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​​​Saving Sea Ice

Celebrating Sea Ice of the Artic Brings Awareness to Environmental Impact [more...]

Summertime. We think of warm rays of sunshine and water lapping the coastline. But every year, the second Saturday in July shines a spotlight on quite the opposite — ice.


Arctic Sea Ice Day was created by Polar Bears International as a way to highlight sea ice losses and how individual actions can make an immense impact.


"Most of us think that the Arctic sea ice is some faraway environment with which we have little connection. Yet, our daily activities — in Indiana and elsewhere across the country — impact the welfare of that habitat," said Steve Amstrup, 2012 Indianapolis Prize winner and Chief Scientist of Polar Bears International.

Arctic sea ice, which forms as ocean water freezes, grows and melts, is as important to the Arctic ecosystem as the soil is in a forest.

Known as Earth's refrigerator, sea ice helps cool the planet by reflecting the sun's radiation back into space. But when there is less ice, the open water absorbs heat, contributing to a rise in temperatures around the world.

Records show evidence that sea ice has continued to decline in the past 100 years, reducing more than 11 percent each decade since satellite records began in 1979. Scientists even describe this as a new era of sea ice, with less multi-year ice (ice that remains year-round) and rather an increase in thinner, seasonal ice across parts of the Arctic.

A Polar Patriot and Animals in Indianapolis

Amstrup's work has earned him worldwide recognition, and he is regarded as the most important and influential scientist working on polar bear conservation. From leading the researchers who prepared reports that would become the basis for listing polar bears as a threatened species to examining whether greenhouse gas mitigation could improve the animals' future outlook, Amstrup's dedication to the cause over the course of more than three decades earned him the Indianapolis Prize in 2012.

And while Amstrup's passion focuses on the famed white bears, his research is key for the future of many species, from the smallest organisms at the base of the food chain to seals, walrus and more that rely on sea ice to find food and live on.

While this Arctic landscape may change the fate of many animals, there are still happy stories to tell.


One of the Pacific walrus thriving at the Indianapolis Zoo is Pakak, aptly named for "one who gets into everything." Pakak's incredible journey began when he was stranded off the coast of Alaska when he was only 4-6 weeks old and would not have survived on his own. Rescuers from the Alaska SeaLife Center were able to step in and care for him until the Zoo was chosen as his new home.


Dedicated individuals are working to rescue and rehabilitate animals, conservation heroes and scientists continue to research habitat and behavior, and families are joining in the effort from their home to create a bright future for not only the incredible animals of the Arctic but all the amazing creatures we share this planet with.

And that's pretty cool.

Saving Sea Ice Starts With Us

"It used to be that when we had a conservation challenge we could build a fence around an area or hire guards to fight off poachers. Having done so we could go home and sleep comfortably. But we cannot build a fence to protect the sea ice from rising temperatures," Amstrup said. "Fighting sea ice loss, and the temperature rise that is causing it, requires all of us to change how we live, how we transport ourselves and ultimately where we get our energy."

According to Amstrup, preserving sea ice now can head off even worse problems in the future. And you can help make that difference for that future.

Did you know you can take action to save sea ice by "cooling" your grocery cart through local, sustainable items? Strive to buy locally grown items to reduce food miles and organically grown foods to reduce emissions caused by fertilizers. Even eating less meat plays a role due to the methane that is produced by livestock and the amount of water, land and feed needed. Additionally, supporting farmers' markets in your area and purchasing only what you and your family will eat helps to reduce waste and creates a healthier overall environment.

"Sea ice loss is driven by the warming of the world, brought about by burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and other poor land uses, as well as the unsustainable choices we all make at the market," Amstrup said "Those 'life choices' affect every species about which we care. … When people realize that we are all in this — with the rest of life on earth — the reasons for changing how we move about, live and eat will be easier to see and more compelling."

Steve Amstrup photo courtesy of Polar Bears International. Pakak photo courtesy of Carla Knapp. [close]

Elephant Conservation Awareness Brought to the Big Apple

Today marked a historic moment for our nation and the future of African elephants. Today New York City's famous Times Square set the stage for the nation's second ivory crush. [more...]

Hundreds of elephant champions gathered to honor elephants and to raise awareness for this iconic species' plight. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, alongside many other conservation organizations, including the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Wildlife Conservation Society, hosted its event on the morning of June 19, destroying one ton of confiscated ivory.


