Zoo-Supported Conservation Initiatives

​​​​​​​​​The Indianapolis Zoo is committed to conservation efforts across the globe. One of the keystones of the Indianapolis Zoo's commitment to conservation is to support efforts around the world to save wildlife and wild places that are in danger. The Zoo's support reaches far and wide through its involvement and monetary assistance with many different organizations, researchers, and scientists in the field whose hard work is helping to preserve unique animals and their habitats for future generations. Learn more about our global conservation initiatives by clicking on the links below.

Kutai Orangutan Project

3-1-2 conservinitiativesOrangutanMikeCrowther.jpgThe Zoo supports the Kutai Orangutan Project in the Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan, Borneo.  The project started in 2009 in an effort to protect the seriously endangered orangutan population and recover the critical habitat that has been largely destroyed. The project is led by Dr. Anne Russon, who has studied orangutans for more than 30 years. [more…]​

The Kutai Orangutan Project site runs along the south side of the Sangata River and inland.  This is an important site because it is vulnerable due to excessive clearing and people moving to the land.  So far, the project has found more than two-dozen orangutans in this area.  The Project says the orangutans are all healthy and reproducing normally.  You can learn more about the Kutai Orangutan Project at the Indianapolis Zoo's Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center. [close]



African Wildlife Foundation

3-1-2 conservLionMarkZelonis.jpg

The Zoo champions the work of Dr. Bernard Kissui of the African Wildlife Foundation, who is literally saving lions through mending fences. Not fences that keep lions in, but fences that protect livestock at night from being eaten by lions. This natural predation by lions is sometimes an unfortunate death sentence, as some are killed in retaliation for preying on domestic live stock. These retaliatory killings are estimated to account for up to 20 percent of the deaths of all lions in the area. [more…]

Small corrals, or bomas, are used by the local Maasai peoples to protect their livestock at night. Traditionally made from thorny brush or poles, these are no match for lions. Our support helped Dr. Kissui build 50 predator-proof bomas using chain link fencing. This meant 50 families had a more secure economic future as their livestock and their livelihood was protected. In turn, this resulted in a more secure future for the lions that live there, too. [close]


Amur Tiger Conservation Project

3-1-2 conservTigerFredCate.jpgThe close up encounters possible at the Zoo's Tiger Forest exhibit are the envy of our Amur tiger conservation partner, Dr. Linda Kerley, as she has had only a handful of opportunities to be so close to tigers. For the Amur tigers that she and the other members of the Amur Tiger Conservation Project (ATCP) study in Lazovsky Preserve in Primorsky Krai, the Indianapolis Zoo's support paid for 15 vitally important tracking cameras that give Dr. Kerley a long distance insight into the lives of the last few remaining wild Amur tigers on Earth. [more…] 

The Zoo's support allowed an expansion of the camera tracking program that identified four new litters of cubs in the reserve - the first time cubs have been observed since 2008. The ATCP was also able to expand their tracking work into a nearby newly protected national park. Results here have been astonishing, as shortly after the first cameras were placed, a tiger was confirmed to be in the park, along with another litter of cubs. Camera traps are also instrumental in establishing a deterrent program for poachers called "forest eyes" that uses hidden surveillance camera to record illegal activity in protected tiger habitat.

Tiger fans can help support the conservation of these wonderful animals in other ways. You can help save endangered species by purchasing the Save Vanishing Species stamp from the U.S. Postal Service. Look for them the next time you purchase stamps. [close]


Cheetah Conservation Fund

3-1-2 conservCheetahSusanLang.jpgWhen the Indianapolis Zoo designed its Cheetah: The Race for Survival exhibit, which opened in 2010, the planners included something never before seen in this kind of setting. The objective is to get young visitors interested in the world's fastest land animal and to generate funds that would directly go to the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia. [more…] 

CCF was founded by Dr. Laurie Marker who consulted the Zoo on the exhibit and was also a two-time finalist for the Indianapolis Prize. Zoo visitors pay 50 cents to enter the track and try and outrun the 60 miles per hour light array that duplicates a cheetah's speed, all the while listening to audio messages about the speed and grace of the cheetah. 

