Jul 23
Wild Things Are Their Everything: The Zoo Celebrates Staff for National Zookeeper Week

When guests walk under the Indianapolis Zoo marquee, they step into a world of adventure. Exotic and inspiring animals make people of all ages wonder about the world just a little more.

But caring for all of our animals is no small task. It takes the dedication and expertise of our remarkable zookeepers to provide care and comfort to our herds, pods and flocks each and every day.

In honor of National Zookeeper Week, July 20-26, we want to send a special thanks to our keepers, in all departments, for being a part of the Indianapolis Zoo team.  Their character, commitment, expertise and effort have helped establish us as a world-class zoo.

“Our Life Sciences staff – our zookeepers – are a remarkable group with a unique combination of skills, experience and a deep personal commitment,” said Mike Crowther, Indianapolis Zoo president and CEO. “We are very fortunate to have them on our team.”

But to be a part of this team it takes not only passion but extensive knowledge about the animals in our collection as well.

Education is a vital requirement of the keepers’ job here at the Zoo. Each of our full-time keepers has an undergraduate degree, most commonly with a major in biology, zoology or psychology. Several individuals on staff continued their education even further to complete master’s and doctorate degrees.

“Our zookeepers are scientists with extraordinary dedication to the well-being of the individual animals they care for,” Crowther said.

Some grew up around animals, like Encounters keeper Eric Garrison, who said his involvement with his family’s farm at an early age helped set him on the path to becoming a zookeeper. Others on staff were inspired by shows and zoo experiences they had during their childhood.

But what does it take to begin the career path to keeper?

The best advice Deserts Area Manager John Wyatt had to offer was to concentrate on pursuing a related degree and working to get your foot in the door, whether through volunteering or internships.

“It’s a very competitive field so it can be tough, but I would tell people to not give up, keep trying. It will happen,” Wyatt said.

“Internships are really key, or just volunteering is a great way to start,” said Encounters keeper Meagan Keen. “Indianapolis is great because of the Zoo teen program, so you can start in high school to start gaining that experience.”

Dana Lambert, an Encounters keeper, feels now more than ever children have helpful tools if they’re interested in this career path.

“Just start studying, find out the things that you think are interesting and look into volunteering. We’re going to need more and more good zookeepers in the future,” Lambert said. “It’s always going to be a job that we need to fill and we want to have good, dedicated and patient people going into that. There are lots of opportunities for growth in the field.”

Crowther believes it takes a very special person to be a zookeeper.

“They are highly educated and trained of course, but they’ve also come out on top during a rigorous selection process. Those who become part of our team are the best of the best,” he said.

The Indianapolis Zoo currently employs more than 100 individuals whose job relates to animal care, including keepers and veterinary staff, with additional help from volunteers.

 “It takes a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it,” said Oceans aquarist Holly Kennedy. “I come to work each day loving my job.”

To find out more information about working in zoos, aquariums or other places studying animal behavior, visit the careers page of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums website.

Guests are encouraged to meet and interact with these inspiring individuals during daily keeper chats. Make sure to thank our keepers if you see them on grounds while you’re at the Zoo!

Jun 24
Students’ Project Orange Increases Conservation Education

Mrs. Beth Leffler, an 8th grade teacher at Carmel Middle School, invited the Indianapolis Zoo to be part of Project Orange, a community awareness project focused on orangutans. She used project based learning as a way to engage her students with a real life problem: orangutan endangerment and conservation efforts.

Over the course of three weeks the students researched these apes, orangutan conservation and the palm oil crisis. Through their research, they came up with a number of ways to increase the awareness of this issue in their community. They created videos, posters and books, along with flyers and pamphlets to share.

A number of students even decided to raise money for conservation initiatives through fundraisers during their school lunch period. They sold orange wristbands and chocolate bars that were donated from Endangered Species Chocolate – raising approximately $700 for orangutan conservation.

At their Community Presentation Day on May 23, they did more than simply “Wear Orange for Orangutans.” The students donated the money raised to the Indianapolis Zoo to support the Kutai Reforestation Project in Borneo.