A staggering 96 elephants are killed each day in Africa by poachers who sell the elephant tusks on the black market — a crisis inspiring the creation of the 96 Elephants campaign through Wildlife Conservation Society. According to the 96 Elephants website, since 1989, 13 nations have crushed and burned a total of 136 metric tons of confiscated ivory, equivalent to more than 300,000 pounds.


That represents more than 13,600 elephants.

"A lot needs to be done before we have the capacity to adequately protect elephants in their natural habitat," said Dr. Charles Foley, director of the Tarangire Elephant Project. "That's why raising public awareness about poaching and the ivory trade is so important."

Dr. Foley said people are astonished when they realize the perils elephants face in the wild and the immense number killed for their ivory each year.

"That's the message that we need to get across loud and clear. Why? Because the more that members of the public know about the poaching situation, the easier it is to shift public opinion away from buying ivory," he said.

These events send a clear message to traffickers around the world: Illegal ivory trade won't be tolerated. With the United States ranked second only to China as the largest ivory market worldwide, efforts close to home carry an immense impact for this vulnerable species.

Conservation, Communities and Classrooms

But it doesn't end with a single city.

Central Indiana students are living proof of that. Guided by dedicated and creative teachers who took the pledge to stand up for Africa's elephants, classrooms are engaging with conservation efforts, learning and truly "raising change" to "make change" in the wild for this incredible species.


More than 96 educators took the challenge put forth by the Indianapolis Zoo to pledge to teach students about this crisis. They went beyond lesson planning. They took action.


Whether it was raising money through fundraisers or creating amazing artwork, students from kindergarten to college played a part.

Some of their projects included kindergarteners at Indianapolis Public School 96 made button pins to raise money; second graders from Saints Francis and Clare Catholic School studied elephants and held a successful fundraiser; first grade classes from St. Thomas Aquinas and Ashland Community College both produced memorable works of art; and the high school AP environment students from Hamilton South Eastern created projects and are fundraising.

These are the conservationists of the future working to ensure elephants will continue to roam our planet. [close]

​You Can Be the Solution for Endangered Species

​By Dr. Patricia Wright | 2014 Indianapolis Prize Winner | Article originally appeared on HuffPost Green

Ten years ago, the United States Congress declared the first observance of Endangered Species Day — an opportunity to turn our national attention to the wildlife and wild places that need our help the most. Today, we ponder what our planet might look like if America’s most threatened flora and fauna disappeared forever, and take time to consider our responsibility in the fight for wildlife conservation. [more...]


While Endangered Species Day celebrates the victories of some of our nation’s most treasured wildlife – such as the American bald eagle, or the grizzly bear– our efforts to protect animals should not stop short of our borders. Our earth’s ecosystems are vastly complex and interconnected, far beyond anything you or I could imagine. What happens to one of us affects all of us. 


I work to save the lemurs of Madagascar, the world’s most critically threatened mammals, if not its most endangered species. Though Madagascar may seem like a world away, we’re literally family as lemurs are humanity’s oldest living relatives. Unfortunately, their numbers are too low and our fight continues to protect against their forest habitat being slashed and burned for farming, or destroyed for luxury timber like rosewood.

As I was finishing up my doctorate in primatology in the ’80s, I knew I wanted to study the playful and mysterious lemurs. I envisioned myself deep in the forest, recording observations in a notebook, a dutiful scientist. But when I finally got to Madagascar, I saw a very different reality. 

I saw lots of poverty, and lots of suffering. I saw people cutting down the forest and hunting the lemurs not out of spite or cruelty, but because they needed to make a living or feed their family. It was then that I realized I couldn’t just be a scientist, I needed to be a conservationist. I needed to not only observe animals, but I needed to advocate for them. And I needed to help others be the solution for lemurs. 

In Madagascar, that meant providing people with basic access to education, healthcare and economic opportunity. It meant garnering a greater public awareness about the plight of lemurs, and the consequences if they became extinct. It meant making the conservation a more valuable pursuit than destruction. Our campaign to change hearts and minds continues, but we are seeing positive changes. In fact, we’ve seen a 50 percent decrease in deforestation in Ranomafana — the country’s first and largest national park —in just five years.

This past fall, Madagascar celebrated the first-ever World Lemur Festival, bringing international attention to these magnificent creatures, which can only be found on this African island country. The celebration was particularly significant, as more and more Malagasy recognize that lemurs — and the ecotourism industry flourishing in their habitat — are a major economic asset. Much of the progress can be attributed to simple public awareness. In just one year, lemurs were featured in the IMAX film “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar”,  they closed the New York Stock Exchange, and they joined me as I was  being honored as the winner of the Indianapolis Prize, which recognizes successful, sustainable conservation models. 

