SNEAK PEEK | Inside Indianapolis Zoo’s new orangutan center

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (May 20, 2014)– It’s being called a game-changing exhibit, and it’s opening Saturday at the Indianapolis Zoo!

The area is larger than two NFL football fields with a network of cables high above for the orangutans to roam. Every element of the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center has been crafted to meet the physical, social and intellectual needs of the zoo’s eight orangutans: Azy, Charly, Knobi, Nicky, Lucy, Katy, Basan and Rocky.

“They have personalities and they all have different looks,” said Lisa Goodwin, senior ape keeper. “Being a mom myself, I don’t have any favorites. I have moments of favorites!”

Six of the eight orangutans came from the entertainment industry.

“Our youngest is nine, which is Rocky,” said Goodwin. “Up to Azy who is 36 years old, our adult dominant male.”

In fact, you’ve probably seen Rocky in a commercial or two.

“They were born being raised by humans so we wanted to basically give back to them what we took which is their freedom to roam and use all the muscles they’d use if they were in the wild,” said Goodwin.

The exhibit took seven years to design.

Architect Jonathan Hess couldn’t believe he was finally standing in the middle of it all at a special sneak peek of the Center on Tuesday.

“It’s not every day that an architect team gets to work on a project like this!” said Hess, president of Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf Architects.

“It’s more than just a building, it really is an environment for the orangutans to really explore,” said Hess. “One of the challenges with these animals is they’re really bright, they’re very, very strong and they’re natural habitat is not walking on the ground, its actually arboreal, so their lives for the most part are in the trees.”

That’s why the exhibit includes a network of cables, platforms and bridges up to 80 feet in the air so the orangutans can travel across the zoo and over the heads of guests.

Want the same view? There’s a Skyline aerial cable ride with 1,200 feet of track rising 50 feet above the zoo, giving you a unique perspective on the orangutans.

There’s also a Beacon of Hope that stretches 150 feet into the sky. It’s illuminated by LED lights the orangutans turn on themselves. It’s designed to be a reminder that there’s hope for one of the most endangered species on the planet.

“Everything surprised me during the course of the project,” said Hess. “I think the first time you look into the eyes of Azy or Rocky, you’re changed in some way because you realize that you’re very, very close to this species and when you watch them for a while and you have the opportunity to engage with them, they engage right back with you.”

“What we hope is that through providing them with a really stimulating environment that their health and well-being is paramount,” said Hess.

The center opens to the public this Saturday, May 24.

If you’re interested in becoming a member of the Indianapolis Zoo, you can find more information here.