Jan 20
Mission Madagascar: An Update From Prize Winner Pat Wright

Whether surrounded by the glitz and glamour of a gala, the wondering gazes of a group of students, or the flora and fauna of her beloved Madagascar, 2014 Indianapolis Prize winner Dr. Patricia Wright’s passion continues to establish her as a world-renowned force in animal conservation.

Pat’s prowess in the field has been recognized internationally since her time in Indianapolis, with her conservation contributions earning awards and features across a wide range of media, in addition to receiving an honorary degree from the university in Fianarantsoa.

Presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, which she calls a true honor, Pat was recognized alongside Nan Hauser for her dedication to whales, Sylvia Earle for ocean conservation and Birute Galdikas for orangutan efforts.

Along with making connections with Malagasy communities, Pat’s worked to spread her love of lemurs to even more audiences. She was a guest on Martha Stewart’s radio show, highlighted in an Australian children’s magazine and most recently welcomed CNN’s Parts Unknown host Anthony Bourdain to Ranomafana National Park for an episode in the show’s 2015 season.

In the months since the Gala, Pat released her newest book,“For the Love of Lemurs: My Life in the Wilds of Madagascar,” documenting her breakthroughs bringing lemurs back from the brink of extinction. The Prize winner continued celebrating successes during Ranomafana’s World Lemur Week, joining nearly a thousand people in the festivities. Full of lemur costumes, traditional dancing to lemur songs and other shows, Pat said it’s moments like these that show how the local residents are responding strongly to and supporting conservation efforts in the area.

In her continued work with Centre ValBio, the Madagascar National Park and the people of Madagascar, Pat reports a 50 percent decrease in deforestation in Ranomafana over the past five years. The governor has now declared that area a conservation success.

Jan 09
Scientific Evidence Connects Orangutan Calls and Human Speech

Data from Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center Used in New Study

With help from the Indianapolis Zoo, scientists now have clues to the connections between great ape and human vocal behavior.

New research from the University of Amsterdam, published in the journal PLOS ONE, provides evidence that orangutan vocalizations may be useful models for the evolution of human speech.

Dr. Rob Shumaker, the Zoo’s Supervising Vice President of Conservation, Science and Education, is a co-author on the publication.

Lead author Dr. Adriano Lameira and researchers from across the world analyzed two never-before-heard calls from a female Bornean orangutan,Tilda, an orangutan at the Cologne Zoo in Germany.

Tilda’s sounds showed similarities to rhythms in human speech, and included voiceless calls or clicks, as well as voiced calls known as faux-speech. These both present similarities to consonants and vowels, the two basic building blocks of human speech, suggesting for the first time that great apes are able to control sounds and vocalize voluntarily. Prior to this research, many held the belief that orangutans’ vocalizations were only reflexive.

By using the largest database of assembled orangutan calls, including audio samples from several apes at the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, to compare with Tilda’s, this research offers a potential origin for speech evolution.

“We’re very proud to collaborate with Dr. Lameira on this important work.” Dr. Rob said. “The results expand our understanding of the impressive range of orangutan mental abilities.”

The Indianapolis Zoo enjoys an ongoing collaboration with Dr. Lameira and looks forward to his future publications.

Researchers at the Center offer the apes computer-based cognitive tasks on a daily basis, and they eagerly participate. These opportunities for learning and problem solving are conducted in a demonstration format with visitors. By directly witnessing the intelligence of orangutans, the Zoo inspires people to advance their conservation.

Dec 04
Race-a-Cheetah, Save a Species

One, two, three.

That's all the time it takes for the world's fastest land animal to race up to 60 miles per hour — an acceleration that leaves even most cars in the dust. But despite its speed, the vulnerable cheetah will need some help to outrun the devastating effects of habitat loss, human conflict and the illegal wildlife trade.

Now in its fourth year, International Cheetah Day was created to recognize this beautiful species and raise awareness about their race against extinction.

Race for Survival

The oldest and most at risk of African cats, their current populations have dwindled from nearly 100,000 in 1900 to only 10,000. Today, cheetahs can only be found in 23 percent of their historic African range and are now extinct in more than 20 countries.

