Photo gallery: Indianapolis Zoo chimpanzee exhibit set for May debut

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One of the Indianapolis Zoo's new chimpanzees, Sue, looks out the glass enclosure inside the culture center portion of the exhibit. (IBJ photo/Mickey Shuey)

The Indianapolis Zoo plans to debut its expansive, $25 million chimpanzee exhibit next year on Memorial Day weekend.

The exhibit, which spans three separate spaces totaling 9,600 square feet, is called the the International Chimp Complex and is among the largest for a single species ever established at the zoo. It is also the first dedicated chimpanzee habitat to open at an accredited United States zoo since Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo opened its chimpanzee space in 2004.

“To me, this is really historic … for our zoo, because it’s the first time we’ve ever had chimpanzees,” said Rob Shumaker, CEO of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, which operates the 64-acre campus in White River State Park. “It is an enormous investment, and we’re very proud of that investment because we’re doing something tremendous.”

He said the new space lives up to what he sees as an obligation “to do something innovative” with the creation of the chimpanzee environment, which allows the apes to traverse three different parts of their enclosure through an elevated trail system that spans a quarter-mile.

The 4-foot-by-4-foot enclosed trail system extends from near the main entrance of the zoo to an area just west of its forest exhibits, toward the middle of the property. About 60% of the trail is complete, with the rest expected to be assembled in January.

The exhibit has three distinct enclosure areas. The first is an outdoor community center with a tall tower, at the front of the facility. That space will have areas with radiant heaters and large fans to accommodate the animals in extreme weather. Shumaker expects the chimpanzees will be on exhibit for most of the year because they can withstand a wide range of weather conditions.

The second area is a cognition center focused on research, located near the aquatic center. It also also has an outdoor public space, as well as both indoor and outdoor private spaces for when the animals need a break from the public.

The third space is indoor cultural center next to the forest section, which takes up 2,000 square feet and will be used for most public-facing indoor activities.

“I think this is really transformational, in that we are setting a new standard for how you care for chimpanzees in an accredited zoo,” Shumaker said. “I’m immensely proud of that and I think our staff has just done an extraordinary job. I’m also honestly super happy for the chimpanzees that are coming here, because they are going to have a remarkable life here and incredible opportunities.”

About 20 chimpanzees are expected to be on site when the exhibit opens to the public, with the facility able to accommodate up to 30 adult apes. Shumaker said many future apes that join the exhibit will be procured through reproductive activity within the facility, rather than procured from other sites.

None of the chimpanzees that will be part of the exhibit were born in the wild, with most coming from other accredited zoos and sanctuary facilities.

Shumaker said he anticipates there will be a sizable increase in attendance at the zoo following the exhibit’s opening. When the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center opened in 2014, the zoo saw an increase of 20% year-over-year, including a 7% increase in visits from existing zoo members.

The chimpanzee exhibit is part of an ongoing $53 million capital campaign that saw the opening of a new entry and visitor center, as well as a building for the internationally accredited Global Center for Species Survival. Those spaces opened earlier this year, with the campaign having raised $35 million to-date.

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One thought on “Photo gallery: Indianapolis Zoo chimpanzee exhibit set for May debut

  1. From the photos, they don’t look so much bigger than regular chimpanzees – but it’s probably the angle or the exhibit that is sized to fit these huge guys!

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