A big thank you to these students for doing more than just learning about these endangered apes, but for taking action and helping spread the Indianapolis Zoo’s mission – empowering people and communities, both locally and globally, to advance animal conservation.

Jun 18
Indianapolis Zoo Researcher's New Study Proves Chimpanzees Outperform Humans in Game Theory Tests

Think you are smarter than a chimpanzee? Think again. A new study by Indianapolis Zoo researcher Dr. Christopher Flynn Martin, published in the online journal Scientific Reports, has revealed that chimpanzees outperform humans in tests involving game theory.

Lead author Dr. Martin, working with co-authors at the California Institute of Technology, documented that chimpanzees at the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute reached predictions for optimal play.

The Inspection Game

During the study, pairs of chimpanzees in the Kyoto research facility played thousands of rounds of a hide-and-seek scenario called "The Inspection Game," over inter-connected touchscreens. A small apple cube was dispensed to the winner on each round.

To play the game, pairs of chimpanzees sat facing away from each other while situated at interconnected touch-panel stations. On each round, the players chose one of two boxes that appeared on the left and right sides of their respective touch-panels. One of the players,  designated the "hider",  won by choosing the box on the opposite side to the one chosen by  her partner, while the other player, the "seeker", won when both players chose the box on the same side.  Over repeated rounds, the game tested the abilities of players to predict the behavior of their opponent, and to themselves evade prediction. 

Game Theory and the Equilibrium

For games such as this one, theorists have determined that there is optimal strategy that can be utilized to nullify one's opponent's chances of gaining an edge. This strategy is known as the Nash Equilibrium, named after the Nobel Prize–winning mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. , whose life was the subject of the film "A Beautiful Mind." The chimpanzees were shown to perform in line with the Nash Equilibrium by creating sophisticated patterns of choices that matched the theoretical benchmark. In contrast, human participants that played the same game as the chimpanzees did not play in the same optimal way according to game theory.

What might explain such a result?  "Chimpanzee cognition, compared to humans, may be more finely tuned toward competitive reasoning due to their dominance-mediated social environment," Dr. Martin said. "Dominance quarrels occur regularly within chimpanzee groups, and these routine agonistic encounters may turn them into expert tacticians with an intuitive sense of game theory."

The Impact at the Indianapolis Zoo

This important research impacts our overall understanding of great ape mental abilities, and provides exciting opportunities for studies with orangutans at the Indianapolis Zoo's Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center. Dr. Martin conducts research at the Center, which is equipped with a shared touch-panel system that follows the method he developed in Japan.

The system at the Zoo will accommodate interactions between visitors and orangutans over this shared touch-panel software, creating an immersive educational opportunity for the public and advancing the Center's goal of orangutan conservation.

Dr. Martin's research interests include great ape social cognition, communication, imitation and strategic reasoning. He earned his MSc and PhD in Biology at the Kyoto University Primate Research Center in Japan, and joined the Indianapolis Zoo in March 2014.

May 29
Middle School Students Show Off Their Orangutan Knowledge!

The Indianapolis Zoo recently selected winners for the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center Essay Contest. More than 500 students from across Indiana submitted essays about the connections between humans and orangutans. The winners in the Fifth through Eighth Grade Division are: First Place-Lilly O'Shea in Mrs. Olson's 6th grade class at St. Paul Catholic School in Valparaiso, Second Place-Lucy Cash in Mrs. Summers' 8th grade class at Central Middle School in Columbus, and Third Place-Tessa McKenney, also in Mrs. Summers' 8th grade class at Central Middle School. Congratulations to all of our winners. You should be very proud of your work!

First Place: Operation Orangutan: Save the Species

Lilly O'Shea, 6th Grade at St. Paul Catholic School in Valparaiso

                The problem of conserving the balance between competition and cooperation regarding the orangutan population and human civilization is of particular interest to me.  I appreciate the beauty of all animals and one day hope to become a veterinarian.  Orangutans are fascinating animals and play a bigger role in human culture than you may realize.  Orangutans have starred in movies and are written about in books, both fiction and non-fiction.  You can even find the resemblance of orangutans in old artifacts from cultures before ours.  If orangutans died off, they would be the first species of great ape to become extinct.  It is in humans' hands to prevent this great tragedy.

