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
We protect nature and inspire people to care for our world.
Our Vision
We believe in a world where nature and people thrive.

The Zoo's commitment toward the fight against racial inequality and injustice

The Zoo’s reopening occurred on Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.  As we continue to witness the national and international outcry over the profound impact that inequity and injustice continue to have on our society, our response is clear.

On behalf of our Zoo, I offer full and unequivocal support for the fight against racial inequality and injustice.

Let me reaffirm a core belief for the Indianapolis Zoo.  We are a safe and welcoming place.  We don’t tolerate hate, racism, or discrimination of any kind.

That’s a personal commitment from me, and a guiding principle for the Zoo.  You have my word.

In collaboration with our Board of Trustees and our Diversity Committee, we continually review all our practices to ensure that our operations and environment are consistent with our core beliefs.

We continue to honestly examine the organization we are today with a focus on understanding and defining what we must be for the future.

We will continue to listen and learn, and we will act.

A friend and colleague shared a quote with me that I think describes what we saw during the recent protests.  It’s from Saint Augustine, a philosopher who was a bishop in Africa during the first century.

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage.  Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

Let’s be angry, courageous, and hopeful together.


Robert W Shumaker, Ph.D.
President & CEO
Indianapolis Zoological Society, Inc.

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

  • 2021 Board of Trustees

    Devin Anderson, Chair
    Ronda Shrewsbury Weybright, 1st V Chair
    Beth Klapper, 2nd V Chair
    Marisol Sanchez, Secretary
    Steve Alonso, Treasurer
    Jeffrey Harrison, Immediate Past Chair
    Christa Adkins
    Kathryn G. Betley
    Steve Cagle
    Stanley Chen
    Larry Coan
    David DeWitt
    Cheri Dick

    Patrick Early
    Lauren Edmundson
    Nancy Elder
    Julia Gard
    Whit Grayson
    Shane Hageman
    Anita Harden
    Peter Jorgenson
    Todd Katz
    Blake Koriath
    Kristi Lee
    Karen Ann Lloyd
    Jim Powers
    Myrta Pulliam

    Mel Raines
    Bill Rosenbaum
    April Sasso
    Andy Sellers
    John Sharpe
    Robert Shoemaker
    Connie Bond Stuart
    Richard J. Thrapp
    David Trogden
    Pete Ward
    Michael W. Wells
    Amy Willis
    Allen Wright

  • Founder Members

    Mike Alley
    Dan Appel
    Holly Banta
    Mike Bosway
    Beth E. Cate
    Matthew Claymon
    Alan Cohen
    Christine Duncan

    Suzanne Fehsenfeld
    Eric Gillispie
    Polly Horton Hix
    Kelly Huntington
    Ann Hunt
    Fran Jacoby
    Kay Koch
    Deborah Lilly

    Lisa McKinney
    John Neighbours
    Polly Nicely, M.D
    Steven Schenck
    J. Albert Smith
    Doug Tillman
    Steve Walker
    Dan Yates

  • Honorary Trustees

    Joseph D. Barnette, Jr.
    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

    Jasmin French
    Ashish Kalgaonkar
    Josh Malarsky
    Ben Matherly

    Mike McCaslin
    Julie Moyers
    Jason Spilbeler
    Linda Sullivan

  • Life Trustees

    Robert R. Baxter
    Eleanor F. Bookwalter
    Laura George
    Betty D. Givens

    Robert B. Hirschman
    Scott A. Jones
    Michael Maurer

    John Mutz
    DV Pace
    Mel Perelman

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 protect nature and inspire people to care for our world.



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