Race-a-Cheetah also benefitted from a donation from someone who knows and admires superior speed when he sees it – 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion (and Hoosier) Tony Stewart, whose Tony Stewart Foundation supports educational programming at the Indianapolis Zoo. Thus was born the concept of demonstrating just how fast a cheetah can run (and how and why they need to be that quick), while also telling the story of how researchers are working to save them in Africa.

Beyond direct cheetah conservation, the Race-a-Cheetah funds also help the CCF raise Kangal dogs. CCF staffers train the dogs to guard livestock for the farmers and ranchers in Namibia. The dogs protect the sheep and goats from the cheetahs, which occasionally attack domestic animals, which means the humans won't have to kill the cheetahs to protect their property and livelihoods. The Zoo also features a daily Kangal dog chat (seasonal) in another section of the cheetah exhibit. So far, the Zoo has raised more than $50,000 for CCF. [close]​


Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

3-1-2 conservationmainpgGorillaMikeCrowther.jpg.jpgThe Indianapolis Zoo is proud to support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. Dian Fossey was a true conservation hero who fought to preserve and protect mountain gorillas. She was killed in her cabin in Karisoke in 1985.  [more…] 

Her legacy remains alive every day as staff and volunteers dedicate themselves to protecting the highly endangered mountain gorilla in Rwanda and Grauer's gorilla in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The staff studies the gorillas' behavior, monitors their health and works with local communities in areas surrounding where the animals live. 

The Fossey fund works with people in Africa who share the same ecosystem with the gorillas.  The fund provides conservation education to the communities in an effort to reduce threat, seek alternative resources and encourage anti-poaching efforts. 

Mike Crowther, the Zoo's president and chief executive officer, serves on the board of trustees of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. [close]


International Elephant Foundation

3-1-2 conservation elephant in water CU.jpg The International Elephant Foundation (IEF) is composed of a group of Association of Zos and Aquariums zoos and other elephant facilities whose resident elephants are wildlife ambassadors helping to educate the public and raise valuable support dollars for elephant conservation. [more…] 

Paul Grayson, Zoo deputy director and senior vice-president of conservation and science, serves on the IEF board of directors. In 2011, the IEF provided a total of $230,000 in support of elephant conservation.

Projects related to African elephant conservation include programs that combat poaching and protect wild populations throughout Africa, dissemination of research results utilized by conservation policy decision makers and education programming for various audiences including those who live in elephant range countries. Another valuable program funded by IEF is the "My Elephant Neighbor" program in West Africa. Through this program, thousands of children and their teachers have been able to learn about local elephants. Not all African families are aware of elephant conservation needs and this program utilizes the powerful voice of children to carry that message home to their parents. [close]​


International Iguana Foundation​

3-1-2 conservIguanaDonReynolds.jpgThe Indianapolis Zoo invests in the Internation​al Iguana Foundation (IIF) which brings together the collective resources of 16 zoo and reptile conservation organizations and supports programs that have a positive impact on iguanas in the wild. Several IIF projects raised newly hatched iguanas and released them in to the wild when they were old enough to survive.  The foundation has also supported relocation of iguanas during a mice eradication program on three islands in the Bahamas. [more…]

The Zoo has earned international recognition for its successful breeding programs for rare iguanas. Under its Project Iguana conservation and research initiative, in August 1995, the Indianapolis Zoo became the first zoo in the world to successfully hatch the endangered Grand Cayman Island blue iguana, and additional hatchlings were born in 2002 and 2003. In 2006, the Zoo was the site of the first hatchings of the extremely endangered Jamaican iguana.

The Zoo was also one of the first to breed the Ricord's, Cuban ground, and rhinoceros iguanas. The Zoo has also continued its financial and technical support for the endangered Jamaican iguana, the second rarest lizard in the world. Due to its rarity and genetic importance, these iguanas must live in an environment free from disease and injury. For this reason, they are not on exhibit in the biome. Located behind the scenes, the animals are closely monitored by Deserts Biome staff. [close]


International Rhino Foundation

3-1-2 conservRhinoDonReynolds.jpgRhino poaching has hit a critical level—Reuters reports a 50 percent increase in South Africa alone in 2013.  Reports of at least 1,000 rhinos were poached for their valuable horns last year. The horns often end up in Southeast Asian medicinal markets.  The Indianapolis Zoo recognizes this threat and gives annual funds to the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) to help conserve black and white rhino populations. [more…] 

Our support helps IRF fight poaching and efforts to increase rhino population growth. Some of the funding has helped provide basic equipment such as binoculars and fingerprint kits that are crucial to identifying and prosecuting poachers.

