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.
The 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 Reserve 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 had 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. Recycling electronics, like cell phones, protects wild habitats by reducing the demand for mining precious metals. Eliminate your old electronics in an environmentally friendly way during our Power Recycling Days.
For 20 years, APOPO’s scent detection rats have been detecting landmines and tuberculosis. These African giant pouched rats have proven adaptable for the detection of any substance with unique odor profiles.
The Indianapolis Zoo funds a new project to train rats to find pangolin scales, hardwood and more — countering wildlife trafficking in suspected high-risk areas.
The Pan American Conservation Association is a wildlife rescue center and sloth sanctuary in Panama. Every year the organization receives injured, orphaned and sick wildlife, many of them sloths. In its 14 years of operation, the group has rescued more than 4,500 animals and rehabilitated more than 1,000 sloths.
While APPC works to rerelease as many sloths as possible, there are times when the animals need long-term care, as in the case of six sloths brought to the Indianapolis Zoo. Forest fragmentation is pushing sloths into urban areas, where traffic, dogs and poaching to sell as illegal pets are among some of their greatest threats.
The Zoo began supporting APPC in 2019 as the MISTery Park opened, where guests have the opportunity to see sloths up close while learning how they can assist with conservation efforts, including purchasing sustainable paper products, like those with FSC certifications.
Conservation is at the core of the Indianapolis Zoo’s work. As a Visionary Founder of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction program, we are working with zoos, aquariums and other conservation organizations across the globe to save animals at risk.
In 2020, the Zoo’s Round Up for Conservation supports recovery and rehabilitation efforts for wildlife affected by the bushfire crisis in Australia. Sparked in September 2019 and stoked by soaring temperatures and drought conditions, the Australian wildfires scorched millions of acres across the continent. Many of the areas hit hard by fires are rich in biodiversity and home to many threatened and endangered species. Guests can donate the extra change from their gift shop purchases, making a difference for animals affected by the devastating fires.
When 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 founder and two-time Indianapolis Prize Finalist Dr. Laurie Marker consulted the Zoo on the exhibit.
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.
For five decades, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International has been hard at work protecting gorillas, conducting scientific research on the species and their ecosystems, educating the next generation of conservationists, and helping local communities thrive.
Members of Indianapolis Zoo leadership have been Board members of The Fossey Fund and in 2016, the Indianapolis Prize — recognized as the world’s leading award for animal conservation — honored actor Sigourney Weaver with the Jane Alexander Global Wildlife Ambassador Award. Sigourney’s advocacy on behalf of gorillas was inspired by her role as Dian Fossey in the 1988 film “Gorillas in the Mist.”
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. The Congo Basin has long been considered a stronghold for gorilla conservation, but these African apes live in a rapidly changing landscape. GTAP’s efforts combine applied conservation research of the gorillas and chimpanzees whose populations overlap areas of active logging with data of the industry to define the characteristics necessary for “high conservation value” forests. The project conducts health monitoring and assesses risks of disease transmission, while also advancing professional development in local educational outreach. GTAP staff provide training in research, project management and the skills to interact with regional and international conservation work.
The International Elephant Foundation (IEF) is composed of a group of Association of Zoos 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.
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.
The Indianapolis Zoo provides financial support to IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. The SSC works as part of specialist groups, Red List authorities, on task forces and sub-committees. The Chair and office provide support and leadership over the global network to prompt actionable conservation on the ground, including governmental work, collaborations between IUCN programs and commissions, regional and national consultations and fundraising.
The 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. The Indianapolis Zoo supports both field research of this group of apes — including range, development and biology — as well as providing funds for a reforestation initiative to sustain healthy habitat for generations to come.
You can learn more about the Kutai Orangutan Project at the Indianapolis Zoo’s Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center.
Captive Breeding and Reintroduction
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 Macaw Recovery Network (formerly The Ara Project) is dedicated to saving the two native species of Costa Rica: the well-known Scarlet macaw and the endangered Great Green macaw. The network 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, supporting a captive breeding and release program, enhancing the breeding center and conducting research of wild macaws.
