Orangutans get world-class exhibit at Indy Zoo

Exhibit to open to public on May 24

INDIANAPOLIS - In May, the Indianapolis Zoo will introduce the public to its $26 million International Orangutan Center. On Thursday, however, RTV6 got a sneak peek inside the brand new exhibit.

As soon as they were released into the atrium, the zoo's eight orangutans came right up to reporters and cameras – on the other side of the glass, of course.

The orangutans have their own personalities – from Katy, whose nicely groomed hair has earned her the moniker of the "world's most beautiful orangutan," to Azy, the dominant male who sports a Chewbacca-esque look.

Click here for a gallery of photos of the orangutans playing and hamming it up for cameras.

Azy, who's been doing cognitive experiments for years with researchers, is well known in the scientific community.

"He's been one of the primary orangutans in the world for investigating how orangutans think about the world, how they see the world, that kind of thing," said Dr. Christopher Martin, an orangutan research scientist.

The new $26 million exhibit at the zoo is the first of its kind. It's designed to give the great apes vertical room to roam unlike any other zoo before.

Visitors will see the orangutans swinging high overhead on the Hutan Trail (which means the "Forest Trail"), the highest cable system for orangutans in the world.

"It's very rare to see a wild orangutan on the ground," said Jon Pilarski, the zoo's area manager for primates. "So they're usually in the trees. And so what this exhibit has tried to do is replicate that in a captive setting."

Part of the experience will be to put zoo visitors right in the midst of the apes.

"While they're out on these cables and on these towers, there's nothing between them and the visitors except for that 50 to 90 feet of air space," Pilarski said. "There's no nets, there's no cables, no caging – nothing like that. So you really feel that you're right out there with the orangutans. It's really going to be a neat experience."

And, zoo officials said, the orangutans will have puzzles and games they can play with zoo visitors like rock, paper, scissors and, eventually, even Pong.

For an extra fee, visitors will be able to take a sky ride around a 1,200-foot track extended 50 feet above the ground of the exhibit.

The new exhibit is scheduled to open to the public on May 24.

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