Sep 23
It’s All About Storks! Meet the Birds Behind the Myth

Whether they're featured on the big screen or in folk tales, storks seem to be trendy in pop culture. And our storks here at the Indianapolis Zoo deserve some time in the spotlight, too.

People of all ages are familiar with the myth that storks carry babies swaddled in cloth and deliver them to the doorsteps of their new homes. The species commonly associated with this tale is the European white stork. This iconic bird is easily recognizable with its long, slender body covered in white feathers and large black-tipped wings. But did you know the European white stork is just one of 19 stork species, and guests can see one of them, the marabou stork, right here at the Zoo?

Marabous look quite a bit different than the birds from the myth and sometimes they go unrecognized as storks. Sporting dark gray wing feathers with a mostly white body and nearly bare head, the marabou has the same stretching neck and long legs as its better-known relative. With one of the largest wingspans of all birds (7-9 feet long), these carnivorous critters fly high over grasslands, swamps and savannahs, migrating many miles searching for small rodents and animals to get its fill of meat. They have strong beaks for feeding, and their towering legs help them wade in water as they hunt for things like fish and other smaller creatures.  

Similar to vultures, these flighted friends will also snack on carcasses, playing an important role in tidying up their habitat to keep the ecosystem clean and healthy. Weighing around 20 pounds and standing up to 60 inches tall, these strong, sizeable storks are a sight to see.

During your next Zoo visit, stop by Plains to meet our marabou brothers, George and Luke, and discover why this species is so spectacular.

Sep 08
Helping to Secure a Future for a Prehistoric Species

​The Indianapolis Zoo is home to nearly 230 different animal species, including a few that are absolutely prehistoric!

Visitors to the Deserts Dome will see many reptiles whose cousins were the dinosaurs that roamed the earth millions of years ago. Yet despite their long history on this planet, some of these reptile species may disappear without help in the near future.

Learn more about Jamaican iguanas, and why the Indianapolis Zoo is working to save the species, from the Zoo's Deserts Area Manager, John Wyatt:

Jamaican Iguanas (Cyclura collei) are one of several different species of rock iguanas found throughout the Caribbean Islands. These iguanas are only found on Jamaica and were thought to be extinct until rediscovery in 1990. Currently the population is so low they are considered critically endangered and they are the most endangered of the rock iguanas.

The wild population is beginning to increase with successful reintroductions from the head-start breeding program at Hope Zoo in Jamaica. However, the Indianapolis Zoo is also joining in the effort to save this species.

In 2006, the Zoo was the first zoo outside of Jamaica to hatch these amazing lizards. It was a huge success for the Species Survival Plan Breeding Program, and the Indianapolis Zoo was recognized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for this special achievement.

The Zoo currently has two pairs of Jamaican Iguanas, Leroy and Gertrude, and Beauty and Beast. These iguanas are kept off exhibit so that they can have a little more privacy and can be better monitored by staff in hopes of hatching out more babies.

We're also proud and excited that some of the offspring from 2006 have begun having babies of their own at other zoos.

This is a rare, large, impressive lizard that many people don't get to see. They are very important to their ecosystem so it is imperative that we keep them from extinction. Breeding programs in Jamaica and in other facilities, like the Indianapolis Zoo, are very important in meeting this goal.

Aug 31
Meet the Many Rescued Marine Mammals Living at the Zoo

Adding new members to our Indianapolis Zoo family is always exciting! And we're happy to welcome Harley and Ivy, two rescued California sea lions who arrived at the Zoo in July following multiple strandings and rescue efforts. They enjoyed hours of splashing and play when they recently joined the seven other marine mammals in our seal/sea lion exhibit.

When animals cannot survive in their natural habitat, zoos and aquariums play a major role in providing these critters with safe, permanent homes. Rescued animals are wonderful ambassadors, educating the public about the challenges their species face in the wild, and the opportunity to watch these individuals grow and thrive is immensely rewarding, both for their caregivers and the whole community.

Here at the Indianapolis Zoo, our highly skilled and extensively trained staff has many years of combined experience working with rescued animals. In addition to the newcomers, let's meet the Zoo's other rescued marine mammals: Atlantic bottlenose dolphin Taz; California sea lions Holly, Joy and Ray; Harbor seal Tak; and Pacific walrus Pakak.

