The city of Indianapolis is a global leader in sports, biotechnology, life sciences…and animal conservation. The international spotlight shined brightly on our community this week as more than 1,000 people traveled from all over the world to honor this year’s Indianapolis Prize Winner, Dr. Carl Jones, and the Prize’s 2016 Global Wildlife Ambassador, Sigourney Weaver. Jones, Weaver, and the Prize’s Finalists were recognized for their achievements because the Indianapolis Prize doesn’t honor people who have merely tried hard; rather, it recognizes those who have succeeded.
Our Hoosier state is having a significant impact far beyond our borders, directly improving the sustainability of elephants in Africa, lemurs in Madagascar and polar bears in Canada. During a visit to Uganda a few years ago, the ranger accompanying me saw my Indianapolis Zoo hat and asked if I’d ever been to an Indianapolis Prize Gala. That’s the sort of name recognition our city has in conservation circles. Dr. Steve Amstrup, who led the effort that resulted in polar bears being listed as an endangered species, was introduced as a former Indianapolis Prize Winner at the Wildlife Conservation Network in San Francisco last week, and he said an audible “whoosh” went through the crowd in response to the words “Indianapolis Prize.”
This year’s Winner, Carl Jones, works primarily in Mauritius – an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa perhaps best known as the home of the extinct dodo bird. When Jones arrived there in 1979, he didn’t follow the prevailing wisdom and terminate a failing conservation program for the world’s most endangered bird. Instead, he applied innovative techniques that ensured a remnant population of four Mauritius kestrels would not disappear forever, but instead rebound and thrive. Thanks to Carl Jones, there are now nearly 400 Mauritius kestrels in the wild.
Today’s conservationists, by strengthening our planet’s biodiversity, are literally defining the world we will live in tomorrow. They are establishing the textures of our landscapes, the color and clarity of our skies and waters, and the sounds that will sweeten our lives. It is they who will establish the foundational elements required for clean water, green valleys, and abounding crops for our children and our nations. It is they who will defend the natural resources required by our industries and our lifestyles. It is they who will ensure that there will still be birdsong and beauty in the lives of those who follow us.
The idea of saving species is daunting. Success is not always immediate, but as Jones notes, “you’ve got to start somewhere.” And Indianapolis is proving to be that “somewhere.” Our community is clearly making amazing things happen beyond our borders and around the world.
What does a community do? It combines its strengths in order to prosper and overcome challenges.
We are learning more every day how we are interdependent on the vast web of biodiversity that sustains the ecosystems that sustain us. And as we honor some of the world’s most accomplished conservationists, perhaps the most important message is they need our community…they cannot do the job alone.
We all have an influence on the viability of wild things and wild places. Our influence includes our individual voices, our priorities, and our personal actions, including the messages we send our political representatives.
Conservation is, above all else, the act of bringing hope and rationality together. I think that’s a pretty good summary of what a Hoosier is, too. We need to live out our innate understanding that success comes from turning our values into a vision, developing a plan, acquiring resources, working hard, and following through. We need to remember that we can’t eat our seed corn if we want tomorrow to be a future we’d choose to live in, rather than one we must endure.
Many of our corporate citizens – including Eli Lilly & Company, Cummins Inc., and Rolls-Royce – are demonstrating real leadership in the creation of a sustainable future through their product development and business practices. Let’s join them through our individual efforts and demonstrate why the world’s leading award for animal conservation is called the Indianapolis Prize!
By Michael I. Crowther, Indianapolis Zoological Society Inc. President and CEO, founder of the Indianapolis Prize
Originally published in the Indianapolis Star