With hopes of reversing that trend, the Indianapolis Zoo opened its Cheetah: The Race for Survival exhibit in 2010, with a hope of engaging young visitors to care for the future of these felines and to generate direct funds for the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, one of many initiatives the Indianapolis Zoo supports. Dr. Laurie Marker, the founder of CCF and two-time Indianapolis Prize finalist, consulted on the exhibit and helped create one of the most popular attractions in the Zoo's Plains area. Race-a-Cheetah allows Zoo visitors to make their best attempt to outrun a light array that duplicates a cheetah's speed.

Along with demonstrating just how fast a cheetah can run, the attraction helps tell the story of cheetahs in the wild and support efforts to save their habitat in Africa. Since its opening, the Indianapolis Zoo has raised more than $64,300 for the CCF through Race-a-Cheetah.

It's a Cat and Dog World

A vast majority of cheetahs live outside protected areas, alongside human communities and therefore often get blamed for attacking domestic animals. To many farmers, cheetahs are seen as a detriment to their livelihoods rather than as a valued asset to the ecosystem. So, in addition to direct cheetah conservation, funds from Race-a-Cheetah help the CCF raise dogs used to guard livestock, reducing the inclination by farmers to trap or kill cheetahs.

CCF staff members train Kangal and Anatolian shepherds to act as protectors. Known for their physically imposing size, strength and threatening bark, these dogs have been utilized as livestock guardians in Turkey for thousands of years, bred for their attentive nature and ability to work in hot, arid climates. Instead of herding or moving the sheep, goats and other livestock, which can cause an attack, the dogs place themselves between the prey and predator, an intimidating presence, even on the African plains, that keeps cheetahs at bay.

By the end of 2013, the CCF's Livestock Guarding Dog program has placed nearly 500 dogs with farmers in Africa. After the success in Namibia, CCF is now assisting with further programming, including puppies heading to working farms in Tanzania and throughout the country.

Indianapolis Zoo visitors can get up close and personal with these guardians during seasonal Keeper chats in Plains, where guests can learn more about cheetahs and meet our own Kangal brother-sister duo, Solo and Ayla.

Check out more cheetah chatter here.

Dec 03
Elephants, Educators and the Ivory Effect

Inquisitive and intelligent, elephants have long been revered in books, films, even religion spanning international borders. Elephants and humans have shared a complex relationship throughout history, a story filled with awe, wonder and now tragedy. The desire for precious ivory has become a global phenomena causing heightened poaching, but few people know the true cost.

A staggering 96 elephants are killed each day in Africa by poachers who sell the elephant tusks on the black market — a crisis inspiring the creation of the 96 Elephants campaign through Wildlife Conservation Society. As a supporter of global conservation initiatives, the Indianapolis Zoo joined this endeavor to save the world's largest land animal.

With the United States ranked second only to China as the largest ivory market worldwide, efforts close to home carry an immense impact for this vulnerable species.

Bringing Conservation to the Classroom

Educators and students throughout Central Indiana and beyond have joined the Indianapolis Zoo in showing enthusiastic support for 96 Elephants. Projects have varied from simply building awareness to semester-long research delving into the conservation as well as the cultural and social issues surrounding the plight of Africa's elephants.

It all began locally with Lawrence Township teacher Sonya Schkabla and her fourth- through sixth-grade students whoshined a spotlight on the issue by writing brochures about animal conservation, creating posters to educate other students and staff, and signing the 96 Elephants petition. The group even gathered 96 students for 96 elephants, posing for a photo to illustrate the crisis.

Since then 71 educators have pledged to bring awareness to their students, spanning elementary to collegiate-level assignments, from science to art classes. Groups include Laura Brentlinger's first graders at Deer Meadow Primary School, who created a bulletin with more than 96 pictures of elephants, as well as Brooke Winebrenner's sixth graders at Central Noble Middle School, who created a showcase for the school on poaching and ivory, plus many more creative undertakings.

The Zoo hopes to exceed a total goal of 96 classrooms taking part, inspiring countless children to care about elephants and add a voice to efforts aimed at protecting their future.

From Feet to Funds

But help doesn't have to stop at schools. If you can put your mind to something, why not put your feet to something too?

Recently WCS and the Clinton Foundation joined forces with the TOMS Animal Initiative to create a specially designed classic-style shoe. The funds from shoe sales will help support saving African elephants, tackling the poaching crisis on three fronts: ending the killing, trafficking and demand.

Elephants and the Indianapolis Zoo

The Indianapolis Zoo is currently home to a herd of eight elephants. These incredible animals are ambassadors for their species, helping to highlight the need for continued conservation efforts. The Zoo follows the successes of 2010 Indianapolis Prize winner Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton with his organization Save the Elephants and also continues its work with many elephant-focused initiatives, including the International Elephant Foundation and the Tarangire Elephant Project.

