Indianapolis Zoo Orangutan Center lets visitors get eye-to-eye with orangutans


The Indianapolis Zoo's $26 million International Orangutan Center will open to the public this weekend. WTHR brought you a sneak peak of the center last week.

The habitat includes an atrium with a 50-foot ceiling and an overhead climbing trail some 80 feet above the ground for eight orangutans. The zoo spent eight years planning the exhibit, which includes an aerial gondola ride. The apes began moving into the center in late February.

The center opens to the public Saturday.

The center's major goal is to educate visitors about the endangered apes that now only live in the wild on the southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. The center also will conduct research.

The zoo also encourages visitors to wear orange on Friday to show their support for saving the endangered apes.

Getting up close and personal with the orangutans at the Indianapolis Zoo will bring a new meaning to the saying "seeing eye to eye."

We share 97.6% of the same DNA with the orangutans and they're just as interested in you as you are in them.

"Orangutans are thinking, feeling, aware individuals," said Dr. Rob Shumaker, vice president of conservation and life sciences at the Indianapolis Zoo. "A lot of the way we understand the world are the same way the orangutans understand the world."

See time lapse video of the new orangutan center being built.

Watchful, curious and inquisitive, the orangutans want to know you and what you're doing.

"If something interesting strikes them about a visitor, they want to know more about it and it's kind of rude not to show them that," Shumaker said. "It would be the same thing if someone asked you a question and you just ignored them."

If you have a tattoo, be prepared for Rocky to be enamored, checking out every detail while looking you in the eye, too.

Orangutans are one of the only animals that can recognize themselves in a mirror. They know what pictures are and Rocky will even pose for a selfie.

But make sure he approves of the picture before you walk away.

"What it tells me is how much we share with orangutans and how much we are like them, because we share far more than we differ," Shumaker said.

The International Orangutan Center opens at the Indianapolis Zoo later this month.

Ape Week