Saving Species Challenge
Indianapolis Zoo

Saving Species Challenge

Indianapolis Zoo Saving Species Challenge

A Major Investment in the Future of Our World’s Wildlife

The Indianapolis Zoo has a long history of innovative conservation strategies with the creation of the Global Center for Species Survival, the Indianapolis Prize and our field conservation grants. Our mission is to protect nature and inspire people to care for our world.

As an investment in the future of our world’s wildlife, we have created the Saving Species Challenge, a $1 million investment to change the decline of a single species. The goal of this award is to support a conservation project in its efforts to improve the existing status of a threatened species to its next best designation, putting it on the path for recovery.

Reverse the Red

Saving species is possible! Many conservation practitioners and governments have successfully reduced species extinction risk - also known as conservation status improvement or downlist from a higher category of threat to a lower one in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Reverse the Red believes the number of success stories could be multiplied with the appropriate focus, communication and adequate resourcing, and to support anyone interested in preparing a successful project to reduce species’ risk of extinction, has released Conservation Status Improvement Guidelines for Practitioners.

Learn More
Focusing on the World’s Most Threatened Species

Indianapolis Zoo Saving Species Challenge

The Indianapolis Zoo Saving Species Challenge will award a $1 million grant to one organization that can develop and execute a plan that will have a measurable and sustainable impact on the survival of an animal species.

The Saving Species Challenge requires the focal species to be designated by the IUCN Red List as one of the following categories: Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable. The proposed project must demonstrate how this investment will give a species the greatest opportunity to be down listed from its current conservation status to the next best designation (ex. a Critically Endangered species improving to an Endangered Species).

Field conservationists from around the world are invited to apply and present a plan to identify an animal species that is currently designated as threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable or Extinct in the wild) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List and create a program that would lead to an improvement in the species’ status.

The grant has a two-stage application process.

Pre-applications must be submitted by June 4, 2023, and then the organizations selected need to submit a full application by Dec. 3, 2023.

Complete information on eligibility, key dates and application procedures can be found below in the Question-and-Answer section.

“We know that reversing the decline of a species takes time. If we trust the science and stay focused, we will save species. This challenge will serve as a model for other conservation organizations to follow.”

 – Dr. Rob Shumaker, President & CEO of the Indianapolis Zoo


Key Dates

April 25, 2023
Challenge Announcement
Pre-applications Available

May 2-11

June 4
Pre-applications Due

June 8
All Approved
Pre-applicants Notified

Dec. 3
Full Applications Due

Jan. 15-19, 2024
Interviews for Applicants

Feb. 12
All Applicants Notified

Feb. 20
Winner Announced

“The Indianapolis Zoo Saving Species Challenge is visionary and will focus attention on achieving significant impact on the survival of a species. I am excited to see the Indianapolis Zoo continue to set the bar high on how Zoos, Aquariums and Botanical Gardens can advance conservation action and catalyze real and positive change for species,”

Jon Paul Rodriguez, Chair, IUCN Species Survival Commission

Saving Species Challenge Commonly Asked Questions

A Jury of international animal conservation experts will choose the winner of the Indianapolis Zoo Saving Species Challenge. The winner will have five years to activate the program and show progress.

  • When can potential projects complete the application? What is the process?

    Preapplications became available on April 25, 2023. Completed pre-applications should be submitted between April 25 and June 4, 2023. Within one week of the submission of a pre-application, applicants will be informed whether they have been selected to submit a full application, if they will not be invited, or if more information is needed. Full applications will be due Dec. 3, 2023, at midnight Eastern Standard Time. Throughout both the pre-application and full application period, the Global Center for Species Survival team will be available to assist in answering questions and providing advice regarding the application.

  • When are applications due?

    Preapplications are due by 11:59 p.m. on June 4, 2023. Invited full applications will be due on Dec. 3, 2023, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

  • When will applications be reviewed?

    Pre-applications will be reviewed within one week of submission. Full applications will be reviewed starting Dec. 4, 2023.

  • When will the winner be selected and announced?

    The awardee will be chosen in January 2024. The winner will be notified in February 2024.

  • When will the funds be awarded?

    Upon completion of the award agreement by the Zoo and recipient, the first $200K will be awarded in March 2024. Additional installments of $200K will be awarded each July, starting in 2024 through 2027.

  • When will reports back to the Zoo be required?

    The Zoo will require a mid-year update at the end of June each year, followed by a year-end report at the end of December. A report template will be provided.

  • What does the award support?