Nov 21
Big on Size, Big on Personality: Zoo’s Biggest Babies Growing Up

When you think of a 2-year-old toddler words like cute, energetic and little may come to mind. Well, cute and energetic are definite descriptors for our youngsters, but they're far from little. Which youngsters are we talking about? Our baby elephants of course!

The Indianapolis Zoo's herd includes eight African elephants: Sophi, Tombi, Kubwa, Ivory, Zahara, Kedar, Kalina and Nyah. But it's the youngest calves that create some of the most amusing memories for Zoo keepers and guests alike.

We caught up with keepers recently to hear how 3-year-old Kalina and 2-year-old Nyah are growing up and the dynamic they've added to the Zoo's herd.


Since the moment she made her way into the world on July 20, 2011, Kalina has had an outgoing personality. Just minutes after she was born, even while keepers and veterinary staff were still checking her over, Kalina got up on her feet and insisted she get to her mom Kubwa for her first drink of milk!

Like any typical 3-year-old, Kalina is full of energy. She loves to play with tires and large plastic barrels, and her favorite snack is tree branches, especially larger logs that she can strip the bark from with her tusks.

Although Kalina still spends most of her time with her mom, she loves to spend time with "Auntie" Tombi, and they're often seen together near the pool in the elephant exhibit. Sometimes she'll even join in with Sophi or Kubwa for a mud or dust bath. Guests can often see Kalina in the middle of the yard with the other elephants surrounding her – anything to be the center of attention!

Not shy about demanding attention from her herd mates and keepers, Kalina has a zest for life and dives into activities full speed ahead.


Nyah, on the other hand, is a more laid back calf than Kalina. At 2 years old, she is the youngest elephant at the Zoo and was born on June 28, 2012. The daughter of Ivory and sister to Zahara, keepers say Nyah has an independent streak, but enjoys interacting with and learning from her sister.

Zahara, like any good big sister, lets Nyah join in her fun. Nyah loves to climb on Zahara and will even splash and dunk her in the pool when the weather is warm. When playtime comes to an end, Zahara watches out for Nyah, even standing over her as she naps.

Along with spending time with her sister and mom, Nyah is often seen with Sophi or on "play dates" with Kalina. The two calves wrestle and push, chase each other around and even play tug-of-war with their toy tires.

Not much seems to phase little Nyah, and as long as she has crunchy celery hearts to munch on, keepers say she takes the busy life of the herd in stride.

Let's Hear it for the Herd

Each of the Indianapolis Zoo's elephants has a unique personality – from Sophi, the trumpeting matriarch, to Kedar, the bull of the barn, each elephant adds an element that creates a very nurturing environment for these young calves to grow up in.

The Zoo is known worldwide for the calves that have been born and raised here. Research that began at the Zoo led to successful artificial insemination of elephants worldwide, and Ivory and Kubwa made history as the first of their species to deliver healthy calves by these alternative reproductive techniques.

According to keepers, when an elephant birth is expected here at the Zoo it is a very exciting time for everyone and it's always an amazing experience to welcome a new calf into the growing herd. Having family groups develop in the herd is very enriching for the elephants and rewarding for their keepers, who are devoted to providing excellent care for them.

To learn more about the Indianapolis Zoo's elephant herd and conservation efforts check out the Who's At the Zoo and Conservation Initiatives pages.

Nov 10
Highlighting Conservation Efforts For Orangutan Caring Week

In the Malay language, the word orangutan means "person of the forest." Yet orangutans are rapidly losing their native forest homes in Borneo and Sumatra, putting them on a dangerous track to become the first great ape to go extinct in recorded history.

"We can say with absolute certainty that right now this is a conservation crisis for wild orangutans," said Dr. Rob Shumaker, the Indianapolis Zoo's Vice President of Conservation and Life Sciences and one of the world's foremost authorities on orangutan cognition. "If current conditions don't change, this could very well be the last generation of wild orangutans."

In recognition of Orangutan Caring Week, a global celebration from Nov. 9-15, the Zoo is highlighting initiatives that promote orangutan conservation. Primary among those was the May opening of the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, which provides a home for Zoo's orangutans and raises awareness for this species' plight through research, education and conservation.  Additionally, the Zoo is committed to offering opportunities for the community to work together to create a positive future for one of the most endangered of the great apes.