Holly and Joy

These active young sea lions joined our Zoo family at the same time back in December 2013. Holly was found stranded along the California coast and, during her rehabilitation, rescuers noticed that she wasn't eating regularly and also displayed some behavioral issues. While she eventually regained her health, rescuers determined she wouldn't be able to survive on her own in the wild. Meanwhile, Joy was born at a stranding center where her mother was receiving treatment for a health condition called Red Tide. Because Joy's mother was sick and unable to care for her, she could not learn the skills needed to be released into the wild.

Both marine mammals are now thriving in their Zoo environment. Our Zookeepers are working with Joy, who just turned 3, to learn basic manners and patience while Holly, who is about a year older and more mature, is learning behaviors that will assist with her care. If you stop by the underwater viewing window in Oceans, you may get a visit from Joy, who loves interacting there with guests and keepers!


One of two male sea lions at the Zoo, Ray was discovered stranded on two separate occasions following multiple gunshot attacks, the last of which left him significant injuries to his mouth and right eye. With his limited vision, rescuers ultimately determined that he couldn't be returned to the wild. 

After coming to the Zoo in August 2012, Ray adjusted quickly to life in our seal/sea lion exhibit. And while he eventually lost the sight in his left eye as well, Ray had already learned all the twists and turns of our fixed environment, which means he's still able to maneuver through our exhibit confidently. 

Guests at our sea lion chats and training demonstrations may notice that keepers have to adjust their techniques a bit when working with Ray, but this large sea lion is still learning new behaviors and also enjoys lounging around — and barking!


When he was just an infant, Pakak was found sick and stranded off the northern coast of Alaska after a large group of about 1,000 Pacific walrus had moved through the area. Far too young to survive on his own, rescuers came in to help nurse the 250-pound calf back to health.

Since coming to the Zoo back in October 2012, the "one who gets into everything" (the meaning of his name) has grown quite a bit — more than three times the size he was when rescued! Aurora, the Zoo's female walrus, helped to raise him and the two have become good pals. 

Guests can now see Pakak's tusks growing in. These overgrown canine teeth are useful tools and walrus use them for activities like pulling their big bodies out of the water, breaking through thick ice and more. Pakak's tusks have been capped to help protect them as they grow out. Learn more about how we protect our animals' pearly whites


This spunky, young dolphin came to Zoo in February 2011 at just 6 months old. Earlier that year, the youngster had been found stranded in shallow water near a wildlife refuge with no adults in sight. Since dolphin calves typically nurse from their mothers for one to three years, trainers here at the Zoo bottle-fed Taz for several months after his arrival to help him grow healthy and strong.

Now, at age 6, Taz is right at home with the rest of our pod in the Dolphin Pavilion. Similar in age to Orin, another male dolphin born here in 2012, the two youngsters have bonded and are often found swimming and playing together. Taz is also a regular participant in our daily dolphin presentations, and guests can tell him apart from the others because he is the loudest one in the pool!


Zoo guests were first introduced to Tak just after the "new Zoo" opened in White River State Park back in 1988. The harbor seal was found off the coast of New Jersey as a pup and came to Indianapolis following her rehabilitation.

Now the second-oldest marine mammal in our seal/sea lion exhibit, guests can still see Tak participating in training sessions when she enjoys learning new behaviors often. She's also easy to pick out from the crowd — small with a spotted coat, she's also the only seal of the nine marine mammals living in the exhibit.​

Aug 25
Rescued California Sea Lions Join Zoo Family

Two young girls from California are already turning heads as the newest residents of the Indianapolis Zoo.

California sea lions Harley and Ivy are adjusting well to their new home after arriving at the Zoo in July. The pair recently joined the other seven marine mammals in the seal/sea lion exhibit for the first time and delighted guests by splashing and playing together for hours. They will be outside regularly for guests to see.

Both youngsters came to the Zoo from SeaWorld's Animal Rescue Center in San Diego, Calif., following multiple strandings and rescue efforts.

The smaller of the two new sea lions, Ivy is estimated around 2 years old. From April 2015 to March 2016, she required treatment for multiple medical conditions during three separate strandings. Most recently, rescuers found her at a cove in La Jolla, Calif., where she was dehydrated and underweight with an open wound on her rear flipper. Now healthy, active and growing, Ivy is easily identifiable as the smallest sea lion in the Zoo's exhibit.

Harley, believed to be about 8 years old, is a spunky sea lion who was rescued following two public incidents just weeks apart. After two earlier health-related strandings, she was found locked inside a seaside restroom in February 2016. Determined to be healthy after a few days of monitoring at the Animal Rescue Center, she was released only to make her way back onto land by mid-March, when she was discovered chasing cars in the streets of La Jolla.