Great Green Monitoring and Management
The Zoo’s resources provide an opportunity for Dr. Sam Williams, director of the Macaw Recovery Network, and his mentor and 2016 Indianapolis Prize Winner Dr. Carl Jones. The pair are now working to monitor and manage wild Great Green macaws to develop the best practices for parrot conservation, in Costa Rica and beyond.
The Mara Elephant Project (MEP) works to protect elephants in the greater Mara ecosystem. MEP monitors elephants daily to address threats, evaluates data, and deploys local rangers in collaboration with key partners in order to provide protection for wildlife, communities and habitat.
The Indianapolis Zoo started its relationship with MEP in 2019 but supporting the a bull elephant named Vasco being fit with a satellite collar. Vasco resides in the north end of the Mau Forest. Watching his travel across these heavily threatened forests in Kenya help conservationists determine how best to set up the Mara ecosystem so that wildlife and communities can live peacefully alongside one another.
The Ishaqbini region of Kenya is home to rare hirola, Africa’s most endangered antelope. The Northern Rangelands Trust is dedicated to monitoring hirola and increasing awareness of this critically endangered species’ plight within local communities. In 2012, a hirola population in the area was moved into a 3,000 hectare predator-free sanctuary — the first fenced sanctuary on Kenyan community land dedicated for conservation. The community set up a grazing committee to account for livestock competition and assigned rangers to oversee protections and education efforts. Since then, successful births have made the population double. Indianapolis Zoo funds support operations of the Ishaqbini Conservancy and sanctuary management. The Zoo helps sustain sanctuary and conservancy operations; improves habitat in the sanctuary and grazing management in the wider conservancy; supplements the free-ranging hirola population through releases of individuals from the sanctuary; and establishes disease surveillance and a livestock health program.
The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP) works to conserve viable populations of critically endangered orangutans in Sumatra through habitat protection, reintroduction of apes from the pet trade, as well as scientific research and education. Since 2015, the Zoo has provided funding for the Sikundur Monitoring Post, located within the Gunung Leuser National Park and larger Leuser Ecosystem National Strategic Area. The Post focuses on behavioral research, in addition to monitoring and protecting the habitat of this vital area.
For Dr. Charles Foley, Director of the Tarangire Elephant Project, few countries in the world can match Tanzania for its diversity of wildlife. That’s a key reason he and his wife Lara, manager of the Project, have spent the last 25 years living and conducting research in the Tarangire ecosystem. Since 2007, the Indianapolis Zoo has provided annual support for the Tarangire Elephant Project and the Foley’s efforts to conserve elephants and their habitat. One of the Tarangire Elephant Project’s major purposes is to protect migration corridors and dispersal areas — areas outside the national park where more than 1,000 elephants within 32 family groups move seasonally. These protected grasslands are a critical food source for wildlife, as well as for the local community’s livestock. Free access to these areas for all of the species in the national park is essential for their continued conservation.Despite poaching in other parts of Africa, Charles said the Tarangire elephants continue to thrive, with the local population estimated at about 4,200.In 2016, funds also supported the start of a new program — the Ruaha Katavi Corridor expansion. With attention given to the vast areas of woodland stretching between Ruaha National Park and Katavi National Park, the Foleys help ensure those populations are protected from both the pressures of poaching and habitat loss. With the parks more than 130 miles apart, focused efforts influence what may be not only the longest elephant corridor in East Africa, but one of the longest migration paths in the world.
Despite the capture of blue-throated macaws ceasing in the early 1990s, wild populations of the critically endangered species remain very low. Because of this, the World Parrot Trust has worked to protect the birds, understand their ecology and create successful reproductive recovery programs since 2001.The project focuses on protecting wild nests from predators to ensure a higher percentage of young birds fledge, conducting habitat studies, monitoring breeding pairs and installing artificial nest boxes to eliminate some of the threats affecting wild populations. While building a captive breeding program based in Bolivia, the project is also dedicated to providing community education opportunities to further conservation as well. The Indianapolis Zoo’s support will assist with the establishment of a blue-throated macaw field station within the newly designated Gran Mojos Reserve.
The Indianapolis Zoo provides funding to sponsor a speaker at the ZACC conference. This biennial conference brings field researchers and zoo colleagues together to network, forge relationships and work together to mutually benefit and protect wildlife species and wild places.
Learn about all of the ways you can help support animal conservation.