It’s been a very good year for lemurs, but more can be done for them and for other endangered species. Regardless of where you live – whether it’s Madagascar or Manhattan – you can be the person who inspires powerful change. With energy, enthusiasm and a strong entrepreneurial spirit, you can make your community – and our world – a better place to live. 

Your involvement could take the form of supporting a conservation organization financially or through volunteering, advocating for smart conservation policies at the state, federal and international level or encouraging young people to pursue careers in the field. Taking any of those actions would make you a hero for a threatened species, among the ranks of the professional conservationists that are protecting animals around the globe. 

We need your talent, your passion and —most importantly — your hope for endangered species, starting today. More heroes are needed for our animals, for our planet and for our human legacy. Can we count you on our team? ​[close]

​​National Initiative Launches on Endangered Species Day to Save Animals From Extinction

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Endangered Species Day we are reminded of the responsibility we have to protect animals of the sky, the sea and the habitat in between. [more...]


The Indianapolis Prize was created to help fulfill the Indianapolis Zoo's mission of empowering people and communities, both locally and globally, to advance animal conservation and is recognized as the world's leading award for the heroes saving species across our planet – the Nobel Prize for animal conservation.


In 2014, Dr. Patricia Wright was the first woman to be awarded the Prize, and her dedication, tenacity and story are inspiring. What began as a love for lemurs became a passion for the people of Madagascar and the unique beauty of one of the world's biodiversity hotspots.

She can't imagine a world without lemurs – a world where endangered species have disappeared. Can you?

Luckily, the world doesn't have to be without incredible animals like lemurs, rhinos and orangutans. The Indianapolis Zoo and the Prize are excited to support a new national initiative through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums focusing on conservation science, wildlife expertise and enabling visitors to save species in the wild.

AZA: Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) launched today. Through SAFE, the entire AZA community is coming together in a variety of ways to help the public consider what it would be like to not be able to see, learn from or connect with endangered species again.

In 2015, SAFE will focus on 10 species and then add an additional 10 species each year over the course of the next 10 years. Through this new program, AZA accredited zoos and aquariums will identify factors threatening species, develop conservation action plans and engage the public to save the most vulnerable wildlife species from extinction and protect them for generations to come.

It's because of engaging and impactful programs like SAFE and conservation heroes like Pat Wright that we're able to secure a brighter fate for species and a sustainable future for our children. And while we honor their wonderful work through the Prize, our most important message is that they can't do it alone. [close]

Conservation Connections: Russ Mittermeier

By Russ Mittermeier | Indianapolis Prize Finalist, 2012 & 2014 | Executive Vice-Chair, Conservation International & Chair, IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group

It's been quite a busy eight months since the delightful Indianapolis Prize ceremony back in September. During this period, I made three trips to Madagascar, two to Colombia, one to Suriname and Guyana, one to Australia, and one to Brazil, not to mention shorter trips to various American and European cities for meetings of different kinds. [more...]

Conservation Around the World             

Let's start with Madagascar, where, for the first time in six years, there is some cause for optimism. Following the 2009 coup that toppled President Marc Ravalomanana and put in place Andry Rajoelina, a former disc jockey, things went downhill very quickly. The downhill slide included an increase in poaching of tortoises, lemurs, and other species, and an invasion of several of the most important parks, among them two World Heritage Sites, for illegal extraction of rosewood for export to China.  What is more, most international donors pulled out, and not a single country on Earth recognized the government. Then, finally, elections were held in December, 2013, and a new president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina (yes, his name is that long), took office in January. I met with him in Antananarivo a week later, and then again in July, when I took world-renowned NY Times columnist Tom Friedman and his wife on a trip to the country. I was and continue to be favorably impressed with the new president, and international donors are pouring back in.


Also of note was President Rajaonarimampianina's participation in the VIth IUCN World Parks Congress in November. This once-a-decade event is the most important gathering of the world's experts on protected areas, and this one (my fourth, dating back to the 1982 World Parks Congress in Bali, Indonesia) accomplished a great deal. Particularly noteworthy was that President Rajaonarimampianina brought with him a delegation of more than 60 people, the largest delegation of any country other than the host nation and by far the largest that Madagascar had ever fielded to such an event. The president participated in a number of events, but really made a splash in the closing plenary when he reiterated President Marc Ravalomanana's commitment to triple protected area coverage in Madagascar, made at the 2003 World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa. This was something that we had lobbied for, and we were delighted that the president saw fit to commit once again to this worthy, indeed essential, goal.