When the National Marine Fisheries Service determined the animals could not be re-released, the Indianapolis Zoo stepped in to provide permanent homes for Ivy and Harley.

The highly skilled and extensively trained staff at the Zoo has many years of combined experience working with rescued animals. In addition to the newcomers, the Zoo has in recent years also taken in three other rescued sea lions, an orphaned Pacific walrus and a stranded Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, among many other rescued animals.

Additionally, the Zoo, which has 35 years of continual accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, employs a full-time Ph.D. nutritionist and has one of the best ratios of animals to veterinarians in the country, making Indianapolis an ideal home for Harley and Ivy.

The two sea lions join the Zoo family of nearly 1,400 animals to help raise awareness for the many challenges their species face in the wild.

Aug 12
The Fabulously Colorful Clowes Annuals

Nina​ Evans

Summer is winding down, but pollinators are still busy visiting lots of blooming plants in the Zoo and White River Gardens. There are plenty of perennial plants for you to enjoy, but you could be wowed by some of our annual plantings. The mass of colorful annuals in the Allen W. Clowes Water Garden beds are especially eye-catching! These plants were chosen for their drought tolerance and attractiveness to butterflies and other pollinators, and they have been working their magic all summer.

The tallest and most appealing to butterflies is the tropical milkweed plant (Asclepias curissavica).  Growing as subshrub, or small shrub, in its native South American habitat, it is a magnet for monarch butterflies. The flowers have typical milkweed form and are bright red-orange and yellow. After the flowers develop into long, narrow seedpods, they release little seeds that travel through the air by silky threads, just like our common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Tropical milkweed easily reaches three feet tall! We have been growing a cultivar called ‘Silky gold.’

Tall blue floss flower (Ageratum houstonianum ‘Blue horizon’) is one of my favorites! It towers above its shorter, more common relatives, reaching 30 inches tall. Its fluffy blooms are distinctive and it is very easy to grow from seed. There is another cultivar called ‘Red horizon’ or ‘Red sea’ that is really worth growing, too! Its flowers are a more violet color.

Button flower and globe amaranth are common names for Gomphrena haageana, which produces clover-like flower clusters on stems that can be as tall as 30 inches. The one in the Clowes beds is a bright magenta color called ‘QIS carmine.’  The true flowers of this species are tiny little yellow trumpets. They are surrounded by stiff, brightly colored bracts – a type of modified leaf – that draw all the attention.

You might not have seen the marigold we have growing in these beds before! It is called Tagetes tenuifolia, the signet marigold. This wildflower stems from Mexico, Central America and South America.  The leaves are ferny and aromatic, and the flowers definitely look like small, single-petaled marigolds! We have the cultivar ‘Lemon gem’ here at the Zoo.

There are many different types of zinnias, with varying heights and flower colors. The one you’ll find in the Clowes beds is Zinnia ‘Profusion double orange.’ This dwarf zinnia normally reaches 12-15 inches tall and is covered in bright blooms throughout the warm months.  It will be beautiful and easy care all summer long!

Put these plants together and you will create a gorgeous, vibrant bed that will attract the attention of your neighbors and many pollinators, too! 

Jul 27
Rocky’s Vocalizations Gain Worldwide Attention

​Data from Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center reveals distinctive case of great ape vocal learning

Groundbreaking data from the Indianapolis Zoo's Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center gives clues to the evolution of human speech. 11-year-old Rocky revealed a previously unknown level of vocal learning for orangutans.

Collaborating with International Researchers

The research, conducted at the Zoo in 2012 by scientist Dr. Adriano Lameira, was published today in Scientific Reports, and provides key insight to understanding how speech in humans evolved from the time of ancestral great apes.

The results showed that Rocky not only learned new sounds, but controlled the action of his voice in a "conversational" context as he took turns exchanging utterances with a social partner. In an imitation "do-as-I-do" game, Rocky copied the pitch and tone of sounds made by researchers to make vowel-like calls. Prior to this research, many researchers still presumed that great apes' sounds were driven only by reflex.

England's Durham University's Dr. Lameira, the lead author on the research, analyzed Rocky's ability to exert fine and precise vocal control, giving the orangutan a unique capacity to learn new vocalizations — a historic first. Dr. Rob Shumaker, the Indianapolis Zoo's Director, is a co-author on the publication.

What does this Study Mean?