                Orangutans are much like us, more related than other animals.  Yet even with their strong human similarities, they are still vulnerable to human action.  As humans clear away forests to build plantations, the size of the orangutan habitat is greatly decreasing.  Because mankind is destroying the habitat, it is our responsibility to replace what we are taking.  Orangutans are unable to replenish the forest themselves, so the burden falls on our shoulders.  In order to restore harmony, not only between humans and orangutans, but between orangutans and other animals in their ecosystem, we must act now!  Often, people don't realize how their actions effect others until the act is already done.  The Indonesian people, in an effort to improve their economy, are breaking up the rainforests into small section.  This fragmentation of the orangutans' forest could be the cause of their demise.  Because orangutans don't travel in groups, or event families, reproduction is already a challenge.   Orangutans also do not travel outside of their forest habitat.  If an orangutan gets "trapped" in a section of forest without females, or if the females already have offspring, the orangutans can't form partnerships or even make contact with orangutans in other sections.  As more and more orangutans become isolated, it will be harder to sustain their population.

                By acting now we might just be able to prevent the threat of extinction to this species.  Efforts are already being made to create corridors or pathways of trees to connect fragments of forest together.  I personally look forward to the opening of the zoo's exhibit to learn more about the orangutans and to see what progress is being made in the conservation of the orangutan population, and am eager to see what the future holds for these amazing creatures.

Second Place: A Life Changing Competition

Lucy Cash, 8th Grade at Central Middle School in Columbus

                The world is very diverse.  It is almost like a library, with an abundance of books.  There are new books, constantly being checked out.  Then, there are the classic books that could be read over and over again without ever getting old.  Lastly, there are the books that are coming to an end that hardly anyone checks out or pays attention to.  Sadly, in our world, orangutans are the "books" that are coming to an end.  Orangutans are the first great apes to be threatened with extinction in recorded history.  Unfortunately, the reasoning behind this threat boils down to the competing needs of humans and animals.  But, just like we have the authority to choose a book, we have the choice of whether or not to take action for the orangutans.

                Orangutans are some of the most fascinating animals in nature.  Since they spend most of their time climbing high in the trees of Southeast Asia, orangutans have brawny torsos with wiry limbs, a perfect build for their environment.  Rather than living among a crowd like their neighbors, the African great apes, orangutans prefer to live on their own once they reach adulthood.  One of the most interesting facts about orangutans is that the females only have one offspring every seven to nine years, the slowest reproduction rate of any land mammal.  Lastly, orangutans thrive in a contiguous forest.  They need a vast area of woodlands where they will never go hungry and, when the time comes, can find a mate.

                So, why are orangutans in danger of going extinct?  First and foremost, the right balance between competition and cooperation between orangutans and humans is not being maintained.  Each species shares the desire to thrive, so we compete with one another.  However, in order for both species to be sustainable, biodiversity—the concept of the variety of life, must uphold.  At this time, individuals in Southeast Asia are obtaining palm oil, a product found in cosmetics, candy, and cleaning products, from the plethora of oil palm plantations in Borne in order to satisfy the growing need of businesses, farms, and roads.  This may strengthen the economy of the Southeast Asian countries, but this is ruining the lifestyle of the orangutans, who need the plantations to find food, shelter, transportation, and most importantly a mate.  If there are no male orangutans available when the females are ready to reproduce, then there will not be any offspring, eventually leading to extinction.

                As you can see, humans and orangutans have competing needs: palm oil versus life.  It is important for humans to take action and protect orangutans, an endangered species.  We have the power to make a difference, the power to sustain biodiversity, the power to choose cooperation over competition, the power to keep our favorite "book" from going off the shelf.  Why would we rid them of their chance at life, when we have a chance to take action?  Once we take action, it will be like reading our favorite "book" all over again.

