About the Zoo
A beloved community destination for more than 50 years!

About the Zoo

Community Support

As one of the largest zoos in the country that does not receive government support, we rely on our donors for everything we do. Every dollar we spend is strategically put to work, and every donor that joins us in our mission of conservation is appreciated. See the strides we have made in the past years through our annual reports and tax forms below.

Our Mission
The Indianapolis Zoo empowers people and communities, both locally and globally, to advance animal conservation.
Our Vision
The Indianapolis Zoo is a leader in advancing global conservation.
Indianapolis Zoo Leadership
  • Executive Staff

    Dr. Robert W. Shumaker, President & CEO

    Karen Burns, Executive Vice President

    Madonna Wagner, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

    Bill Street, Senior Vice President for Conservation, Education and Life Sciences


  • 2020 Board of Trustees

    Jeffrey Harrison (Chair)

    Devin Anderson (1st V. Chair)

    Kelly Huntington (2nd V. Chair)

    Steve Alonso (Treasurer)

    Marisol Sanchez (Secretary)

    Jim Powers (Immediate Past Chair)

    Christa Adkins

    Kathryn G. Betley

    Steve Cagle

    Larry Coan

    David DeWitt

    Cheri Dick

    Patrick Early

    Lauren Edmundson

    Nancy Elder

    Suzanne Fehsenfeld

    Julia Gard

    Peter Jorgenson

    Todd Katz

    Beth Klapper

    Blake Koriath

    Kristi Lee

    Karen Ann Lloyd

    Robert McElwain

    Lisa McKinney

    Myrta Pulliam

    Bill Rosenbaum

    April Sasso

    Andy Sellers

    John Sharpe

    Robert Shoemaker

    Connie Bond Stuart

    Richard J. Thrapp

    David Trogden

    Pete Ward

    Michael W. Wells

    Ronda Shrewsbury Weybright

    Amy Willis

  • Founder Members

    Michael Alley

    Dan Appel

    Holly Banta

    Mike Bosway

    Beth Cate

    Matthew S. Claymon

    Alan Cohen

    Christine Duncan

    Eric Gillispie

    Anita J. Harden

    Polly Horton Hix

    Ann Hunt

    Fran Jacoby

    Kay Koch

    Robert Laikin

    Deborah Lilly

    John Neighbours

    Polly Nicely

    Steven Schenck  

    J. Albert Smith

    Doug Tillman

    Steve Walker

    Dan Yates

  • Honorary Trustees

    Joseph D. Barnette, Jr.

    Christel DeHaan

    Robert H. McKinney

    James T. Morris

    Dr. Suellen Reed

    Jerry D. Semler

    Deborah Simon

  • Advisory Council

    Pam Boas

    Mellissa Boggs

    Stuart Buttrick

    Bethanie Danko

    Phil Fowler

    Frank Hancock

    Ashish Kalgaonkar

    Josh Malarsky

    Ben Matherly

    Mike McCaslin

    Julie Moyers

    Jason Spilbeler

    Allen Wright

  • Life Trustees

    Robert R. Baxter

    Eleanor F. Bookwalter

    Gilbert S. Daniels

    Laura George

    Betty D. Givens

    Robert B. Hirschman

    Scott A. Jones

    Michael Maurer

    John M. Mutz

    Mel Perelman

    DV Pace


The Indianapolis Zoo
How it all began

The concept for the Indianapolis Zoo first emerged in the 1940s when newspaper columnist Lowell Nussbaum began voicing his dream of establishing a zoo in Indianapolis. Through his column “Inside Indianapolis,” which first appeared in the Indianapolis Times and then in the Indianapolis Star, Nussbaum campaigned for a zoo, spurring community leaders into action. By 1944, he and other founders had begun discussing potential sites for the facility. Their ideal was that the Zoo would be supported by admission, in-park sales, contributions and memberships, and that still holds true as the Indianapolis Zoo is one of the the largest privately funded zoos in the country.

Momentum for the Zoo slowed during World War II, but Nussbaum and the other founders persevered by collecting animals, planning exhibits and finalizing the location for George Washington Park. Construction began Aug. 6, 1962, and the first Zoo opened at its original East 30th Street location on April 18, 1964. After following his dreams through to reality, Nussbaum later became known as “the father of the Indianapolis Zoo.”​ ​


The Indianapolis Zoo
Washington Park Children's Zoo
A Community Gathering Spot

The original Indianapolis Zoo was called the Washington Park Children’s Zoo, and had exhibits with an Asian elephant, penguins, camels, tortoises, buffalos and more! Visitors especially loved the Dutch windmill at the entrance as well as giant replicas of a giraffe and a blue whale, which were icons of the old Zoo. In its inaugural year, the Zoo welcomed 270,000 visitors.