Understanding Orangutans and Their Conservation Issues

Intelligent and charismatic, orangutans are creatures of the rainforest and are the only non-human great apes native to Asia. Their physiology is perfectly adapted for a life high in the forest canopy. With their long arms, hands with opposable thumbs and feet with opposable big toes, orangutans maneuver confidently through the treetops. The largest of all arboreal animals, orangutans travel the forest swinging from branch to branch, both hand over hand and sometimes grasping with a combination of all four appendages.

Orangutans are closely related to humans, sharing 96.4 percent of their DNA. Yet orangutans' extended social system is very different from humans. The least social of all the great apes, orangutans do not live in groups. While young orangutans will stay with their mothers for many years, adults typically spend long periods of time alone.

Each orangutan travels through a geographic area known as a home range, which may include many square miles of trees to provide all of the resources they need. However, many forest corridors have been interrupted or destroyed entirely by deforestation and conversion for agriculture, leaving individuals cut off from resources and unable to find mates. Wild orangutan populations have been steadily declining for decades and deforestation is the primary culprit.

Nearly 25,000 square miles of orangutan habitat has been destroyed or converted for other purposes in the past 20 years, and habitat loss continues at a rate of about 1-2 percent per year. In the past 35 years, deforestation has resulted in the loss of about 50,000 orangutans, and about 70 percent of remaining wild orangutans live outside of protected forests.

Yet the devastating effects of deforestation are impacting humans as well. In a story making headlines globally, Sumatra, one of only two countries where wild orangutans still live, has been hit hard by floods and landslides. Stoked by torrential rains sweeping through Indonesia, these disasters have inundated dozens of villages and left tens of thousands homeless.

"There's not just a need to maintain a healthy forest for the sake of orangutans, it also has huge benefits for the human populations as well," said Shumaker. "Once we lose the forest, not only do we lose all of the wildlife, there are issues with erosion, poor water quality, poor air quality and a greater vulnerability to severe weather effects like the flooding being experienced right now in Sumatra. Preserving the habitat is a win-win."

Reforestation Efforts

Long before the May opening of the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, the Zoo has supported reforestation efforts in Borneo. Shumaker began the Zoo's outreach in 2013 by visiting Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan, Borneo, to study the habitat loss and offer a proposal to help in the reforestation of the area.

Additionally, the Zoo supports the Orangutan Kutai Project led by Dr. Anne Russon, who has studied orangutans for more than 30 years. The project started in 2009 to protect the seriously endangered orangutan population and recover critical habitat that has been largely destroyed.

In areas where the forest is already gone, one of the best strategies is to start reforestation as soon as possible," said Shumaker.

To make conservation outreach an integral element of the new Center, the Zoo created opportunities for guests to become active partners in reforestation efforts. With the simple swipe of a credit card at kiosks located at the Center's exit, visitors can give to a reforestation project that grows, plants and maintains new trees. In less than six months, Zoo guests have already given $15,800, with new donations coming in every day to help rebuild depleted sections of forest habitat, benefiting orangutans and thousands more rainforest species.

"Saving orangutans — or any other species — takes a complex and multi-level commitment, and it's exciting to see the people of our community joining us in such a thoughtful and strategic task as reforestation," said Mike Crowther, the Zoo's President and CEO. "We think most Hoosiers understand that when you have a vision, develop a plan, acquire resources, work hard and follow through, you can make progress. Our community is making a real contribution toward ensuring our children and their children will continue sharing a world enriched by orangutans, while they're also creating a more sustainable future for all of us."

Promoting Sustainable Palm Oil

Palm oil is at the heart of the deforestation issue and a critical component in the conservation conversation. A cheap and edible vegetable oil taken from the fruits of oil palm trees, palm oil is used in more than 50 percent of manufactured items readily available at any grocery store — from candy and foods, to cosmetics and beauty care products, to plastics and even fuel.

Nearly 85 percent of the world's palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, and more than half of plantations established in those two countries since 1990 have occurred at the expense of natural forests. Because palm oil is so lucrative to Indonesia's economic stability, any solution must benefit both humans and orangutans alike.

The Zoo has taken a stand on illegal and unsustainably managed palm oil plantations by joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in 2013. Additionally, the Zoo encourages consumers to do their part by supporting companies working toward using 100 percent sustainable palm oil.