Third Place: Benefiting From Beasts

Tessa McKenney, 8th Grade at Central Middle School in Columbus

                Today, humans and animals are constantly competing for their needs.  This explains why the orangutan, one of the great apes, is likely to go extinct.  Indonesia, their native home, with recent economical advances, needs room to expand for farms, businesses, and roads.  This means destroying orangutans' rainforest habitat, which is becoming a leading cause of their extinction.  Expansions in palm  oil farming, a product widely used in the U.S., is another culprit.  Attempting to recover a declining population may sound like another costly, losing battle.  But there are many reasons why we should try to save these great apes.

                All life is precious, and for good reason.  Orangutans play a major part in the environment of Asia.  Like all organisms and elements in nature, everything affects its neighbor.  The creatures spend almost all of their lives in the treetops, feeding on fruits and vegetation.  They are directly linked with the lush plant kingdom, and prevent overgrowth in both the trees and other species.  This balanced system in nature is excellent, until there is a lack of an element, such as the decline in orangutans.  Extinction calls out a warning to ecosystems:  everything will slowly unravel and fall out of balance.

                The Indonesian rainforest ecosystem could vanish without the orangutans.  Large amounts of its habitat is being cleared for farming palm oil.  The most efficient way is burning large areas, and after a few years the land becomes an infertile desert.  Thankfully that method has since been banned after all the previous damage it caused, however industries can still mindlessly clear land orangutans call home.  Our human population and economy needs to be more aware of its effects on the environment in order to save the orangutans.

                The process of rewilding or reintroducing animals is a long process, however it benefits the environment, and all its elements, as a whole.  An action plan to prevent extinction will involve putting bans and limitations on palm oil production and deforestation, allowing a healthier environment for sheltered orangutans to repopulate.  This process of restoring species will also set examples for other high risk of extinction species that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

                Overall, there are many reasons for protecting these amazing apes.  Combining with completing an ecosystem, their situation's recovery can still be resolved, and referred back to for eliminating future threats towards animals.  We may have to limit businesses and palm oil farming, but the result will be a flourishing natural wonder for orangutans in Asia.  We will no longer have to compete for human and animal needs if we work alongside and respect these wondrous creatures.

May 29
Grades 1-4 Know Their Orangutans!

The Indianapolis Zoo recently selected winners for the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center Essay Contest. More than 500 students from across Indiana submitted essays about the connections between humans and orangutans. The winners in the First through Fourth Grade Division are: First Place-Sophia Knoll, Mrs. Resler's 4th grade class at Allisonville Elementary in Indianapolis, Second Place-Lucy Neal, also in Mrs. Resler's 4th grade class at Allisonville Elementary, and Third Place-Grace Schmidt in Mrs. Whiteford's 4th grade class at Central Elementary School in Lawrenceburg. Congratulations to all of our winners. You should be very proud of your work!


First Place: People of the Forest

Sophia Knoll, 4th Grade at Allisonville Elementary, Indianapolis


Person of the forest is an exquisite name for an orangutan.  Orangutans should be called people of the forest because they are similar to human beings.  They are the daydreamers of the great apes; instead of playing and gathering in groups, they just sit in the canopy on top of the tree.  They are extremely intelligent and have the ability to reason and think.

Baby orangutans cry when they are hungry and they whimper when they are hurt.  These animals are the most emotional animals I have ever seen.  These extraordinary animals express their emotions like anger, joy, and fear.  If you just sit and watch them for a minute you will see that they might make a facial expression at you!

Not only do birds make nests but orangutans do too, up in the canopy of trees.  The canopy of the tree is like a bed to orangutans just like the beds we have except that the nest is made out of sticks and twigs.  Orangutans don't only use the rainforest for food but also for shelter.   Orangutans eat fruit like most humans do, but they also eat insect, leaves, bark, and a lot of beautiful nature.

That's why I think orangutans are called people of the forest.


Second Place: Orangutans, People of the Forest

Lucy Neal, 4th Grade at Allisonville Elementary, Indianapolis


                Orangutans are fascinating creatures.  What do you think of their name: person of the forest?


                I think person of the forest is a wonderful name, because they do a lot of things like people and they live in the forest!  Orangutans ride piggyback.  They eat like people wiping leaves on their face to wipe sticky chins.  Orangutans use branches to swat mosquitoes.  Orangutans swing from branch to branch to get places, like we swing on monkey bars!  They also have 32 teeth, just like us!  Orangutan babies cry like humans and need just as much attention from their Mom as we do!  For orangutans the whole forest is their playground!  The young orangutans love to play around, like human children.  Orangutan's trees are being cut down and they feel just like us when we get an eviction notice!  Orangutans have feelings just like us!  Orangutans eat fruit with their hands like respectful people.