In October, I went to Madagascar to participate in the first-ever World Lemur Festival, a week of activities organized by Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Madagascar's leading primatologist and the President of GERP (Groupe de Etude et Recherche des Primates). Aimed at stimulating both internal and international interest in lemurs, this event was a great success, and included the launch of our new French lemur field guide, the fourth edition dating back 1994 when we published the first edition. With the help of a Malagasy website designer, we are now also finalizing an iPhone App for Lemur-Watching in Madagascar, which should be ready in a few months' time, all part of my global effort to develop primate-watching as a global sport/hobby along the lines of bird-watching.

In January and February, I made two additional trips to Madagascar, the first to accompany a group of donors and the second to meet with the US Agency for International Development team (USAID) that is preparing a new biodiversity program for the country. From 1984 to 2009, USAID had an excellent biodiversity program in the country, the best anywhere in the world, but it closed down with the coup in 2009. With the arrival of President Hery, it is starting up again and I took the opportunity to brief them on our activities in-country and to highlight yet again the global importance of Madagascar.

At the same time, I am working with my close friend Ed Louis and his amazing Malagasy team on descriptions of at least five new species of lemurs. The rate of discovery of new lemur species in Madagascar is truly astounding, having gone from 50 species in 1994 when we published our first field guide to 106 now. With these five new species, it will go up to 111 and more are still to come.


In December, I also made two trips to Colombia during this period, broken up by a trip to New York to participate in an event with Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge in Brooklyn. Amazingly enough the Prince had never been to New York, and this time he was particularly interested in seeing an NBA basketball game, featuring LeBron James' Cavaliers and the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclay Center (the Cavaliers demolished the Nets). This was part of the Prince's United for Wildlife Campaign to use sports celebrities in the global battle against wildlife-trafficking, something I have been involved in since it was created a couple of years ago. At the reception for the Prince and Duchess, I also met former NBA star Dikembe Mutombe from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dikembe stands more than 7 feet tall so he was hard to miss, and I am a big basketball fan so I immediately gravitated towards him.  One of my first questions to him was whether he had ever heard of the bonobo, the great ape species endemic to the Congo that is our closest living relative. Imagine my delight when he burst into a big smile, pulled out his iPhone, and showed me about a hundred bonobo photos from his recent visit to Lola ya Bonobo, the world's only bonobo sanctuary located in the capital city of Kinshasa.

In Colombia, I gave the keynote address on primate conservation at the IVth Colombian Zoology Congress held in the coastal city of Cartagena, itself a World Heritage Site. I was amazed at the attendance for this event, more than 3,600 people from more than 30 countries, including a delegation of more than 600 from Brazil alone. The growth of zoology in South America over the past 40 years has been truly transformational. A meeting of this kind in 1971, when I first went to South America, would barely have attracted half a dozen people.  As part of this congress, the young Colombian Primate Association held a two day symposium, and again I was impressed with the amount of research being conducted, the vast majority of it by an entire new generation of Colombian primatologists, many of whom we have helped to support through our Primate Action Fund grant mechanism.

I also took advantage of being in Colombia to visit several key field sites in the Rio Magdalena basin, areas that a decade ago would have been impossible to visit because of guerrilla activity, but which now, for the most part, are safe. The Rio Magdalena is a large river that flows north into the Atlantic and is not part of the Amazon drainage. The forest is mostly Amazonian in composition, but there are also a lot of endemic species, among them a number of primates. In particular, I went to one site for the Critically Endangered brown spider monkey, Ateles hybridus, a Top 25 Most Endangered Primate species, and another site for the    white-footed tamarin, Saguinus leucopus. The spider monkey is very interesting in that it is one of only two primate species that often has blue eyes, the other being the blue-eyed black lemur (Eulemur flavifrons) from northwestern Madagascar. It is found only in a handful of forest fragments in the Magdalena region and also in a few isolated sites in Venezuela. Fortunately, it is receiving major attention from a team headed by Colombian primatologist, Andres Link, one of the leaders of the new generation of primate researchers in Colombia. The white-footed tamarin was for a long time a mystery species, in part because of difficult access to its range.  However, with the opening of this region, it has received considerable attention, and seems to be doing much better conservation-wise than we have previously believed.