"Boycotting palm oil isn't the answer," said Shumaker. "We really need to support companies that are moving forward with transition plans for certified sustainable palm oil. It's not going to be quick or easy for anyone, but these companies deserve tremendous credit for recognizing the need and responding quickly."

A growing number of companies are making strides toward that goal. Recently Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme announced sustainability pledges along with plans for measurable changes in the coming years, including working with suppliers and purchasing cooperatives to source palm oil that is 100 percent traceable to mills and plantations.

Additionally, Zoo sponsor Endangered Species Chocolate is among several companies currently using 100 percent sustainable palm oil and also making extra efforts by donating to animal conservation. The Zoo applauds these and all other corporate commitments to minimize the impact on wildlife and help create a brighter future for orangutans.

Public Education Opportunities

The Zoo believes educating people about the amazing animals inhabiting our planet is a crucial first step to empowering them to support conservation efforts to save these species.

"One of the best things we can do at the Indianapolis Zoo is to educate people about orangutans' abilities and encourage them to add their voice to the conversation about the state of orangutans in the wild," said Shumaker.

The Center's Tim M. Solso Learning Studio offers daily opportunities for guests to watch as orangutans engage in voluntarily cognitive research tasks with Shumaker and Dr. Chris Martin, the Zoo's Postdoctoral Research Associate.

Since the Center's opening, Martin has begun his fun and fascinating research with the orangutans, utilizing a dual-screened interactive station that allows humans and orangutans cooperatively to complete tasks side by side. Shumaker's work with the orangutans focuses on number sequencing and symbol comprehension tasks. He and Azy, the Zoo's dominant male orangutan, have been collaborating for decades on this cognitive research while the Zoo's other orangutans have begun participating more recently.

The public research demonstrations provide an immersive, educational experience, allowing visitors to identify with, understand and appreciate orangutans. The hope is that visitors walk away with a deeper understanding of this endangered species and in turn feel inspired to care about orangutan conservation.

In addition, the Zoo will host a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a small group of travelers to learn and explore the habitat of wild orangutans during an Indonesian expedition from July 24-Aug. 10 2015. Escorted by Shumaker, guests will see these great apes attending "forest school," experience the natural beauty of Kutai National Park and appreciate the region's rich cultural diversity. Reservations for this unforgettable, educational trip are currently being accepted.

"Orangutans are fascinating, charming, and like us, endlessly curious," said Crowther. "Whether you're watching our orangutans participate in learning demonstrations here at the Zoo or watching their wild cousins move through the forests of Borneo or Sumatra, orangutans leave a lasting impression on people that compels us to join in protecting them."

Oct 24
Goblins, Ghouls and Great Apes: Helping Save a Species this Halloween

While haunting Halloween fun, costumes and trick-or-treating become a focus for many children this time of year, a truly frightening future faces orangutans in the wild. Halloween provides the perfect time to talk about how a simple piece of candy can affect a species nearly 10,000 miles away. How you might ask? A single ingredient contained in that candy: palm oil.

Habitat destruction and conversion for agriculture, most often palm oil plantations, are the primary causes of diminishing wild orangutan populations. As one of the most endangered of the great apes, the time to save orangutans from extinction is growing very short. 

What is Palm Oil?

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil taken from the pulp of fruits grown on oil palms. Grown on both large-scale plantations and small-scale family farms, nearly 85 percent of the world's palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, the only remaining habitat for wild orangutans.

Palm oil is used in 50 percent of manufactured food and other products we buy, not just candy. It can be found in a wide range of products like margarine, chocolate, ice cream, soaps, cosmetics, fuel for cars and power plants and many more.

The issue for orangutans occurs when forest habitat is destroyed for illegal plantations, targeted for its rich, moist growing area.

How Can You Help?

The Indianapolis Zoo is committed to encouraging our members, guests and zoos across the nation to become more involved in responsibility addressing this crisis. The most conscientious choice individuals can make in the palm oil crisis is to support responsible and sustainable palm oil production.

Because the palm oil market is economically vital for the people of Borneo and Sumatra, for a solution to work it must benefit not only orangutans but people as well. As a consumer, you can do your part by supporting companies that are working toward using 100 percent sustainable palm oil.

Mobile apps have even been launched to help people make responsible decisions when purchasing products and to recognize companies that are doing well or that need improvement. A new app, created by the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, was designed to encourage sustainable choices when shopping for groceries or personal care products — something you can easily use when buying sweet treats this holiday season!