"This important work fundamentally alters our understanding of the capabilities of orangutans. It also reveals the significant value of carefully conducted studies with apes living in highly enriched, behaviorally naturalistic zoos," said Shumaker. "Research that expands our awareness of orangutan intelligence inevitably leads to a greater commitment for their conservation in the wild."

Using the largest database of assembled orangutan calls, including a collection of more than 12,000 observation hours of 120 individuals from 15 wild and captive populations, the researchers concluded that Rocky's vocalizations were incomparable.

"This opens up the potential for us to learn more about the vocal capacities of early hominids that lived before the split between the orangutan and human lineages to see how their vocal systems evolved towards full-blown speech in humans," said Lameira.

At the Indianapolis Zoo

In addition to collaborating with international scientists, researchers at the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center offer the apes computer-based cognitive tasks on a daily basis. 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 and empowers people to advance the conservation of these critically endangered great apes.​

Jul 22
Our Critters are Keeping Cool this Summer

While temperatures are climbing in Central Indiana, here at the Indianapolis Zoo, we offer lots of opportunities for our animals and guests to chill out throughout the summer months.

Many of the Zoo's animals, particularly those in our Plains and Deserts exhibits, enjoy basking in the warm summer sunlight. These species are native to much hotter climates and have adapted in different ways to handle the heat.

African elephants flap their oversized ears to help circulate air and cool their big bodies. Elephants as well as rhinos also like to layer on the dirt and mud to act as a natural sunscreen. Catnapping is another great way to beat the heat, and our lions will snooze up to 20 hours a day. As the sun climbs high in the sky, animals will also seek the shade, like reptiles and meerkats that burrow into the ground or under rocks in our Deserts Dome.

In addition to our animals' natural tendencies, we make accommodations within exhibits to help our critters cool off.

The pools inside the Marine Mammal exhibits, for example, are temperature regulated so our flippered friends can swim in comfort. Several other animals, like Alaskan brown bears and Amur tigers, can also take a leisurely dip in cool pools.

Many of our animals enjoy some of the same summer activities as humans. Our Zookeepers set up sprinklers for our elephants and flamingos to take a mid-day splash, while countless critters, from our brown bears to our baboons, receive delicious frozen treats. Who doesn't like popsicles on a hot summer day?

Our guests can stay cool in many different ways, too! During the summer, we suggest getting an early start and visiting our outdoor exhibits – Plains, Forests, Encounters and White River Gardens — in the morning when it is cooler. Animals will be most active and you can explore the Zoo before the heat peaks.

Then head indoors to cool off with orangutans, sharks and dolphins; the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, Oceans exhibit and Dolphin Pavilion all provide air-conditioned comfort.

Additionally, you can cool off at misting stations in Forests and Plains as well as our kid-friendly Splash Park presented by Kroger — but guests will get very wet here so you may wish to bring a change of clothes.

So plan ahead and enjoy your incredibly cool summer adventure at the Zoo.​

Jul 13
A Queen, A Ghost and a Host

A closer look at back yard bugs​ 

Summer is a great time to take a stroll through a garden and get a closer look at all the garden bugs that also enjoy the flowers. In White River Gardens, a new hive of honeybees has increased the immediate bee population by several thousand. As global bee populations are under threat, we're doing our part to help out pollinators here at home. Each year we work to build better bee- and butterfly-friendly gardens for our native bugs, and it seems to pay off – take a quick walk through the outdoor gardens and you are guaranteed to spot some of our native bees and butterflies.

Let's get to know a few important players in the pollinator world: a queen, a ghost and my favorite host plant.


This is a picture of a honeybee frame from our own hive during a hive inspection. Look close and you'll spot the queen – she is so much bigger than the workers that surround her. Thanks to a generous donation from the Robert and Lou Rice Family, we were able to add this queen's hive of honeybees to White River Gardens. This hive is growing rapidly and is becoming a popular attraction in the gardens this year! Bee-keeping is an incredible way to become closer connected the natural world around you.


This is the rusty patched bumblebee. This wonderful wild bumblebee was once common in central Indiana, but it was last seen here in 2009 and may now be extinct in our area. Bumblebee populations don't survive the winter like honeybees do, making them really scarce at certain times of year. I still wonder if this bee is truly a "ghost" or if it's still buzzing around central Indiana! If you are interested in a treasure hunt, keep this bee in mind. Visit and learn more about hunting, photographing and reporting sightings. You might be the one to find it again!


