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.

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.

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]

Ara Project

In Indianapolis, guests are surrounded by the beauty of birds in Flights of Fancy, and the Zoo is ensuring a positive future for wild birds too!

The Ara Project – named for the genus of macaws – is dedicated to saving the two native species of Costa Rica: the well-known Scarlet macaw and the endangered Great Green macaw. The project helps protect these incredible birds from threats like the wild bird trade, hunting and habitat loss through captive breeding programs and reintroducing offspring into the wild.

In 2015, the Indianapolis Zoo joined in these efforts, giving the project the means to construct additional breeding aviaries, in addition to the fabrication and installation of nest boxes for birds that have been released. [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. 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]​

Conservation Drones

The Zoo is helping conservation take to the sky … with drones that is.

Conservation Drones uses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for various conservation purposes, from surveying wildlife and mapping ecosystems, to supporting the enforcement of protected areas. These incredible machines are capable of flying for more than an hour at a time and traveling across more than 30 miles to acquire the photos and videos used to produce models of areas endangered species can be found in. Plus, the worldwide initiative works to raise awareness for various regions' conservation challenges to inspire others to advance conservation by utilizing technology.

Last year, funds not only helped support the purchase of the drones themselves, but also provided technical training for operators in the field who were surveying and helping protect African rhinos. [close]

Crawfish Frogs

There's now new hope for the "Hoosier frog."

In the spring of 2015, Indianapolis Zoo guests had the chance to experience local conservation in action as the Zoo played a part in saving the state's endangered crawfish frog.

In partnership with researchers from Indiana University, Indiana State University, Detroit Zoological Society and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Zoo staff cared for tadpoles as they metamorphosed to Gosner stages 31-39.

Once back legs had formed, the young frogs were strong and mobile, and being less vulnerable to predators, they were returned to their natural wetland habitat in southern Indiana.

Through vigilant care and outreach, the project's first year was a resounding success.

Visitors were provided with educational opportunities — learning how to protect and restore threatened local wetland habitat and how to get involved with amphibian groups like AZA's FrogWatch USA and the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program (NAAMP) — while more than 300 tadpoles reached metamorphosis at the Indianapolis Zoo and were taken back to the wildlife area.

The Zoo's team is proud to be a part of securing a sustainable future for this species. Find out more about this project on the Zoo's blog and on YouTube[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. 

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]

Goualougo Triangle Ape Project

 The Indianapolis Zoo supports the ongoing goal of the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project – to improve the conservation outlook of the Congo Basin's chimpanzees and gorillas through long-term applied research, enhanced protection of habitat, and strengthening of local capacity. [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. 
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 Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

The Indianapolis Zoo provides financial support to IUCN's climate change vulnerability assessment of tree species in Borneo. The assessment studies trees for viable species survival and builds local capacity for reforestation. [close]

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. 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]

Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary

An Eagle Scout project went to the birds … and the Indianapolis Zoo supported this young conservationist's venture.

High school freshman Matthias Benko's passion for birds began on a family vacation to Colorado at only 10 years old and became the focus for his service project, through which he hoped to showcase leadership in the world of conservation.

"No matter where you live you'll encounter nature," he said. "I feel like it's my duty to help protect and appreciate it."

Collaborating with the Indiana Young Birders Club and Indiana's Audubon Society, Matthias established a migratory songbird trail at the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary in Connersville, Ind. He constructed 40 predator proof nest boxes – installed on conduit posts around the property – and created informational pamphlets for visitors about the various types of birds living throughout the sanctuary.

While primarily having an educational goal in mind, Matthias hopes the birdhouses will encourage species to breed, ensuring sustainable populations for the area.

As part of a dedication to field conservation endeavors, the Zoo funded Matthias's project, and applauds his efforts to share his love of birds and protect local wildlife. [close]

The Nature Conservancy Gulf Project

Indiana may be landlocked, but Hoosiers can play a long-term pivotal role in providing a healthy Gulf of Mexico for all sea life including dolphins. The Nature Conservancy and the Indianapolis Zoo, both long known for leadership in protecting nature across the globe, have partnered to increase public awareness, support, and engagement in the Gulf of Mexico conservation program.

The Gulf has lost nearly 50 percent of its wetlands, 60 percent of its sea grass beds, and 85 percent of its oyster reefs. This is due in large part to pollutant nutrient runoff causing large areas of the Gulf to be uninhabitable for dolphins, oysters and other marine life. Unless this area is restored not only will cetaceans feel adverse conditions, but also the people who rely on the Gulf of Mexico for their livelihoods. Indiana plays a huge role in the pollution of the Gulf — identified as one of the states contributing the most excess nitrogen (11 percent) in the gulf creating oxygen-free dead zones. That means changes people make in Indiana can make a difference in the Gulf.

The Indianapolis Zoo and The Nature Conservancy teamed up to develop and implement programming for the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin program at the Zoo to increase public awareness, including a video explaining how visitors can make a difference shown during daily dolphin presentations in the Zoo’s Dolphin Pavilion. [close]

Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Project

The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP) works to conserve viable populations of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans through habitat protection, reintroduction of apes from the pet trade, as well as scientific research and education.

In 2015, the Zoo provided emergency funding for the Sikundur Monitoring Post, located within the Gunung Leuser National Park and larger Leuser Ecosystem National Strategic Area.

The Post focuses on the conservation of orangutans and all animal biodiversity, in addition to the habitat of this vital area. [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.

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. [close]