Over the next 22 years, the Indianapolis Zoo encountered many additions and changes. Partly through donations of personal “pets” such as monkeys, large cats, zebras, wallabies, alligators and more, the collection had doubled in size by the Zoo’s 20th anniversary. The designation of a children’s zoo had outlasted its use and the Zoo needed a new, bigger site.​

A New Vision

Work Begins on Planning for a New Zoo

A vision for a new, world-class Zoo began to emerge in 1982. In addition to having more space, Zoo officials wanted the new location to be in a more visible and accessible site in the heart of Indianapolis to attract more visitors. They found the ideal location in the newly incorporated White River State Park. The Zoo’s founders also knew it would be important to preserve natural habitats, showcase diversity in species, and observe natural behaviors to help save endangered species in the wild. Central to this plan was the concept of a cage-less zoo, one with exhibits that simulated the animals’ natural environments. The shift in how the exhibits are presented was because, since the Indianapolis Zoo’s 1964 opening, zoos had become more than a place to see animals; they are institutions of conservation and education.

Attended by state and local dignitaries, important Zoo supporters and even a few animals, the new facility broke ground in September 1985 in White River State Park. The new Indianapolis Zoo was the first attraction to open in White River State Park.

As construction on the new facility neared an end, the 23-year run of the old Zoo came to a close, and on Nov. 1, 1987, the Washington Park Children’s Zoo closed its gates for the last time. With the arrival of new animals, the new Zoo grew to five times its former size. Before the opening, staff continued training and working hard to adapt to new exhibits, equipment and employees. One of the biggest challenges was relocating the Zoo’s 500 animals, which took weeks to prepare for and execute.

The new Zoo includes five areas: Oceans, showcasing more than 90 species of aquatic life from the world’s oceans, seas and rivers; Deserts, highlighting life in desert habitats around the globe; Plains, including animals of the African plains; Forests, featuring animals of temperate and tropical forests; and Flights of Fancy, featuring birds from warmer climates around the world including Africa, South America, Asia and Australia. Other major exhibits include the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, the award-winning exhibit that is home to the Zoo’s twelve orangutans.

In the more than five decades since the first Zoo opened its doors, many things have changed about the Indianapolis Zoo. Yet one thing remains unchanged — the vision of Lowell Nussbaum to provide the people of Indianapolis and surrounding areas with a place to learn from and be inspired by animals. That vision is reflected even today in the mission of the Indianapolis Zoo: to empower people and communities, both locally and globally, to advance animal conservation.



A New Idea
White River Gardens Created

As the first major development undertaken by the Indianapolis Zoological Society since the Indianapolis Zoo opened at its current White River State Park location in 1988, the addition of White River Gardens broke ground in October 1997. The Gardens’ designers intended to present traditional garden elements in a contemporary way, and White River Gardens is not the traditional garden that most people imagine.

White River Gardens formally opened to the public on June 13, 1999. The Zoo and Gardens share the same main entrance; however, the Gardens were initially maintained as a separate attraction until 2006 when it was included as part of the Indianapolis Zoo. Central to White River Gardens are the more than 16,000 plants, including both native and exotic species, many of which are rare or historic in value. The Gardens also include a glass-enclosed conservatory, outdoor design gardens, water garden, numerous artistic fountains and features, a wedding garden for ceremonies and receptions, 1.5 miles of winding paths and walkways, and an indoor/outdoor dining facility with a dramatic view of the downtown skyline and riverfront.

Visitors can enjoy the best of gardening ideas, plant information and inspirational design in the DeHaan Tiergarten, enjoy the lush tropical oasis year round in the Hilbert Conservatory, and can learn about Indiana wildlife and habitats while visiting the Family Nature Center.

A New Idea
Commitment to Diversity

Consistent with the Indianapolis Zoological Society’s mission and values, the Indianapolis Zoo is committed to creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive culture in which visitors, employees, suppliers and community partners are respected and valued.

Science has demonstrated that plant and animal diversity makes for strong natural communities and the Indianapolis Zoo believes that diversity makes institutions stronger as well.

Our Values
We value, encourage, listen to and challenge our staff, while fostering a climate of trust, respect and high ethical standards. We are committed to a high level of community inclusion and standards. We energetically and proactively advance the Zoo's mission and vision. We continually strive to provide the highest quality facilities and experiences for our animals, our visitors and our employees. We manage our operation prudently and with fiscal responsibility, and we maintain a long-term focus with plans that ensure sustainable growth.

Annual Reports