The newly-opened Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center at the Indianapolis Zoo has a lofty mission: to study and save orangutans. It’s a big mission. These apes, which seem too cute to be endangered, could become the first great ape species to become extinct.
The International Orangutan Center at the Indianapolis Zoo houses eight orangutans. The center is the size of two football fields and it’s set up with an industrial feel that makes its residents feel more at home. That’s because all of them were raised in captivity in zoos or with private owners. One orangutan, Rocky, at one time was a star of commercials, movies and other media, a resume that makes him the “George Clooney of orangutans,” as zoo officials like to say.
The center is another reason to visit Indianapolis and its downtown White River State Park, which houses the Indianapolis Zoo along with enough other museums, attractions and things to do to keep a family busy for at least a few days.
The International Orangutan Center offers the orangutans plenty of space to play and show off for visitors, including the overhead “Hutan Trail,” a network of cables, platforms and bridges as much as 80 feet high. During my visit, Rocky was having a great time swinging from the highest heights while we snapped his picture from below. Visitors also can get a sky-high view of the Hutan Trail with a ride on the Skyline tram, which wasn’t operating due to rain on the day I visited.
Fun and Learning at the International Orangutan Center
Entertainment is just one part of the center’s mission. The other, more important part is education—of visitors and apes. Researchers at the center are studying how orangutans learn. If you get lucky, you can watch as scientists teach the apes to work on computers. It’s a relatively small space, so the training schedule won’t be posted. Instead, those who happen to be inside the center when training is in session will be invited to pull up a chair and watch.
Even if you miss one of the formal training sessions, you can still be fascinated by these creatures that are just as fascinated by the humans on the other side of the glass. They like shiny objects and spend time in industrious pursuits like making their beds, running the “Beacon of Light” spotlight and posing for guests taking selfies.
The Indianapolis Zoo is the largest privately funded zoo in the country. Admission prices vary by day of the week. Admission that includes access to the Orangutan Center.There are plenty of free things to do in Indianapolis as well.