Oct 12
Beautiful Butterflies are Visiting White River Gardens

​We were delighted to see record numbers of monarch butterflies visiting White River Gardens ​​​​​​​​recently as they migrated south toward Mexico. For about a two-week period, hundreds of these winged beauties fluttered through our flowerbeds daily, enjoying the varieties of milkweed and other flowers we’ve planted for them.

Having so many monarchs flying around at once is a breath-taking sight! It’s also exciting news for all of us concerned with monarch butterfly conservation efforts.

It’s a central part of our mission at the Indianapolis Zoo to work and advocate for animal conservation for species all over the world as well as right here in our own backyards.

And that’s why we support Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, working together with other cities along the monarchs’ migratory route, to make Indianapolis a monarch-friendly city. Community leaders, concerned citizens and school groups around our city have started sharing seeds, planting milkweed and building habitats to save this important insect.

If you’re a simple gardener and you plant a butterfly-friendly garden, you are doing great work. If you are a school group or a third-grade class and you have a bug garden, thank you; you are helping to ensure monarchs remain a part of Indiana’s natural landscape.

Maybe the clouds of butterflies we’ve seen recently in White River Gardens are a testament that our city’s collective efforts are paying off! 

Oct 04
12 Amazing Animal Facts (and Ways We’re Working Together to Save Them!)

​The biodiversity in our world is pretty remarkable! We share our planet with millions of species, more than 200 of which are represented by animal ambassadors here at the Indianapolis Zoo. Our animals are all so unique, with different characteristics that make them incredible. And every time you come to the Zoo to connect with your favorite furry friends, you're also helping to support these species in the wild. So let's learn more about our amazing animals and how together we're saving wild things and wild places!

  • The largest animal here at the Zoo is Sophi, one of our female African elephants, who weighs more than 9,500 pounds — that's nearly five tons! And with your help, we've provided a ton of support for elephants. In 2012 alone, we raised $90,000 to benefit the Tarangire Elephant Project from parking during Super Bowl XLVI.

  • The smallest of all our Zoo critters is the humble honeybee. These incredible insects play an important role by pollinating many of the plants in our food chain. And in the spring of 2016, we started a bee colony in White River Gardens to support the local bee population.

  • For the tallest animal at the Zoo, we look up to our reticulated giraffes. And we're more alike with these lofty animals than you might think. Both giraffes and humans have seven vertebrae in their necks, though a giraffe's vertebrae can each be up to 10 inches long!

  • The cheetah — the fastest animal on land — breathes an astonishing 150 times per minute when chasing its prey! Plus, every time you Race-A-Cheetah here at the Zoo, the funds go directly to the Cheetah Conservation Fund to help save this fast feline.

  • Adult male orangutans can have an armspan up to 8 feet — 18 inches wider than the average NFL linebacker! And to make sure our orangutan friends have forests to swing through, we support reforestation efforts with the Kutai Orangutan Project.

  • Amur tigers are one of the world's largest big cats —growing up to 10 feet in length! And simply by recycling your cell phone, you can help save these cool cats.

  • Smooth dogfish sharks can change color slightly to blend into their environments. And you can take direct part in saving ocean species like dog sharks by making informed decisions at the grocery and purchasing sustainable seafood.

  • Both male and female Pacific walrus have tusks, overgrown canine teeth that these massive marine mammals use for activities like digging and defense. You can help these large yet loveable animals by unplugging unused electronics and appliances to reduce energy consumption in your home.

  • It's parrot pandemonium! Yes, that's the real name for a group of these brightly colored birds. Not only will our guests see some impressive parrots — specifically macaws — in action with our new exhibit coming in 2017, we've also been helping to save species like the scarlet macaw and great green macaw through support of the Ara Project.

  • Despite being relatively slow, lionfish are one of the top predators in their native reef environments in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. They can thank their beautiful striping and coloration that provides perfect camouflage to help them ambush prey. Yet the species has become invasive in parts of the southeast U.S., and the Zoo opened a new exhibit in early 2016 to help raise awareness.

  • Originating in Africa, white rhinos were named for their wide mouths. When the name was translated to English, "wide" became "white" by mistake. And we invite everyone to help strike out extinction by participating in the wildly fun event, Bowling for Rhinos, hosted annually by our local American Association of Zookeepers chapter!

  • The bald eagle (like our Tempest!) was one of the first species placed on the endangered species list, and was at risk of going extinct. But through the success of nationwide conservation efforts, eagle populations have increased and the species has been since removed from the endangered list.

Oct 03
It's Not Too Late to Garden!