                So, I think the people of Indonesia were in the right state of mind when they named the orangutans "person of the forest."


Third Place: Orangutans

Grace Schmidt, 4th Grade at Central Elementary School in Lawrenceburg


                When I look into an Orangutan's eyes I see a cute, loving, and playful spirit.  He is peaceful and seems very wise.  The name Orangutan means "person of the forest" in the Malay language of Indonesia.  Do you think that this is an appropriate name for the animal?

                I think it is an appropriate name because orangutans have many human like traits.  Orang means people and Orangutans share 97% of the same DNA as humans.  Orangutans can recognize their reflection in a mirror as them self.  They can use tools to gather food and make sleeping nests every night.  They can also communicate with humans using sign language.  The mother Orangutan takes care of the baby for 7-8 years before it goes off on its own.  That is longer than any mammal except for humans.  They have opposable thumbs, just like humans, too.

                Utan means forest.  Orangutans live in the forests of Borneo and Sumatra.  They like to be high in the trees.  Orangutans move from tree to tree by "brachiating" which is when the orangutan hooks their long fingers over the branches and swings their arms.  They can even hang upside down.  In the wild Orangutans are rarely on the ground than when they are in the trees.

                In conclusion, the name orangutan or, person of the forest, is a great name.  It describes the animal and its habitat.

May 22
A Garden of Exploration and Fun

When your family enters the White River Gardens, you will encounter a place where play, discovery and imagination are all around! Your adventure begins this season in the conservatory where real butterflies drift in the air around you. Autumn and winter bring other worlds to be explored, such as the glory of fall harvest, the magic of model trains and the mystery of a tropical rainforest.

Walk outside and the children among you will feel invited to play with the Gardens' many water features – the child in you may even come out for a splash! The carved boulder-like fountains in the Knot Garden trickle with water you and the birds will find hard to resist. Water splashes noisily at the head of the stream in the Sun Garden, culminating in a tranquil pool where you are likely to spot our resident goldfish.  And in the Allen Clowes Water Garden you'll encounter a stone table with a tantalizing watery tablecloth, a bronze heron doing the backstroke and comical frog sculptures that "spit" arching streams of water into a rocky pool.

There is much to discover in the Polly Horton Hix Design Gardens. In the Sunken Garden you step down into a patchwork grid of planting beds filled with herbs that are asking to be touched and smelled. And most everyone is delighted by the Motion Garden, with its model train weaving in and out of plants that move in the breeze. As you wander about, keep your eyes open for the tortoise and the hare, two of the many whimsical bronze creatures found all throughout the Gardens.

Explore the Sun Garden to find plants of various shapes and sizes. Birds, bees and butterflies can be spotted all around. And the adventurous can cross the stream over large stepping stones that appear to be floating on the water!

From the excitement of creating your own giant sand art in the Indianapolis Zoo Guild Heritage Garden to the restful coolness of the Shade Garden, you and your children can share together in the unique experience that is the White River Gardens!

Apr 28
Mission - Vision - Execution

By Steve Schenck

Fifty Years of Impact on Indianapolis, the State of Indiana and Global Conservation

On April 18, Indianapolis celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Zoo — and what an epic year we still have ahead of us! 

​I first became involved in the Zoo in 1990, when I was as​ked to join the board. Over the course of the last 24 years, I have served in many leadership capacities including Treasurer and also as Chairman of the Board of Trustees. It has been my privilege to be a part of the journey to transform the Indianapolis Zoo from a wonderful exhibit-based zoo into a globally recognized conservation leader. 

​​ Since its inception, the Indianapolis Zoo has had outstanding volunteers, staff and executive leadership. It all started with Indianapolis Star Columnist Lowell Nussbaum, who in the 1960s spearheaded the campaign to create the Zoo. Even back then, leadership understood that it took vision and a disciplined commitment to the mission to guide the organization to success. There have been four outstanding leaders to serve as CEO in the Zoo's history; Earl Woodard; Roy Shea; Jeffrey Bonner, and our current CEO, Mike Crowther.

