BY MIKE LEONARD
While the Indianapolis Zoo features exhibits and events that attract visitors year-round, summers see the largest crowds, with schoolchildren on summer vacation and families taking advantage of other nearby attractions in “highly walkable” downtown Indianapolis, says zoo representative Carla Knapp.
Located in White River State Park, near the NCAA Hall of Champions and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, the current zoo opened in 1988 and was built in the biome style, which eschews bars and cages and attempts to present the animals in their natural habitats.
The Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, constructed at a cost of $30 million, opened on Memorial Day weekend in 2014 and covers an area larger than two NFL football fields. It has an 80-foot-tall climbing bridge system and a Skyline ride that runs parallel to the orangutans’ lengthy overhead trail system.
The great apes are critically endangered, highly intelligent, and social, Knapp says. She describes Rocky, a juvenile male, as behaving like a 10-year-old boy. “He’ll come right up to the glass if he’s interested in you or what you are doing,” she says. “He’s also fascinated with tattoos, and he’ll point and ask to see it if you have one. He remembers faces, and he’ll remember that you have a tattoo and ask to see it again.”
Zoo visitors can also witness ongoing orangutan research in areas including language cognition and game theory. “Yes, you can actually watch orangutans playing (the early arcade game) Pong,” Knapp says.
The zoo is also home to a pod of nine dolphins and is the only place in the Midwest where visitors, for an extra fee, can swim with them. The zoo also has big cats, elephants, giraffes, five aviaries, and a mix of other exotic creatures. This summer, for the first time since 2008, the zoo will host a pair of Australian koalas.
Zoo admission prices vary depending on date, the purchase of extra zoo experiences, and advance purchase of tickets. “Plan Ahead and Save!” is the year’s marketing catchphrase. For more information, visit the zoo’s website or call 317-630-2001.