When Darci Miller walked into the Indianapolis Zoo’s orangutan exhibit, she never knew she would encounter a celebrity. Rocky was a star amidst his great ape peers. His connection with Miller would make them both internet sensations.
Rocky The Magnificent
When Rocky the orangutan was eight years old he peaked the interest of scientists at the Indianapolis Zoo. Incredibly, scientists watched as Rocky copied words and expressed those words in what they call a “conversational context.” He demonstrated an ability to learn new sounds and then control the action in his voice. This was not far from how humans interact in a conversation. These sounds came in the context of a game in which he mimicked the tone and pitch of vowels.
Believe It Or Not
Many might be skeptical about orangutans’ ability to communicate, but researchers are amazed by this finding. Dr. Adriano Lameria heads the research team. She said, “Instead of learning new sounds, it has been presumed that sounds made by great apes are driven by arousal over which they have no control, but our research proves that orangutans have the potential capacity to control the action of their voices.” She believes this means humans’ voice control could derive from orangutans or great apes.
Rocky Isn’t Like Other Monkeys
Dr. Lameria was blown away by this discovery with Rocky. They did not just believe that Rocky was mimicking human sounds by simple observations. Dr. Lameria and his team compared Rocky’s test results to those within a massive database which recorded wild and captive orangutans. The research team compared Rocky’s test with over 12,000 hours of observation across over 120 orangutans living in 15 separate populations in both the wild and captivity. His next moves would be even more captivating.
Rocky Gets Fergalicious
Rocky might be one of the luckiest apes in the animal kingdom. Even before scientists discovered his supreme communication skills, he was chosen for a photo shoot with pop star Fergie, the lead singer of the Black Eyed Peas. The two got close in a shoot for Elle. The photographer Jill Greenberg said, “I don’t think Fergie got Rocky’s number. She joked that he made out with her and then left without saying goodbye.” It seems like Fergie missed out.
Miller never expected her life to turn into a viral sensation. Darci Miller lives in Greencastle, Indiana, with her two daughters. She had been raising them by herself and hoped to provide a perfect life for them even as a single mom. The prospect of raising her family became a lot more difficult due to an accident at her home. Darci was doing chores, and was burning garbage in the backyard when the gas fumes severely burned her body.
Lucky To Be Alive
The May 2015 accident landed Darci Miller in the hospital for a large chunk of time. She spent three weeks recovering including nine grueling days for her family in a coma. The fumes from her fire caused serious burns on large swaths of her body including her arms, chest, and face. In addition to external physical injuries, she also burned her lungs and throat from inhaling the scolding fumes. Darci underwent multiple surgeries to get her back up to speed.
Ride For Darci
Darci’s accident not only affected her and her family, but it touched her whole town. Everyone wanted to offer their help to get her back on her feet. This included two motorcycle clubs looking to help out a fellow Hoosier.The Iron Vixens MC and Iron Order MC sponsored a “Ride For Darci” to help raise money for her and her family. In addition to the ride, the event included food and entertainment from the Cowboy Casanovas band. They recently completed their third edition.
Home Sweet Home
After numerous surgeries and procedures, Darci was finally allowed to return home to her girls and their Greencastle home. She still required around the clock care but could begin restarting her life again following the accident. Even though she was no longer in the hospital for full-time recovery, Darci did return for numerous surgeries. They mostly helped her regain strength and mobility in her arms and neck. She needed to relearn much of the strength behind everyday movements.
Livin’ For The City
Two years after her accident and subsequent trip to the hospital, Darci Miller was still receiving treatment for her various injuries. To get a better gauge on her recovery and the possibility of future treatments, Darci took a trip to Indianapolis with her fiancee Jason Costello. They went for an appointment with a specialist at a burn center. Once the appointment finished, Miller and Costello put their heads together to figure out how to use the rest of their day in the big city.
Let’s Do The Zoo
With her appointment finished, Darci and Jason decided to take a trip to the Indianapolis Zoo. Not only is it a great place to kill some time, but they felt it could be a great way to lift Darci’s spirits. It had been years since she last went to the zoo, predating her injury. When Miller found out that the zoo had a new orangutan exhibit, the happy couple decided to make the move and take a nice visit to the local zoo.
Encountering A Celebrity
Darci and Jason’s trip to the zoo went along like any other day. They stopped at various exhibits hoping to make new animal friends while enjoying each other’s company. Finally, it was time to go to the special orangutan exhibit. As they looked through the glass, one of the orangutan’s paid special attention to Darci. Little did she know that Rocky, the 12-year-old orangutan, had an interesting past as an animal celebrity on the internet.
A Celebrity Yet Again
It had been four years since Rocky became a celebrity due to his advanced communication skills. He would soon become a sensation yet again. Darci found herself looking at the orangutan exhibit when Rocky caught her attention. As Darci made her way up to the glass barrier, Rocky became infatuated with her. He quickly left the group of orangutans and made a b-line for Darci. Something drew his curiosity, and she could not figure out what.
A Curious Primate
Miller could not understand what was happening. She said, “He immediately spotted me and came over to the window and he was very engulfed in everything I had going on.” It might have been some time since she had been to the zoo last, but Darci understood what common zoo animal behavior looked like. This was something different. It appeared as if Rocky was interested in something specific. It was almost like he was interested in her wounds.
The Observant Orangutan
As Darci stood in front of Rocky, he continued to point towards the bandages on her body. Orangutans are known for their empathy, but this was something remarkable. It was almost as if he was trying to communicate with Darci about her wounds. Darci had never seen anything like this before. Not only did it appear that he was interested in her wounds, but it seemed as if Rocky truly cared about her condition and the bandages covering her body.