Learn more about palm oil, orangutan conservation and how your consumer choices can help the effort here.

Oct 01
The Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center: Taking an Orangutan Exhibit to New Heights

For guests young or old, whether you're an orangutan expert or an individual encountering these apes for the first time, the Indianapolis Zoo's Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center has created awe-inspiring moments since its opening in May. Offering an unparalleled experience for visitors and orangutans alike, it's an exhibit in which the apes are thriving.

When the Center was designed, the Indianapolis Zoo's team had a goal — to make the space functional for orangutans, creating everything from the apes' point of view. The Zoo collaborated with some of the world's most qualified architects and orangutan researchers, including foremost great ape expert Dr. Rob Shumaker, who is now the Zoo's Vice President of Conservation and Life Sciences.

What they created is an internationally recognized exhibit like none other — an innovative facility that accommodates orangutans' arboreal lifestyle, engages their remarkable intelligence and supports their unique social structure.

"This is truly innovative, especially for a primate that needs control and independence over their social choices," said Dr. Rafaella Commintante, a professor at California State University who has studied orangutans in the wild and recently visited the Zoo to discuss orangutan conservation.

Features of the Center

According to Shumaker, the Center incorporates interesting and functional three-dimensional spaces both indoors and out so the orangutans can move around on all levels and choose where they want to go. Whether guests see the apes outside traveling or within the interior areas, it's because the orangutans, by their own accord, chose to be there.

Orangutans travel daily on the Myrta Pulliam Hutan Trail, and it's hard to predict exactly where every individual will be throughout the day. That's exactly what researchers hoped for when designing the layout of the buildings, outdoor yards, towers, platforms, cables and bridges. The apes are enjoying many new social choices, and the other orangutans they spend time with changes from day to day — sometimes even hour to hour. That creates an exciting and dynamic environment that's wonderful for the apes, keepers and visitors alike.

Both in the wild and in zoos, orangutans are natural learners and problem solvers, and they need ways to exercise their minds. The orangutans respond eagerly and voluntarily engage with tasks during daily sessions in the Tim M. Solso Learning Studio, and repeat visitors have even been impressed by the progress the orangutans have made this summer!

A Functional Forest

Since the Center opened, hundreds of thousands of people have visited and had lots of interesting questions.

One of the most common is, "Can orangutans be happy without trees?" It's certainly a fair question. Orangutan bodies are uniquely adapted for climbing and moving through a complex, vertical environment. They also need enough space to travel and make social choices. While all of this occurs for wild orangutans living in a forest, it's also happening at the Center.

The Center's design promotes natural locomotion for the apes, and is seen on a continuous basis. Those same behaviors wouldn't occur if the exhibit was full of artificial trees, while newly planted trees would not have been able to safely support the constant use of orangutans in the Center. The orangutans regularly make social choices and travel around the entire complex, resulting in more activity and healthy exercise.

The key question from the point of view of the apes is not whether the space looks like a forest, but does it function in a way that allows their natural behaviors? The answer is a resounding "Yes!"

We agree with our colleague Dr. Steve Ross, ape expert and Director of the Fisher Center at the Lincoln Park Zoo, when he says that "Understanding the behavioral needs of apes is tremendously important in a zoo setting. Creating environments that let them express their most normal behaviors promotes physical and psychological health."

The results are clear: All of our orangutans are active, healthy, engaged intellectually and making choices that enrich their lives every day.

Sep 22
A Worldwide Effort to Save One of Earth's Largest Mammals

Rhino3-Scott Olmstead.jpg​They're among the world's oldest species of mammal. Rhinoceros and their ancestors have been around for nearly 55 million years and, at one time or another, nearly 100 different species of these incredible creatures have roamed the planet. Now, only five species remain — white, black, greater one-horned, Javan and Sumatran — and three of those are critically endangered.

Though wild rhinos face a difficult plight, the challenge can be overcome. Conservationists are coming together worldwide as part of a huge effort to save these giant creatures, and even small contributions to help raise awareness can make a big difference.

World Rhino Day is celebrated every Sept. 22, and the purpose is to share the knowledge of these awesome animals to help spark people's interest in wanting to save them. The Indianapolis Zoo, home to three white rhinos, is proud to recognize this day as part of an overall effort to save this remarkable species.