Mike is a true visionary and through his leadership, the Indianapolis Zoo will mark its 50th anniversary with two epic events; the opening of the International Orangutan Center on May 24, and the awarding of the Indianapolis Prize on September 27.

The International Orangutan Center is a one-of-a-kind facility that will significantly contribute to ensuring a future for orangutans, the first great ape species in history threatened with imminent extinction. The International Orangutan Center will help teach our children that if they have a vision, a plan, partners, and work hard, they can change the future.

The Indianapolis Prize is indisputably the world's leading award for animal conservation and will for the fifth time, award the globe's most successful conservationist. The 2014 Indianapolis Prize winner will receive a $250,000 award and the Lilly medal for saving endangered species. 

The Indianapolis Zoo is the largest zoo in the country to receive no tax-based revenue,  and yet, over the last 12 years, the Zoo's annual cash flow has tripled and attendance has increased to well over one million visitors. I can assure you that the Zoo's solid financial position and world-class accomplishments such as opening the International Orangutan Center and the establishment of the Indianapolis Prize would not have seen the light of day if it weren't for a passionate, mission-driven team of people.

That's how our Indianapolis Zoo has become one of the nation's top zoos. That's how the Indianapolis Prize became globally renowned. That's why so many of our community's most accomplished individuals, organizations, and companies have chosen to partner with the Zoo.  And, it is also why I can't wait to see what our Zoo does over the next 50 years!

Apr 22
Container Gardens Overflow with Beauty

Spring is finally here and that means it’s time to start thinking about annuals. Get creative this year and embrace new dimensions in your flower displays – try something new, like decorative containers in your garden. With these tips and tricks your green thumb is sure to make everyone else green with envy.

First things first, decide where you want your flowers and the pot you’d like to use. Remember the size helps determine how many annuals you’ll need and the type to plant. Small containers need to be watered more often and drought tolerant plants may bloom better because less moisture is stored. Make sure to pick a spot in your yard that works for the time of annuals you’d like – pay attention to the sun and shade.

Get your gloves on; it’s time to get some soil over those roots! As you plant your annuals leave space between so they’ll fill in throughout the summer. But keep in mind you’re not restricted to annuals alone. Perennials, succulents and tropical plants can be wonderful additions to your potted masterpiece. Just keep in mind the bloom cycles are longer, but that means you can even plant perennials later and enjoy your landscape a little longer in the season! There are many examples of these colorful combinations along the paths at the Indiapolis Zoo.

After all this work you want your plants to last, so make sure to take special care. You don’t want them to dry out, and since they’ll be sprouting through the spring and summer make sure to check them daily, especially on hot, dry days to see if they need more water. Keep in mind pots won’t hold moisture as long as soil in the ground, so it might be beneficial to add some fertilizer for your plant.

Let your wild side shine with your choice of pot – pick a fun color or shape – just pick one with proper drainage and soil space. We’re not saying you have to stop and smell the roses, but you should definitely pause and peek at the pretty pots!

Apr 18
What Stories the Animals Could Tell!

​By Craig Banister
Indianapolis Zoo PR Intern

If our animals could talk, what stories would they have to tell us after 50 wonderful years? Without the animals, there would be no Zoo, so as we mark the Indianapolis Zoo's 50th anniversary, we wanted to share a few exciting tales of our adorable animal elders.

The original Indianapolis Zoo, called the Washington Park Children's Zoo, originally opened its doors back on April 18, 1964. It was the culmination decades-long efforts that started in the 1940s when newspaper columnist Lowell Nussbaum began voicing his dream and raising support for a zoo in Indianapolis.


When the original Zoo first opened, the animal collection included personal "pets" donated from area residents, including monkeys, large cats, alligators and more. Also there to greet guests when the Washington Park Children's Zoo originally opened its gates was a pair of Aldabra tortoises, and incredibly, one of those tortoises is still in his prime! AJ, a male Aldabra, was estimated to have hatched around 1933 before he came to the old Zoo in 1963. He and a second Aldabra named JR were the only animals to see the opening of both the old Zoo and the new Zoo, which opened in 1988 in White River State Park!