    The Indianapolis Zoo’s Saving Species Award will award $1 million to a project proposal designed to down list a species or group of closely related species from their existing IUCN Red List assessment category to at least the next threat designation. Only animal species will be considered. Target species should have undergone a recent and relevant Red List Assessment (preferred within 15 years, but other assessments outside this time frame will be considered if justified). Species should have been assessed as Threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable) or Extinct in the Wild. The awarded project will submit the conservation action plan that our award jury believes gives the greatest likelihood of success in achieving the outcomes necessary for down listing the species in time for its next Red List assessment.

  • What is the project duration for this award?

    These steps for species recovery should have taken effect within the five-year grant timeline, although we recognize that the next Red List assessment will not be completed on this timeline.

  • What is the first step in applying for this award?

    Potential applicants should participate in webinars where the Zoo will provide further information and answer questions. Applicants should review the pre-application to determine if their project meets the necessary criteria. If the project meets the requirements and the applicant wishes to continue, applicants will next complete the pre-application. The pre-application will require submission of a project concept and basic information regarding the species of focus, including how this species/species group meets the award criteria. Once the pre-application has been submitted and approved, applicants who are selected to proceed to the next round will have access to a full application material packet, as required for the full application.

  • Who is eligible to apply for this award?

    Any organization or individual associated with an organization is eligible to apply. Organizations can be nonprofit, government, academic or for-profit entities. Independent individuals cannot apply. Organizations may be required to provide documentation to establish their legitimacy.

  • Will applications be available online? Do you complete the application online?

    The pre-application will be available online and must be submitted online. This pre-application will be available to every potential applicant. Once a pre-application has been selected to proceed, the full application materials will be sent via email to the lead applicant. This application will be submitted via email upon completion. In all cases, the applicant will receive email confirmation that their pre-application or application has been received.

  • Are there examples of what the final application should include?

    Yes, there will be online examples of what a successful application should include. The final application will have a specific format that all applicants must follow.

  • What kind of information will be needed for the full application?

    The application process is designed to align with the Conservation Planning Specialist Group (CPSG) conservation planning steps and principles. Conservation action plans that have been developed through this process are likely to already have most of the information required for the application. We will also make a training available to applications that proceed to the full application stage, explaining the Conservation Planning Specialist Group process for developing a conservation action plan.

  • Will the application require a budget outline?

    Yes, the application will require significant budget detail. The pre-application will require a basic budget outline that demonstrates how $1M USD will be used and how these budgeted activities will lead to down listing of the species. This basic budget should also include details of any matching funds, in-kind support or other sources of funding (not required). We will provide a standardized budget template for full applications.

  • Will matching funds be required?

    Although existing other support is a benefit, there is no matching fund requirement for this award.

  • Are there any limitations on how the budget is allocated?

    The Zoo will provide a detailed budget worksheet for invited full applications. There are few limitations. However, the Zoo will only allow 5% administrative overhead within the budget. There is no limit regarding salaries, however benefits (such as health care, pension and insurance for employment) will be kept at a maximum rate of 20%.

  • Can the budget be used for salaries and benefits (e.g., healthcare or pension)?

    Yes, salaries and benefits are acceptable expenses. Benefits must be calculated at no more than 20% of the salary expense. Projects that are primarily salaries will need strong justification and are less likely to be successful than those projects with more balanced budgetary needs.

  • Does the application need endorsement from the relevant IUCN SSC Specialist Group?

    No, however support and endorsement by the relevant Specialist Group is highly encouraged.

  • Will the Zoo aid with the development of the application?

    Yes. The Zoo will coordinate video conference calls to function as Q&A sessions about the application process. These calls will also be recorded and shared with all organizations that are applying for the award. Applicants will be assigned a Coordinator within the Global Center for Species Survival to assist with answering questions about the application process. By the time full applications are submitted, we expect that proposals will include a fully developed conservation action plan for the species.

  • Will our organization need to acquire the required permits in advance of being selected for support?

    No, however if permits are required, the application will need to include information detailing the required permits and demonstrate the organization’s capacity to acquire these permits.

  • Are there any types of conservation actions that won’t be permitted?

    At this time, we will consider all potential conservation strategies. However, we reserve the ability to modify our perspective.

  • Are there any priorities or criteria that will boost our application?

    It is beneficial (but not required) for organizations to have had previous experience, and recognized success, in recovering species. Prior experience managing grants of $1 million or more is also desirable.

  • Are there any factors which will adversely affect our application?

    The goal of this award is to identify and support a strategy to give a species the best opportunity for down listing by at least one category on IUCN’s Red List. Projects that are designed to support a PhD, focus primarily on research (and not on applied conservation actions), or those that have a range of risk factors which are likely to reduce their chances of success are unlikely to be awarded the prize.

  • Will key biodiversity hotspots or EDGE species be more strongly considered?