At the end of January, we held an IUCN Species Survival Commission Red-Listing Workshop for Neotropical Primates at the Houston Zoo. The IUCN Red List recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and is the oldest and most fundamental database in the conservation business. It determines which species are endangered and which are not, and is an ongoing process in constant need of revision. I have been involved in red-listing since 1974, and we periodically revise the primate list through a series of workshops, generally held every 8-10 years. We had already held a workshop for lemurs in July 2012, and still have two more planned for Asia and Africa later this year. This one focused on the 215 species and subspecies of monkeys found in South and Central America and Mexico, and brought together about 30 specialists from most of the countries in the region.

Over the course of five days, we assessed the conservation status of all 215 species and subspecies of Neotropical primates, and came up with 24 (11.1 percent) as Critically Endangered, 32 (14.9 percent) as Endangered and 34 as Vulnerable (15.8 percent). Although this seems like a lot and we certainly can't be complacent, it actually represented a relatively small increase in threatened species, which was good news across the board. It was also it in striking contrast to Madagascar where 90 percent of the lemur species assessed in 2012 came out as threatened, many of them in the Critically Endangered category.

What is particularly encouraging in the Neotropics is how quickly a new generation of primate conservationist is emerging and how well they are organizing themselves to move forward. Brazil has a long-standing primatological society, Colombia has a young and active one as do the Mexicans, and Peru created one about three years ago. What is more, a Latin American Primatological Society, long dormant, has now come back to life as well. I am very pleased that the support that we have been providing to many of these emerging primate specialists in South and Central America over the past 35 years has really been very effective.

Also related to the Red List, I attended an amazing event in November entitled the Biophilia Ball. Named after Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson's Biophilia concept (and book) that holds that we all have an inherent tendency to love nature, this dinner was organized by the British NGO Synchronicity Earth and was held at the British Museum of Natural History. It was a wonderful event that attracted some 400 people, and featured tables organized by priority hotspot regions. Each guest was provided with a special hand-painted mask depicting an important species from each of these regions. The main purpose of the ball was to stimulate interest in the Red List, celebrate its 50th anniversary and raise funds to support it.

I've also been involved in a number of new publications over the past nine months. These include the fourth volume of the Handbook of Mammals (Marine Mammals), a revision of the Amazonian primate genus Pithecia, the sakis, which increased the number of species from five to 16 (one of them named after me), and a book celebrating the 50th anniversary of the IUCN Red List, entitled  The IUCN Red List: 50 Years of Conservation.

Preserving Suriname

Last, but definitely not least, I have spent a good part of the last month on the new mega-reserve that we have worked to create in southern Suriname. As background, I have been working in Suriname since 1975, and did my doctoral dissertation research there from 1975 to 1977, focusing on the eight primate species that occur in that country. During the course of my research, I fell in love with the country, and committed to helping them with their conservation activities for the remainder of my career. For those who aren't familiar with Suriname (and it is a well-kept secret), it is a former Dutch colony that was known as Dutch Guiana. It achieved its independence from the Netherlands the same year that I arrived for the first time. Although it has had a very low profile in recent years, it was a very important plantation colony in the 17th to 19th centuries, and was actually traded for New York in 1667 (the British getting New York and the Dutch Suriname). It is truly unique in many ways, and has both the highest rain forest cover of any country (more than 94 percent) and the highest per capita water availability. Its human population is very small, only about 530,000 people in an area the size of New England, but it has a very unusual mix of cultures found nowhere else. These include the native Amerindians, Javanese that were brought in by the Dutch 150 years ago (the only Javanese in the New World), Indians from India that came at the end of the 19th century, a small population of Chinese merchants of long-standing, one of the oldest Jewish communities in the Americas, Creoles of mixed African descent, and the amazing Bushnegros or Maroons, six tribes that are the last remaining runaway slave cultures remaining in the African diaspora.

In 1998, in response to growing threats from Indonesian and Malaysian logging companies that we trying to get concessions for roughly 20 percent of the country, we worked with the government to create a huge reserve in the central part of the country, in the watershed of the most pristine river, the Coppename. Thanks to a donation of $1 million from the Seattle-based Harbers family, we were able to convince the government to move ahead with this and to create the Central Suriname Nature Reserve, a 1.6 million ha (4 million acre) reserve, almost the size of the state of New Jersey. This new reserve, one of the largest tropical forest protected areas in the world at that time, was very quickly recognized by the international community and inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. What is more, we were are also successful in attracting other donors, and by that same year had created a $15 million trust fund entitled the Suriname Conservation Foundation to support the reserve in perpetuity.