Aldabra tortoises are native to the Seychelles Islands in the South Pacific and can live upwards of 200 years! Males can weigh up to 550 pounds. AJ, who currently lives at the Virginia Zoo, weighs almost 500 pounds and his keepers say AJ likes to eat a variety of food including hay, grass and various fruit.

So what stories might AJ share about the Zoo? Perhaps memories of his championship years in the Zoopolis 500! Known as the Greatest Spectacle in Tortoise Racing, Zoopolis 500 began back in 1980 and is one of the Zoo's longest-running events. Guests might remember watching AJ and the other Aldabra tortoises race to the finish line to enjoy a tray full of vegetables and fruit. AJ was a Zoopolis 500 champion many times over, including most recently in 2009, which was the year before the Aldabras moved to the Virginia Zoo.

25th Anniversary Animals

Although AJ is the only animal from the opening of the original Zoo that's still around today, believe it or not, the Zoo has several animals that came from the former location on East 30th Street and many more that have been here since the opening of the new Zoo back on June 11, 1988. Last year when the Zoo celebrated the 25th anniversary of that move, we shared stories of animals that have been here since that new beginning. Among them are several Chilean flamingos, some of our Plains birds and polar bear Tundra. Known as the Zoo's elder stateswomen, Tundra is very dainty and neat — for a polar bear.

Some of the animals from the old Zoo include several rockhopper penguins, California sea lion Marcy and African elephants Kubwa and Ivory. What tales do they have to tell? Marcy, Kubwa and Ivory might share stories of becoming mothers. Kubwa and Ivory even made headlines as the first and second African elephants to give birth after conceiving through artificial insemination. And all three animals have offspring that still live here: Diego was born to Marcy in 2004, Kubwa gave birth to Kedar in 2005 and Kalina in 2011, and Ivory gave birth to Zahara in 2006 and Nyah in 2012.


Also part of our elephant herd, Sophi is not only the oldest animal at the Zoo, she is one of the most recognizable. Born around 1967, she has a majestic and iconic presence about her that is unmistakable. She is clearly the largest animal at the Zoo, weighing in at nearly 10,000 pounds! It is not uncommon for these beautiful creatures to live 50-plus years! Some of her stories would include watching herds of runners and walkers pass by the Zoo every year during the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Adding to her notoriety, Sophi is famous among local Race for the Cure participants who stop in front of the Zoo to see Sophi wearing her huge pink ribbon. Many participants even call Sophi an inspiration!

As the matriarch of the elephant herd, Sophi could also tell us about her interactions with newborn elephants. Zookeepers Jill Sampson and Niki Kowalski said every time Sophi has been introduced to a newborn, she kneels down and gets eye level with the calf so they can see each other and connect. Sampson and Kowalski said it's quite an amazing sight to see the largest elephant of the herd kneeling to the ground to greet a newborn.

As you might have guessed from her size, Sophi is not a picky eater, however she is a clean eater. Keepers say when she eats a watermelon or participates in the pumpkin smash each year at ZooBoo, she always holds the food under her mouth with her trunk to catch all the juices. She is not the type to waste any bit of food!


Ozark is another Zoo elder. This yellow-headed amazon parrot was hatched March 1, 1969, and donated to the Zoo in the late 1970s. Another resident of the original Zoo, Ozark would be able to tell many tales of all the guests she's met throughout her many years, including those she's seen during seasonal Parrot Chats. According to Encounters Area Manager Dan Boritt (pictured), Ozark is set in her ways. She has a great memory for the people she's met. For a time, Ozark lived with Paul Grayson, who is now the Zoo's Deputy Director and Senior VP of Conservation & Science. Even though they don't see each other much now, Ozark gets extremely excited when Grayson comes in to visit her. And while Ozark isn't actually a storyteller, she can talk and has a wide vocabulary, including phrases such as, "My name is Ozark," "nice birdy" and "Merry Christmas."