    Although we expect some applications to include species in key biodiversity hotspots or be considered EDGE species, these will not be criteria which are used to determine the awardee.

  • Will in-country partners and/or engagement with local communities be required?

    Although this will not be a requirement, we believe that in-country partners and engaging with local communities is often a vital element of a successful conservation action plan. Plans which heavily involve local partners, create capacity, or otherwise engage fully with the social landscape in which a project is taking place are more likely to be successful.

  • Can the project receive support from other foundations/organizations/agencies?

    Yes, the project can receive support from other sources, however, if that support has not yet been secured and the success of the project is dependent on additional funding sources, the likelihood of a project being selected greatly diminishes. The project should be able to demonstrate a high probability of success with the support of this award in either fully funding the planned work or completing the total amount needed for the project to be supported in full. The project will need to demonstrate that the sum total of their current funds and the $1 million prize will achieve the goal of the award without requiring additional funding after the project period ends.

  • Can the preapplication or application be completed in a language other than English?

    The preapplication can be completed in the official languages of the IUCN: English, French or Spanish. The final application will be required to be completed in English.

  • What species will be considered?

    Only animal species that are currently designated as threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable) or Extinct in the Wild by the IUCN Red List will be considered. This designation should have been completed in the past 15 years, however in some circumstances we will consider species that have not been assessed in the past 15 years. If the project supports the conservation of a group of species, the focal species must be in one of these designations. Plant and fungi species will not be considered.

  • Can more than one species be included in the project?

    Yes, however the primary species OR the majority of the target species must meet the designation requirements. In general, this award will prioritize the down-listing of a single species over the potential down-listing of a group of species. Emphasis will be placed on selecting the project which gives the best opportunity for a species to be down listed.

  • How long is the project duration?

    Funding for the project will extend from March 2024 to June 2027. All projects should be completed by the end of 2028. Full applications must include plans for continued species conservation (if needed) after the conclusion of the project.

  • Can the Zoo serve as the fiduciary agent?

    No, the recipient of the award must serve as fiduciary agent and provide bi-annual financial reports to the Zoo regarding expenditures. The capacity to serve as fiduciary agent will be considered in the selection process of the project.

  • What will be the reporting requirements for the award?

    The awardee will have the full attention of the Global Center for Species Survival and it is expected that they will communicate informally on a regular basis with the relevant Coordinator in this office regarding project progress. The awardee will provide a mid-year update and annual year-end project overviews. These updates/overviews will include achievements and key milestones, as well as budget summaries detailing how the award has been utilized. The format and required detail for these reports will be provided by the Zoo.

  • How flexible is the budget once it’s awarded?

    We realize that opportunities and situations arise that may alter the initial plans. In general, if an expense category in the awarded budget needs to be changed by more than 15%, we will require a new budget to be submitted and approved.

  • How does the goal to down-list a species work given that the Red List process is lengthy and somewhat out of our hands?

    The goal of the award is to support a project which will lead to a species fulfilling the criteria for down-listing. However, to officially be down listed, a species must meet those criteria for at least five years (called the “five-year rule”). The selected project must both demonstrate the best ability for the species to recover to levels in order to be down listed, and that the conditions for a lower threat category are likely to persist after the five-year duration of the project.

  • What are the Zoo’s requirements for being recognized for the award?

    The Zoo will develop a detailed communication plan for communicating the selection of the prize winner. The awarded organization will be required to participate in this communication plan. Part of the process for the awardee will include working with the Zoo communications team to recognize the Zoo for this support.

  • Can we use the awarding of this support as a matching grant?

    Yes, this award can be leveraged to seek additional support. However, if the success of the project is contingent on receiving additional funding, it will likely not be highly considered for selection.

  • How does the Saving a Species Award engage or relate to the AZA SAFE program?

    The AZA SAFE program focuses on the strategies and actions to preserve specific species. The actions include opportunities for accredited zoos and aquariums to become engaged in effective conservation efforts. Several of the species that the AZA SAFE program focuses on could be potential candidates for the Indianapolis Zoo Saving a Species Challenge Award.

    The Indianapolis Zoo Saving Species Challenge Award is not limited to the species that the AZA SAFE program focuses on, nor is it limited to applicants being an accredited zoo or aquarium. Potential species can include any animal that has a current IUCN Red List designation as either Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable, regardless if there is an AZA SAFE program established for that species. Whereas the AZA SAFE program measures the implementation of the conservation strategies, the Indianapolis Zoo Saving Species Award focuses on the outcome of meeting the criteria to improve the current Red List designation, not the completion of the strategy.

Saving Species

With a little hope, a lot of hard work and dedicated heroes, we can save a species.