This whole process was so successful that it stimulated the creation of even larger reserves in neighboring countries, with Brazil establishing the 3.8 million ha Tumucumaque National Park in 2002 and a few years later in French Guiana, the 2 million ha Parque Amazonienne de Guyane. Both of these run right up to and along their borders with Suriname. What is more, the success in Suriname encouraged our organization, Conservation International, to establish a special fund to create more new park and reserves in high priority regions and endow them with trust funds. Thanks to a $100 million gift from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, we were able to do this in 2001, and have since that time succeeded in working with governments in 27 countries to create and endow 78 new protected areas.

With the creation of the border protected areas in Brazil and French Guiana, I came up with the idea of creating yet another protected area in Suriname to match those on the other side of the border. This started a process, beginning about 10 years ago, of looking into how we might protect still more of this special country's rain forest heritage. And so began a process of negotiation with the indigenous communities in this region, eight villages in all, mainly of the Trio and Wayana tribes and numbering in total only about 3,000 people. Such negotiations often take a lot of time, and this was no exception, but we were fortunate in that we know most of these communities firsthand and had been working in the largest of them, the Trio Indian village of Kwamalasemutu, for almost 30 years. Finally, last month, after a year of detailed consultations with all eight communities to get them Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC), they themselves declared a 7.2 million ha (18 million acre) indigenous territory – the Southern Suriname Conservation Corridor (SSCC), the second largest of its kind in South America. What is more, if one combines this with the 4 million ha Tumucumaque Indigenous Territory on the Brazilian side of the border, also for the Trio, the total comes to 11.2 million ha, roughly the same size as the Kayapo Indigenous Territory in the southern Brazilian Amazon. And this Southern Suriname Conservation Corridor is also contiguous with the Central Suriname Nature Reserve, for a total area of 8.8 million ha. For comparison, this is an area four times larger than the state of New Jersey — larger than Ireland or Austria — with just 3,000 people living in it.

A Future for These Forests

I was just in Suriname again at the end of March and early April. During this trip, we flew down to Kwamalasemutu to meet with leaders from the eight communities, to congratulate them on their efforts, and to offer our full and continuing support. So it is all moving forward very nicely. Last week I received news that the Suriname government is including the Southern Suriname Conservation Corridor in its Climate Mitigation Strategy to be presented at the next Conference of the Parties of the Climate Convention in Paris in December.

Even more exciting is the opportunity that we now have to extend our success in the Guianas and Brazil even further. Almost simultaneous with our announcement of the new indigenous reserve in southern Suriname, President Santos of Colombia announced his desire to have a Triple A (Andes-Amazon-Atlantic) rain forest corridor stretching east from the Colombian Andes, through the Colombian Amazon, across northernmost Brazil, and to the Atlantic.  Colombia has a long history of protected area creation in its Amazonian region and also has the best indigenous reserves anywhere in South America, the "resguardas indigenas", which cover a large portion of the region.  As soon as I saw this, I recognized the enormous opportunity to link our strategy for Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana and neighboring Brazil with the Colombian vision, and have already been in touch with our very influential Colombia Program to arrange a meeting with President Santos (who we know quite well since he hosted a CI Board meeting in Cartagena, Colombia a couple of years ago). Looking still further, we also see an opportunity to extend this east-west vision south along the eastern slopes of the Andes and the western Amazon lowlands into Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and the westernmost portion of the Brazilian Amazon. This represents an enormous area of largely intact tropical rain forest, by far the largest on Earth, and also includes the headwaters of the mighty Amazon, again by far the largest river system on Earth. This meeting with President Santos should take place in a few weeks' time so stay tuned.
Photos Courtesy of: Russ Mittermeier, Conservation International

Conservation Connections: Gerardo Ceballos 

Gerardo Ceballos is at the forefront of groundbreaking research and animal conservation in Mexico. One of our 2014 Indianapolis Prize finalists, he has developed successful conservation strategies for a wide variety of species, including the jaguar and the black-footed ferret— the most endangered mammal in North America.

Since his September visit for the Indianapolis Prize Gala, Ceballos has continued creating significant and inspiring impacts for animal conservation. [more...]