The Indianapolis Zoo also supports rhino conservation through the annual Bowling for Rhinos​ fundraiser presented by the local chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers each April. [close]


Madagascar Fauna Support Group

3-1-2 conservLemurWildMikeCrowther.jpgThe Indianapolis Zoo has a long history of working with the most iconic animals from the island nation of Madagascar – the lemurs. Sadly, all lemur species in Madagascar are endangered, and the Zoo is supporting the efforts of the Madagascar Fauna Interest Group (MFG) to try to save them and their habitat from destruction. [more…]

The unstable and challenging political situation in Madagascar resulting from the 2009 coup required shifting of many of the research resources of the MFG towards protection and patrolling of the Betampona reserve areas. Conservation agents successfully redirected their work and saved this reserve from large scale removal of rosewood and lemur poaching, which is unfortunately more common in unpatrolled areas. [close]


Polar Bears International

3-1-2 conservPolarBearKarenBurns.jpgThe Indianapolis Zoo was awarded the Paw of Approval Award in April 2011 by Polar Bears International, a polar bear research and conservation organization. The Zoo has been an arctic ambassador for Polar Bears International since 2010 and was recognized for its efforts in polar bear conservation. [more…] 

The Indianapolis Zoo proudly serves as an arctic ambassador for Polar Bears International. The Zoo had the honor of presenting a Paw of Approval award to a local business, Cummins Inc., who is a leader in energy conservation. The Paw of Approval award was presented to Cummins Inc. at an assembly at Central Middle School in Columbus, Indiana. Cummins Inc. has shown outstanding leadership in the area of environmental stewardship. Just one facet of their energy conservation mission, that involved more energy efficient lighting, will result in the reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 3,500 metric tons. 

An international jury of conservationists selected Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, senior scientist of Polar Bears International, as the winner of the 2012 Indianapolis Prize, the world's leading award for animal conservation. Dr. Amstrup's efforts on behalf of saving these endangered animals are legendary, and this award will help him spread the word on what we all can do to protect the habitat polar bears need to survive. [close]


Tarangire Elephant Project

3-1-2 conservCharlesFoley.jpgThe Indianapolis Zoo has been providing financial support to Tarangire Elephant Project and its director, Dr. Charles Foley since 2007, for his amazing work to fit together the puzzle of establishing corridors through rapidly expanding settlement areas in Tarangire (Tanzania) so that elephants and humans can live side-by-side. Totaling more than $300,000, the impact of this support has been outstanding. [more…] 

Through the comprehensive strategy that Dr. Foley has implemented, his team has come to know and be able to identify more than 700 of the estimated 2,500 elephants living in Tarangire National Park. 

Agreements with villages have resulted in the establishment of corridors through village lands to allow the elephants to move out of the Park into calving grounds vital to the long term survival of the population. The Zoo's support pays for the game scouts that track these elephants, as well as travel and communication with the local villagers to maintain these easements. 

A unique fundraiser that involved the 2012 Super Bowl hosting in Indianapolis netted nearly $100,000 in additional funding for the project from the Zoo. Dr. Foley started using these funds in 2013 for a whole new tracking project that greatly enhances his ability to determine the migratory patterns of the elephants. For a comprehensive report on the Tarangire Elephant Project's work in 2012, read their annual report​.

Special:  Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the 2010 Indianapolis Prize honoree, is partnering with the Mara Elephant Project to try and save the threatened elephants of the Maasi Mara, a project also supported by the Indianapolis Zoo. Watch a fascinating video​​ that details the work of these dedicated individuals who are committed to the conservation of elephants. [c​​​​lose]​