- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The Indianapolis Zoo is expecting perhaps a quarter million extra visitors this year with the opening of its new orangutan exhibit.

The $26 million International Orangutan Center is opening to the public on May 24. The exhibit includes an atrium with a 50-foot ceiling and an overhead climbing trail some 80 feet above the ground for eight orangutans.

While the exhibit could boost zoo attendance by up to 25 percent, the major goal for the center is to educate visitors about the endangered apes that now only live in the wild on the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, zoo CEO Michael Crowther told the Indianapolis Business Journal (http://bit.ly/RAmcR4 ).

The zoo’s initial concept was for a larger exhibit to also feature other apes such as gorillas and chimpanzees, but Crowther said the recession forced the facility to concentrate on the species facing the greatest need.

“The feasibility study showed that, if we focused on orangutans, we could move the needle,” he said.

The zoo will open a special gift shop for the orangutan center, along with a gondola ride that will take visitors closer to the climbing area.

Jonathan Hess, the lead architect on the project, said the exhibit doesn’t feature an artificial rain forest because none of its resident apes have lived in the wild.

“We were trying to build a stimulating environment for a species that is very smart, very engaged, and very strong,” he said.

The size of the crowds visiting the new exhibit is difficult to predict because Crowther said weather could swing the zoo’s attendance figures by up or down by 20 percent.

One big seller expected for the center’s gift shop is a T-shirt saying “96.4% orangutan” to reflect the percentage of DNA shared between humans and orangutans. The shop will also offer an Adopt an Orangutan kit to support conservation efforts and accept donations for protecting the rain forests in Borneo and Sumatra.

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Information from: Indianapolis Business Journal, http://www.ibj.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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