New Ideas in the Air at the National Zoo

Nine orangutans, ages 5 to 30, are now participating in an ongoing study of animal cognition at the Think Tank at Smithsonian's National Zoological Park. The animals, who live in the Great Ape House, commute to the Think Tank some 500 feet away by swinging along a pair of heavy cables suspended 35 feet above Zoo visitors on the ground. Called the O-Line, it is now a dominant feature of the Zoo.

Inside the Think Tank is a thought-provoking series of exhibits that pose questions about the behavior of orangs, Sulawesi macaque monkeys, hermit crabs and leaf-cutter ants. But the show really belongs to the orangs, focusing on their tool use, language skills, and social interaction with members of the staff and Zoo visitors, who can watch the activities, as well as with other orangs.

In the process of observing the behavior and progress of these apes, the visitor is stimulated to think in news ways. As Michael Robinson, National Zoo Director, says, "This exhibit will allow visitors to explore the concept of thinking and, in the process, gain an understanding of the way scientists investigate thinking in animals."

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