By Nina Evans​

Fall is moving along and winter seems not so far off. But, if you are like me, there are some things you just didn't get to in your garden.  Never fear! It's not too late to get out there and do quite a bit in your yard before the ground freezes and you can no longer dig in the soil.

You still have a good chance of digging and storing tender bulbs like cannas, caladiums and dahlias bulbs and tubers for the winter if you know where they are planted. Look for firm bulbs not damaged by insects. Firm roots of showy begonias can be potted up as houseplants.

Keep raking or mulching the leaves on your lawn to avoid killing the grass. But allow leaves from healthy plants to stay put around your trees, shrubs and perennials as a mulch that will decompose next season.

Remove the leaves from your planting beds that have fallen from plants with leaf diseases or insect infestations. Go ahead and compost them – that will kill off the unhealthy pests and diseases.

You can cut back most perennials to just a few inches from the ground, if you like. There are some you might like to leave in place that will continue to provide cover for or feed wildlife, look attractive far into the winter, or whose foliage may help protect the roots over the winter.

Mulching trees and shrubs right now is a worthy project.  Mulching beds of bulbs and flowering perennials is even better if left until we've had a good, hard frost. This helps prevent "heaving" of these smaller, shallower rooted plants, where repeated freezing and thawing of the ground literally pushes them part way out of the soil, leading to damage to the plant from exposure to the cold.

If it's been a dry fall in your area, watering your needled evergreens and any newer plants until the ground freezes will help them survive until spring.

If you still have unplanted spring flowering bulbs, it is actually not too late to get that done! As long as the bulbs are firm and healthy (a little mold is no big deal), go ahead and plant them, especially larger ones like tulips, daffodils and such, as long as you can dig the soil.

Finally, even after the ground is frozen, you can work on pruning the majority of your dormant trees and shrubs.  Even trees with running sap won't be harmed by cold weather pruning, though you can wait until very late winter when the sap isn't doing this to avoid it getting onto your car or driveway.  What not to prune? Evergreens – they should be pruned in the spring and fall – and plants that bloom early in the season, which will lose their flower buds.

So before you give up on gardening and stay cooped up inside for the winter, there are some things you can still get outside and do on nicer November days. You will be helping your outdoor plants through our coldest season and getting a jump on next spring!


Sep 27
Unwanted Hitchhikers 

​​​​By ​Jeff Hansen

With the arrival of October, it’s time for us gardeners to think about the more tender members of our plant family. The average first frost date for most of Central Indiana is Oct. 18 – any plants susceptible to cold damage that you don’t want to lose to Old Man Winter should be inside for the winter by this time.

Unfortunately, when we haul our plants inside we often bring some tagalongs, too. Pests like whiteflies, aphids, mealybugs, fungus gnats, thrips and spider mites are all easily brought inside when moving plants indoors. While these pests may not cause harm to your plants when they are outside, when brought inside that can change fast. When attacking outside, these bugs are often kept at bay by natural predators and weather, but once inside your home, those natural controls go away and bug populations can boom. To maintain the health and quality of your plants throughout the winter, it is important to control these pests.

Prevention is the best medicine, and a small colony of insects is much easier to deal with than a mass infestation. Scout out the plants you plan to bring indoors and look at stems, under leaves, in crevices and axils and at the tips with the newest growth. This is where these pests will tend to accumulate, especially the newest growth where the plant tissue is most tender and bugs can easily suck out the plant’s sugar. If you spot some pests at this stage, spraying them off with a stream of water may do the trick. You can also snip off infested shoot tips or just get down and dirty and squish them! Remember that pest identification is key: the more you know about your enemy, the more prepared you will be to defeat them.  

If you missed your buggy problem while your plants were outside, you might have a covert group of insects laying low on your plants. While watering your hibiscus mid-January, you may take a closer look and realize that it’s covered in aphids! Once inside, these bugs often sneak up on us and by the time we realize they are there, they’ve already begun damaging the plant. Like before, you can try hosing down your plants in the shower or manually removing or squishing your invaders. Sticky traps can be used to catch whiteflies and fungus gnats. If an infestation cannot be dealt with in these ways, then chemical treatment is always an option. There are a number of contact and systemic insecticides available commercially, as well as some home remedies that can be prepared. Diluted alcohol, neem oil and even garlic-based solutions can be prepared at home for little cost, and recipes can easily be found online.

Remember, each pest is different so if you want to target a specific problem bug it’s a good idea to look up detailed information on treatment options. With the right information and a keen eye, we can combat these uninvited guests and keep our plants beautiful. 

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 off the Florida coast 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.​

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