Let me introduce you to my favorite pollinator host plant. The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the primary host plant for the monarch butterfly, but so many interesting Indiana bugs love it: honeybees, bumblebees, red milkweed beetle and milkweed beetle.  Most people know about the monarch butterfly connection, but the next time you encounter this plant, keep an eye out for the milkweed beetle! If you look closely, you will discover that its antenna emerges directly from the center of its eye! This unusual adaptation heightens the milkweed beetle's senses. These two colorful bugs also inhabit milkweed, so don't be alarmed if you see them out chewing on the Asclepias – they rarely do any major harm to the plant.​

There's a whole other world out there in the garden if you take the time to look really close.

Jun 15
Natives for Wildlife

​​​By Nina Evans

If you're looking for creative ways to add natural beauty to your backyard in a way that also benefits wildlife and the Earth, native species are the way to go!

Native plants provide the food, nesting materials and shelter for our Indiana's wildlife, from insects to song birds to deer. Plus, these plants require less maintenance and water, and with their strong root systems, help storm water to percolate into the soil where it is needed, rather than into the storm water system, where it is not.

Natives also add beauty and a tie to the natural heritage of Indiana that isn't found in plants imported from other countries.

Here are a few native plants we like at the Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens, and you might want to try them in your yard as well.

• Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) — Unique red and yellow flowers on plants that grow 18-30 inches in mostly sun to mostly shade. Long-tongued insects will find them the perfect source of nectar, as will migrating hummingbirds. The plant is seldom bothered by the leaf miners that create little tunnels in the foliage of many non-native columbines.

• Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) — A very attractive, fine-leaved prairie grass 1-2 feet tall with pretty seed panicles that rise up about a foot above the foliage. The seeds are eaten by sparrows, and the plant provides nesting material and cover for many small animals. It is beautiful planted as individual specimens or in small groups in your garden, and makes a lovely ground cover planted in mass in dry sunny spots.

• Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinqefolia) — Sometimes mistaken for poison ivy, this vine's leaves have five leaflets that turn a stunning red in the fall. It is a vigorous vine that can be pulled fairly easily to keep it in check. The little fruits are a good winter food source for birds such as finches, swallows and woodpeckers, and is host for the larvae of several kinds of sphinx moths.

• American highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus var. Americanum) — There are many species of viburnums that are good for wildlife. American cranberry is one that is fairly available for purchase as a straight species plant. It has showy flower clusters and fruit that becomes a winter food source for many birds and mammals, as well as beautiful fall leaf color.

• Dogwoods (Cornus spp.) — There are several native dogwoods, including pagoda (C. alternifolia), grey (C. racemosa), and flowering (C. florida) dogwoods, that are wonderful for native birds and mammals because of their fleshy fruit. They tend to prefer partial shade and have showy flowers and good fall color. ​

• Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) — Not often sold as a landscape tree, the common hackberry is a fabulous tree for wildlife! It provides both food and shelter for many birds (like cardinals, woodpeckers, and cedar waxwing), mammals and butterflies. There is even a butterfly called the Hackberry emperor. Its appearance isn't remarkable except for its bark, which gets warty looking with age. It is a tough tree that can grow under a wide range of soil, moisture and light conditions.

Jun 13
Closing Our Polar Bear Exhibit

​The Indianapolis Zoo has made a very difficult decision to permanently close its polar bear exhibit​. While state-of-the-art when it opened in 1988, the exhibit is in need of updating. The exhibit passed a full AZA accreditation last year. As we constantly look at our asset replacement and repair, the exhibit is due for an upgrade in 3-5 years. For Tundra​, our 29-year-old polar bear, that means a relocation. While healthy now, Tundra is older and now is the right time to move her for her best interest.

The Zoo’s veterinary staff carefully reviewed all of the options and agree that the Detroit Zoo is the perfect facility for Tundra’s needs as a senior bear. Considered one of the leading polar bear facilities in the world, the Detroit Zoo offers large spaces and pools​ with easy slopes for Tundra to enter and exit the water, especially as she gets older.

Polar bears were listed as an endangered species in 2008. Tundra has helped educate millions of guests over the years as an ambassador for her counterparts in the wild. Due to their protected status, few polar bears are relocated or moved from other facilities in North America. We will spend the next several months exploring options for a different species for this exhibit space and will be sure to keep you posted as the plans develop.

​Tundra arrived at the Indianapolis Zoo in 1988 and has been a significant part of our community. She will be moved to the Detroit Zoo sometime after June 22. Please join us on Facebook and Twitter and share your memories of Tundra and wish her well on the journey to her new home in Michigan. She will be greatly missed.

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