Communication Guessing Game
Darci’s fiancee began filming the interaction between the ape and his wife-to-be. In the video, you can clearly see Rocky lean in close to the glass to get a better look at Darci. He moves his head to find the best view and his arms to gesture toward her. “It was kind of a guessing game. He was just pointing at everything, so I was just showing him the bandages on my neck, my tattoos and the burns on my arms.”
Shock And Awe
As Darci continued to motion and respond to the orangutan, Jason Costello decided to film the interaction between them. He had never seen anything like this before and made sure to capture the moment for his lady. In the video, you can hear Jason say, “He wants you to show him. That’s crazy. He wants to see it.” The it to which he is referring are the burns under her bandages. Everyone was amazed at the moment.
A Confusing Commotion For The Crowd
With Costello filming and Darci knee deep in animal communication, other zoo visitors became interested in the scene which was stirring. Many stood and watched as Costello kept the camera rolling and Rocky continued to point and nod to Darci’s wounds and tattoos. At a point, a bystander asked a zookeeper about the curious behavior. The person asked, “Is this normal?” The zookeeper calmly replied, ” Yeah, this is normal for Rocky.” It might seem normal for Rocky, but to everyone else it was astonishing.
The Zoo Speaks
The only people not completely shocked by the interaction worked at the Indianapolis Zoo. The zoo released a statement on Rocky’s interaction. “Like all orangutans, Rocky is observant and curious. Our orangutans eagerly interact and communicate with people they know well, such as their caregivers. Rocky is a bit different. He regularly interacts with people he may not know. The exchange in the video is a great example of this.” Now Darci could share this phenomenon with the world.
A True Stop And Chat
Due to this special occurrence, Darci and Jason took their time with Rocky and the orangutans. They spent 20 minutes standing next to the glass attempting to communicate with Rocky. Darci said, “He was very compassionate, he wanted to see everything that you could show him.” Darci insisted that he knew what she was saying and vice versa. “I was told he doesn’t know sign language, but in my opinion, it was clear he knew something.”
The Full Zoo Experience
Darci and Jason could not believe their eyes when playing with Rocky. However, they came to the Indianapolis Zoo to see all the animals, not just the orangutans. With plenty of the day ahead of them and this incredible experience in their pocket, the cute couple continued to make the rounds within the zoo. No matter which animals they saw next, they could not get Rocky out of their head. Before they headed back to Greencastle, they made one more stop at Rocky’s.
Coming Back For Seconds
They went back to the orangutan exhibit to check in on their new buddy, Rocky. Darci and Jason had heard rumors and seen stories about various animals remembering humans. They assumed that Rocky’s compassion was as much emotion as he could show and never expected that he would remember Darci. It seemed surreal that a monkey could remember a human’s face and show any sort of emotion towards that person as well.
Not Another Face In The Crowd
Darci doubted that Rocky would remember her. Nonetheless, when she approached the glass for the last time, Rocky saw from within his gang of orangutans and marched his way over to her. Darci said, “I’ve always seen videos of it happening, and it’s never happened to me. I’d always say, ‘This isn’t true. This isn’t real.’ That’s why I said I wanted to go back to see if he’d remember me, and he did. It was pretty amazing.”
A Rocky Road
Miller is still in shock over the whole ordeal. She had still been struggling with her recovery, but Rocky truly helped lift her spirits. She explained that when she got to the zoo that fateful day, “little did I know, I was going to have the best interaction with an orangutan named Rocky.” Darci continued, “I am a burn survivor from 2015, yes it has its ups and downs, but this particular day made me feel really good about myself.”
That Funky Monkey
The experience at the Indianapolis Zoo was quite life altering for Darci, but she was not the only one to benefit from the interaction. The zoo was thrilled that Rocky had such a high quality interaction. They explained, “There is no doubt that this was an important interaction for [Rocky], and his gestures to the woman clearly communicate that.” Animals, especially orangutans, benefit from human interaction as do the researchers hoping to gain some insight into their subjects.
A Lesson In Animal Movement
The Indianapolis Zoo continued its explanation of Rocky’s exciting day. They added, “Rocky is communicating with the woman in the video, and shows a clear sense of urgency when he gestures towards her injury. We can’t say what was going through his mind at the time, but his behavior demonstrates strong interest and concern.” Anyone that saw the video can say the same. We can clearly tell that he shows concern towards Darci and her wounds.
Spreading Like Wildfire
After Darci and Jason returned home, they told anyone they could about the incredible day. Once Jason put the video on Youtube, more than just their friends, family, and the zoo’s bystanders got a glimpse at Rocky and Darci’s conversation. In time, almost four million people watched Jason’s cell phone video of the interaction. The page filled with comments from people wishing her well and reacting to Rocky’s reactions and interactions. Darci and Rocky had gone viral.
Coming Out On Top
On the YouTube page, she wrote, “It was a special moment captured. I guess you would have had to be there. Thank you for the comments though. Good or negative. I’m still happy [with] the way things turned out. I just hope people in my situation really see the good in this and get positive vibes from it. It’s been a rough two years, and it’s moments like this that make my accident not seem so big.”
Offering A Helping Hand
Since her visit to the zoo, Darci is hoping that she can pass on parts of her experience to youngsters in the area. She has already spoken to the local firefighter department about joining them in speaking to kids about the dangers of fire. Perhaps she will be able to steer someone away from a situation similar to her own. Darci Miller hopes that one day she will go back to the Indianapolis Zoo and Rocky will remember her again.
See For Yourself
Jason fortunately caught the entire thing on film so it could be shared with the world. If you have not seen the video clip yet, here is your opportunity to witness the magic. Follow this link to see the touching moment when Darci and Rocky began their relationship at the Indianapolis Zoo. How do you feel about the interaction? Do you think Rocky actually feels for Darci and is truly concerned about her burns and bandages?