News Column

Up close with orangutans

August 24, 2014

By Ken de la Bastide, The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Ind.

Aug. 24--INDIANAPOLIS -- There is a unique opportunity for Indiana residents to get up close and personal with the so-called "Man of the Forest" at the Indianapolis Zoo.

Earlier this year the Zoo opened the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, which will undoubtedly become one of the main attractions.

Orangutans live in the tropical rainforests of Sumatra in Indonesia and Borneo in Malaysia.

The exhibit is home to eight orangutans that range from adult males and females to teenagers, each with their own distinct personality. Azy is known to show a display of male dominance when a human male is in the area.

Patience is the key to visiting the exhibit, which contains two outdoor viewing areas and an interior viewing area at the top of the enclosure.

If the visitors show some patience eventually they will witness orangutans swinging from suspended hoses or creating a nest.

One of the truly amazing features is that zoo visitors are afforded the opportunity to look into the eyes of these great apes, which are the closest relative to humans, sharing more than 96 percent of the same DNA.

By looking into the face of an orangutan the visitor can almost imagine its emotions.

When the orangutans walk on the ground their hands are curled inward and they move forward on their knuckles.

But watching them swing from hanging hose to hanging hose is the highlight. Azy has an arm span of 9 feet.

They have long reddish-orange hair, particularly on the two larger males, Azy and Charly.

Next to the main exhibit area there is an outdoor space where the orangutans can climb several poles. There is also the new Skyline that soars above the enclosure that allows visitors to watch the orangutans on their sidewalk in the sky.

Visitors were afforded the opportunity to watch adult male Charly creating a nest on the floor of the interior enclosure. Charly diligently pulled straw and a blanket up to his chest to form the nest.

There are also interactive features so that zoo visitors can interact with the orangutans.

"The International Orangutan Center provides the apes with a rich and complex environment perfectly suited to their needs," said Robert Shumaker, vice president of Life Sciences at the zoo. "It is quite simply one of the best zoo habitats for orangutans in the world. Zoo visitors will marvel at the orangutan's grace, abilities and intellect."

At the center of the exhibit is the Nina Mason Pulliam Beacon of Hope, a 150-foot structure that is illuminated each night, with the colors controlled by the orangutans.

It has been some time since my wife, Kelly, and I visited the Indianapolis Zoo but we enjoyed the dolphin show, the exhibits for the tigers and lions and the open areas for numerous animals.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 640-4863.

If you go The Indianapolis Zoo is located at 1200 W. Washington St. in the White River State Park. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Admission: Adults, $17.95; Children ages 2 to 12, $13.70; Seniors, $16.20. Discount tickets are available online at


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Source: Herald Bulletin (Anderson, IN)

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