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. 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.
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.
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.
The 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. In 2016, actor Sigourney Weaver — who has served as The Fossey Fund’s Honorary Chair since her starring role in “Gorillas in the Mist” — received the Jane Alexander Global Wildlife Ambassador Award for her work advocating for the endangered apes.
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. Dr. Rob Shumaker, Zoo President, 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.
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.
Part of Africa’s Serengeti ecosystem, the Maasai Mara is one of the earth’s last major wildlife refuges. Here, the Mara Elephant Project protects African elephants as a keystone species for conservation. The environment in Kenya, also famously known for the annual migration of two million wildebeest and zebra, is home to an estimated 40 percent of Africa’s large mammal species, including approximately 1,400 elephants, unfortunately at risk of poaching.
If current poaching levels continue, the population could cease to exist by the year 2030. That’s why the Indianapolis Zoo is supporting the Mara Elephant Project in their anti-poaching and research efforts. By partnering with local communities, landowners and the government, MEP can both use innovative technologies to eliminate illegal killing, while also inspiring conservation of the habitat the species depends.
With the Zoo’s support, MEP will collar endangered elephants in the Mau Forest, an important habitat for more than 600 elephants. This 3-year study will collect vital data; lead to more ranger presence on the ground, increasing community interaction and engagement; and allow the setup of geo-fences to protect farms, mitigating conflict between elephants and humans.
More than 50 representatives from Midwest states came together to discuss data to further at-risk species conservation, new tools and how Heritage data can be used to combat climate change and other challenges. Breakout sessions gave participants the opportunity to collaborate on addressing common issues, encouraged problem-solving and generated ideas that attendees were able to take back to their home states.
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.
As wild orangutan populations continue to face threats including deforestation, human encroachment and the illegal pet trade, the number of apes in need of rescue and rehabilitation grows. There is currently a shortage of wildlife health professionals within Southeast Asia due to low numbers of wildlife health curriculum at universities and post-graduate training programs. Veterinarians entering into field conservation work often have limited educational resources and mentorship, and few opportunities for continuing professional development.
The Indianapolis Zoo’s veterinary team has established a training program for veterinarians engaged in orangutan and other wildlife conservation efforts within Indonesia and Malaysia. Program participants spend up to three weeks working alongside veterinary, nutrition and animal care staff at the Zoo to strengthen clinical skills and knowledge. This training will improve the quality of healthcare for species at rehabilitation centers in Southeast Asia and result in an increased number of animals able to be suitably reintroduced back into the wild.
Populations of hellbenders — North America’s largest salamander — have declined 77 percent since the 1980s due to habitat loss and poor water quality. Most vulnerable as juveniles, Purdue University has partnered with Indiana Department of Natural Resources and zoos across the state to raise these salamanders with the purpose of releasing them back into their natural habitat once they’ve reached adulthood. This captive rearing strategy will increase population numbers in southern Indiana’s Blue River, currently the only location in the state where hellbenders are found.
In 2019, the Zoo’s Round Up for Conservation supports SECORE International’s Curacao Conservation Project. SECORE focuses on developing technologies and procedures to restore coral reefs and is seen as a pioneer in implementing larval coral reestablishment in the Caribbean.
SECORE’s research team in Curacao has access to reefs with high abundance and diversity of coral species, providing multiple spawning events each year — opportunities for research on coral reproduction and early life history, both of which are needed to expand restoration to match the species on the reef.
The Curacao team helps test new tools for efficient outplanting and distributes those best practices and techniques through workshops and partnerships with other marine scientists and organizations.
After a drought in early 2019 caused lesser flamingos to abandon more than 1,800 chicks at South Africa’s Kamfers Dam, an international rescue mission ensued.
Chicks were sent to wildlife centers across the country, including the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in Cape Town. Indianapolis Zoo Senior Keeper Dana Lambert was sent to assist, providing care for nearly 100 chicks and sharing knowledge and experience to ensure the fragile birds improved swiftly and grew steadily, with the intent to rerelease them back into their original habitat.
From a conservation standpoint, the endeavor kept important genetic variability in this population of lesser flamingos, a near threatened species of bird.
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. Charles, Lara and their two young daughters follow the lives of more than 1,000 elephants within 32 family groups. One of the Tarangire Elephant Project’s major purposes is to protect migration corridors and dispersal areas — areas outside the national park where elephants 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.
Learn about all of the ways you can help support animal conservation.