Orangutans flex brain power at Indianapolis Zoo exhibit

Azy takes part in a vocabulary test.

Orangutans are not only physically strong, they have brain power, too!

For more than three decades, Dr. Rob Shumaker has been working with Azy, one of the orangutans at the Indianapolis Zoo's new International Orangutan Center. Azy uses a touch screen computer to answer Shumaker's questions about vocabulary.

"He's using some of the symbols he knows very well. For example, that represents names of foods and he was selecting those on his computer screen to tell me the name of what I was showing him," Shumaker said.

The two use a language of symbols when they work together. Azy doesn't always choose the right symbol.

"If he chooses something that I think is not the right answer, he could be making a genuine mistake, because that sometimes happens and that's good, because he's doing it on his own. Also, he might be expressing a preference.

For now, it's just Shumaker asking Azy and other orangutans questions. But when the International Orangutan Center opens, you'll have a chance to participate in tasks, too.

"A person and an ape will have their own monitor and they work together to collaborate on a task, so I think that's going to be pretty exciting for folks, when they have a chance to work with an orangutan to solve something," Shumaker said. "It's not that people are in charge and orangutans do what we say, it's really teamwork or peer-to-peer."

Ape Week