Large crowds expected for opening of Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center

INDIANAPOLIS - A long-awaited exhibit at the Indianapolis Zoo will officially open to the public Saturday.

The Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center is expected to bring huge crowds and international attention to the zoo and its efforts to save a threatened species.

The $26 million exhibit will allow the public to get an up-close-and-personal look at the threatened species.

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Visitors can watch the apes on a 1,200-foot-long aerial cable ride in their outdoor habitat -- a series of cables, platforms and bridges used for exercise and travel by the eight apes.

"It's a neat experience when you realize they're just as interested in you as you are in them. It creates a wonderful visitor experience," said zoo primate manager J.P. Pilarski.

Larger than two football fields, the exhibit is expected to become a major destination adding to the zoo's one million visitors each year.

Zoo officials said the exhibit was built to highlight the plight of a species expected to become extinct in the wild within 50 to 75 years. The exhibit was also designed for research, education and global conservation outreach.

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Zoo officials expect the exhibit to attract enormous crowds.

"The first thing everyone needs to know is to go online, plan your visit in advance and buy your ticket in advance because it's less expensive, but most important, we're encouraging people to visit on days when we don't expect large crowds," said Karen Burns with the Indianapolis Zoo.

After some have called it one of the most significant zoo exhibits in the world, the orangutan center is giving the zoo a worldwide reputation.

"This is big for Indianapolis. It’s big for the Indianapolis Zoo and it's big for the continuation of conservation for the orangutans," said senior great ape keeper Lisa Goodwin.

The Total Adventure Package can be purchased online and includes zoo admission. Tickets are $26.70 for adults and $22.70 for children ages 2 to 12.

Follow Chris Proffitt on Twitter: @chrisproffitt

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