able to create a finger painting on a computer screen together," Crowther said.
Crowther said the exhibit will also be designed for the orangutans' comfort.
"Using the Hutan trail, the orangutans will be able to travel on an overhead cable system above the zoo completely unconstrained by cages or walls. Imagine that. You'll be out there and you'll look up and there will be an orangutan over your head," he said.
The $21.5 million International Orangutan Exhibit will serve as a research hub, officials said.
Zoo spokesman Jon Glesing said the orangutans will live year-round in the exhibit, and because they spend 80 percent of their time in the trees, visitors will need to take a sky ride to see them.
The exhibit is expected to open May 2014.
"It is one of the five great ape species. The reason why this exhibit is so important is (because) orangutans will be the first of the great apes to go extinct. This exhibit is important to save the orangutans and to build awareness," Glesing said. "This exhibit is going to have a large array of areas where the orangutans can move around as if they are in the jungles of Sumatra, and we will be able to see them in their natural environment."
Organizers hope this center will work against orangutans' imminent extinction.
They named the 150-foot lighted tower on top the "Beacon of Hope."
"At night, the orangutans themselves will flip on the light switch that illuminates the Beacon of Hope, reflecting that there is hope for the endangered orangutans," Ballard said.
Officials said the exhibit, scheduled to open May 2014, will be built between the desert dome and the roller coaster.
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