Azy and Knobi

From Ozark, one of the Zoo's longest residents, to two orangutans that are among the newer residents, the stories continue. Azy, born in 1977, and Knobi, born in 1979, are also among the Zoo's elders.

Azy is the dominant male in our orangutan group. He is remarkably gentle with humans and the Zoo's other orangutans, and is known as the peacekeeper in the group. Azy has been working with Dr. Rob Shumaker, the Zoo's Vice President of Conservation and Life Sciences, for more than 30 years! They have developed a strong relationship through their research in language and cognition. Knobi is the dominant female and shares a close bond with Azy. Knobi enjoys cleaning up her exhibit and acting as an adoptive mother to Rocky, our 9-year-old orangutan. When the other females get out of hand, Knobi helps restore order in the group.

Orangutans and humans are alike in many ways, including having similar life spans. These great apes are also extremely intelligent and social. Azy and Knobi could tell stories about their research and working with Shumaker. Guests will soon be able to see how these apes work together with Shumaker and the Zoo's other researchers when the International Orangutan Center opens May 24. Guests can even collaborate with orangutans to create a digital finger painting!

The animals at the Zoo have many stories to share after 50 years. During your next Zoo adventure, make sure to visit some of our elders and learn more about their incredible stories!

Apr 15
The Beginnings of the Dream for the Indianapolis Zoo

​By Craig Banister
Indianapolis Zoo PR Intern

It takes passion and persistence for a dream to become a reality. Lowell Nussbaum's dream was to bring a zoo to the city of Indianapolis, and never gave up on it.

It took more than 20 years for Nussbaum's dream to come to life, as the original Washington Park Children's Zoo opened on East 30th Street in Indianapolis on April 18, 1964. For 50 years, the Indianapolis Zoo has continued to grow and thrive with the help of the community, but it would not have been possible without Nussbaum's vision.

Nussbaum was a successful journalist with a career that spanned 58 years. In the early 1940s, he began writing about a mythical zoological society in his column for the Indianapolis Times. He referred to the society numerous times in his column for the next few years trying to raise support for the idea.. In 1944, he pressed forward and formed the Indianapolis Zoological Society. Nussbaum, who later became known as "the father of the Indianapolis Zoo," moved to the Indianapolis Star in 1945 and continued using his column to campaign for a zoo in Indianapolis. One such column in 1950 read:

"A letter to the editor in The Star yesterday interested me. It was written by Mrs. H. Leser, a relative newcomer to Indianapolis. Mrs. Leser wonders why a city this size is without a zoo. So do I. In fact, I've wondered about that more than a decade. Mrs. Leser also wonders what the public thinks about acquiring a zoo. I can answer that. The public — grownups as well as children — would like a zoo, and they'd like someone to do something about it. Someone else — that is! Back in 1940 or 1941 I began agitating in the column for a zoo. It seemed everyone was in favor of the idea. Several of us incorporated the Indianapolis Zoological Society to work for the idea.  … We needed money for buildings and maintenance — a substantial sum. Even more, we needed civic and municipal leaders willing to roll up their sleeves and help us put the idea across. We didn't get it. Then along came the war and the need for a zoo paled into insignificance alongside the war effort.  An attempt to revive interest after the war failed. We still keep the Zoological Society alive, though dormant, in case the time arrives when enough people, like Mrs. Leser, who want a zoo badly enough to give us a lift. Any of you big-money boys like to have a zoo named after you?"

In 1955, planning for the first Indianapolis Zoo finally began. Nussbaum continued using his newspaper column to help further the Zoo's progress by calling for donations. There were numerous accounts of young children giving small amounts of money from their piggy banks to help bring a zoo to the city. By the end of the fundraising campaign, they had raised more than $1 million toward building the Zoo. A lot of hard work and more than 20 years after Nussbaum first started writing about a mythical zoological society, the Indianapolis Zoo came to life and opened its doors to the public in 1964.

Following the opening, Nussbaum continued his involvement with the Zoo in his column in the Indianapolis Star, through the Indianapolis Zoological Society and by visiting regularly. He retired in 1976 after an extremely successful and impactful career.

1 - 10Next

 ‭(Hidden)‬ Blog Tools