The word rhinoceros comes from two Greek words: rhino, meaning "nose", and ceros, meaning "horn". And that horn is actually what has made these beautiful beasts a target for hunters. Just a century ago, more than a half million rhinos wandered the continents of Africa and Asia. Today, their numbers have been reduced to less than 30,000 in the wild.

A distant relative to horses and zebras, rhinos are among the largest living animals — the white rhino is the largest after the elephant. But their size isn't enough to keep them safe from poachers.

According to the International Rhino Foundation's Operation Stop Poaching Now campaign, about 1,000 rhinos were killed in 2013. Through Sept. 1 of this year, a staggering 769 rhinos had been poached — roughly one rhino every eight hours!

Rhino5 Gloria-Don Reynolds Imaging.jpgAt the heart of this crisis are differences in cultural beliefs. Many Asian cultures erroneously believe that rhino horn holds special healing properties. People use ground horn in hot tea and other serums to treat all sorts of ailments, from colds and flu, to headaches and arthritis, to snakebites and countless others. Some myths even say the horn is an aphrodisiac.

In reality, rhino horn is made of keratin, the same material found in human hair and fingernails. And it's been scientifically proven to be no more effective at treating ailments as chewing your own nails or hair.

Conservationists are finding it difficult to overcome centuries of cultural tradition — difficult, but not impossible.

Thanks to the diligent efforts of conservation groups like the International Rhino Foundation, which the Indianapolis Zoo supports, some rhino populations are actually increasing.

Two decades ago, the number of black rhinos in the wild had dropped to just 2,300. But intensive anti-poaching efforts have helped these amazing mammals rebound to about 5,000. The greater one-horned rhino has come back from even more dire straits. After their population dipped to less than 200 in the mid-20th century, they now number around 3,300 in the wild.

White rhinos have been one of the biggest success stories for rhino conservationists. Twenty years ago, only about 6,400 of these creatures survived in the wild. Now, with around 20,000 roaming the African savannahs, there are more white rhinos left in the wild than all other species combined. However, like all rhino species, white rhinos still face significant threats.

The key to saving these magnificent animals is education, and everyone can help through simple actions like spreading the word and supporting rhino conservation efforts.

Plains Senior Keeper Amber Berndt and Public Relations Specialist Carla Knapp contributed to this blog.

Aug 19
AZA’s Palm Oil Statement Brings Focus to Orangutan Conservation

As the Zoo celebrates World Orangutan Day, guests, staff and the community are reminded of the similarities between humans and these great apes. But it's important to also remember the role we play in orangutans being here for generations to come. With habitat destruction and conversion for agriculture a serious threat for endangered orangutans in the wild, they are on track to become the first great ape to go extinct.

 A crisis exists for these sentient beings and their conservation, but efforts by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums may be a step in the right direction.

The Board of Directors approved a position statement that will guide efforts to address palm oil messaging with visitors and ensure a journey towards deforestation-free palm oil by AZA-accredited institutions.

Dr. Rob Shumaker, the Indianapolis Zoo's Vice President of Conservation and Life Sciences, assisted on the Palm Oil Task Force that created the document. The task force will continue its work to support AZA accredited groups that are committed to changing palm oil's effect on the ecosystem.

The position states "the AZA recognizes that unsustainable palm oil production results in massive deforestation, rapid biodiversity loss in tropical ecosystems and significant greenhouse gas emissions. Global consumption of palm oil and its derivatives is increasing, requiring strong conservation action to save species. By facilitating change through audience and stakeholder engagement, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are well positioned to help break the link between palm oil production and deforestation."

The Indianapolis Zoo, which is accredited through the AZA, supports endangered species including orangutans through global involvement and financial support. Through hard work these organizations, researchers and scientists in the field are helping to preserve unique animals and their habitats for future generations.

The ecological impact for the Zoo's newest exhibit spreads far beyond Indianapolis. The Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center's purpose is to help people understand and appreciate orangutans, and therefore actively support orangutan conservation.

The Zoo supports the Orangutan Kutai Project in the Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan, Borneo. The project started in 2009 to protect the seriously endangered orangutan population and recover the critical habitat that has been largely destroyed.

The Indonesian reforestation initiative grows, plants and cares for these trees in areas where the forest has been depleted. Within the Center guests have the opportunity to make this reforestation project a success by making donations to plant trees through interactive features of the exhibit.

Learn more about conservation initiatives the Indianapolis Zoo supports here.

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