Orangutans, like other ape species, are known for their ability to understand and interact in nearly human-like ways. Yet, no one expected this particular orangutan to have such a heartbreaking and heartwarming reaction when he spotted a burn victim.
The burn victim in question is Darci Miller, a single mother of two daughters, from Greencastle, Indiana. In May 2015, Miller suffered a horrific injury while doing some work in her yard. She was burning garbage when gas fumes caused serious burns to her arms, chest, and face. On top of the external injuries, Miller’s lungs and throat had also been singed.
As a result, she was hospitalized for 3 weeks, nine days of which she spent in a coma. After undergoing several surgeries, she was finally allowed to go home, as long as she still received 24-hour care. Since being discharged from the hospital, Miller has had additional surgeries, to help her regain more mobility in her neck and arms.
Two years later, in June 2017, Miller was still receiving medical treatment for her injuries. On the 14th of the month, she and her fiancé Jason Costello traveled to Indianapolis for an appointment at a specialist burn center. After the appointment Miller and Costello had some free time, and what they chose to do with it would change her outlook on life for good.
The couple decided to spend their gift of time by visiting the local zoo, to get their minds off of Miller’s burns. It had reportedly been years since Miller had visited the zoo, and she wanted to explore the new orangutan exhibit. It was here where they met Rocky, the inquisitive orangutan.
At 12 years old, Rocky the orangutan was already known to be exceptionally unique. When he was 8 years old Rocky was the subject of some research into speech evolution. Scientists discovered that the sounds Rocky made were closer to a human voice than any sounds made by orangutans in the wild. For the first time, then, research showed that animals like Rocky could learn new sounds.
Yet again, on the day of Darci Miller’s visit, Rocky would become a media sensation. When Miller stood in front of his exhibit, Rocky – leaving the main group of orangutans – came over to the glass, clearly intrigued by something. Miller explained, “He immediately spotted me and came over to the window and he was very engulfed in everything I had going on.”
When he came towards her, however, Miller had not expected such a sweet and heartbreaking reaction from the animal. In the video of the interaction, filmed by her fiancé Costello, Rocky appears truly concerned by the woman’s burns and bandages.
The video shows him leaning in close to the window, tilting his head to get a better view. Adorably, he was even gesturing at parts of the woman, pointing at her and putting his hands against the glass. Miller stated, “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.”
Truly shocked by the way the orangutan was reacting, Costello commented, “He wants you to show him. That’s crazy. He wants to see it.” At which point Miller peeled back her bandages to show the concerned animal her slowly healing burns. Again, this caused Rocky to point in what appeared to be a compassionate motion.
Confused bystanders watched this incredible scene as Costello continued to film it. One person in the background even turned to a nearby zookeeper to ask, “Is this normal?” To which the keeper replied, “Yeah, this is normal for Rocky.” It turns out that Rocky is often curious about tattoos or anything slightly out of the ordinary.
In an official statement, Indianapolis zoo explained, “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.”
The exchange lasted a total of 20 minutes. Miller stated, “He was very compassionate, he wanted to see everything that you could show him.” She then added, “I was told he doesn’t know sign language, but in my opinion, it was clear he knew something.”
Despite the obvious understanding shown by Rocky, Miller was sure it was just a strange fluke. Before leaving the zoo, she decided she needed to say goodbye to the animal she had connected with so closely. So, she visited his exhibit one last time, curious to see whether he would show the same reaction a second time.
To Miller’s surprise, Rocky spotted her and came to the window again. Afterward, she stated, “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.”
This unbelievable experience has been truly uplifting for Miller, who explained that when she went to the zoo that day, “little did I know I was going to have the best interaction with an orangutan named Rocky.” She also commented, “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.”
It was, indeed, not just Miller for whom the connection was significant. Officials from the zoo explained, “There is no doubt that this was an important interaction for [Rocky], and his gestures to the woman clearly communicate that.”
They also 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.”
It was, of course, not just Miller and the others at the zoo that day that have marveled at the amazing concern and compassion of Rocky the orangutan. Before it was taken down, the video had received nearly 4 millions views and hundreds of comments.
Darci Miller wrote on YouTube, “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.”