National Conservation Strategy for Jaguars

Ceballos has been working to finish a National Conservation Strategy for the long-term preservation of jaguars in Mexico. By relying on finding approaches and assisting with priority areas for conservation reserves, cattle-jaguar conflict, and the connection between road infrastructure and jaguar mortality, Ceballos is working to maintain viable populations throughout the country.

As part of this strategic action, Ceballos convinced the Mexican government to decree an additional two million hectares as reserves in the area, and is currently working to set those aside to further conservation. These reserves and other efforts may help find ways to reduce conflict between ranchers and jaguars — jaguars are illegally killed when they prey on cattle.

The Jaguar Conservation Strategy is also looking to develop new guidelines for roads so they impact less jaguar habitat and reduce the number of cats killed by car collisions. Ceballos and his team seek to create wildlife passes on major highways.

Jaguar Ecology and Conservation in Calakmul

From February to April, Ceballos spent time at his camp in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and buffer zone in southern Mexico studying jaguars. His continuing work on jaguar ecology and conservation is the longest and most complete study of jaguar spatial ecology in the world. More than 30 jaguars have been radio-collared, providing detailed information for preservation.

Taking on Efforts Page by Page

Ceballos also recently finished a new book, Annihilation of Nature: Human Extermination of Birds and Mammals, co-authored with Paul and Anne Ehrlich. While shining a spotlight on the losses of animals familiar to people, the purpose of the book is to share stories, educate readers and create change.

According to the conservationist, saving all the species that have accompanied humans in our journey depends, exclusively, on us. And our future depends, inexorably, on the fate of these marvelous creatures.

"As the famous French naturalist Jean Dorst once said, 'Nature…will only be saved if the man shows it some love simply because it's beautiful. This is also part of the human soul.' Let's cling to the possibility that humanity will reverse course, and birds, mammals and all the other wonderful creatures and vegetation will remain varied and abundant and able to support our lives, feed out esthetic senses, and boost our spirits," Ceballos said. "Above all, let's all work to make that possibility a reality." [close]

Changing the World, Saving the Cheetah

Dr. Laurie Marker loves speed. She might even say the world needs a little more of it.

Because when it comes to speed, she's talking about cheetahs. [more...]

Marker is the founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). She has dedicated her life to protecting the world's famed fast cat and is currently celebrating the organization's 25th anniversary with a tour focusing on changing the world to save this species.


Her most recent stop was the Indianapolis Zoo, where she chatted about cheetahs and their conservation with guests and staff members, and took time to meet some fellow cheetah lovers.


"I think the question I get most often is, 'What does it take to save them?'" Marker said. "And my answer is to make the world a place sustainable for cheetahs, all other wildlife and our human population."

A Conservation Connection

Recognized as a two-time Indianapolis Prize finalist for her dedication to wildlife conservation, Marker has worked with cheetahs since 1974, starting with simply a Land Rover and a dream.

Her determination in chasing that dream culminated with the creation of CCF in 1990, establishing an unparalleled model for predator conservation that may have made the critical difference between extinction and survival for the cheetah. CCF is now the longest-running cheetah conservation program worldwide and is recognized for research and successful management methods for cheetah populations in Namibia and across Africa.


"Protecting cheetahs in the wild is paramount … Our goals are to scale up and continue doing the things that are working," Marker said. "We want to save more cheetahs and save the world for them."

Girls in Science

Young girls ages 9-14 had the opportunity to learn about cheetahs and science from the conservation leader at a special Girls in Science program.

"My favorite part of the job is exciting people about actually making a difference," Marker said. "Bright young minds can bring awesome changes in our world."

The group participated in a cheetah chat, where they were able to see these African cats up-close, hear about their care from a keeper and ask Marker lots (and lots) of questions. Plus, the girls met a kangal shepherd, the same breed that CCF provides to farmers across Africa to guard livestock.

Marker was excited to see girls being encouraged to explore science. She said women are extremely precise, excellent investigators and have intuition — all qualities that expand research and building blocks for the future of conservation.

CCF and the Indianapolis Zoo


"Conservation needs to be thought of as an investment," Marker said. "The world is recognizing that cheetahs are in need."


Here at the Indianapolis Zoo, it only takes two coins to make a difference for cheetahs thousands of miles away. Funds raised from Race-a-Cheetah — totaling more than $64,300 — have gone directly to CCF's many endeavors.

The future of CCF looks bright, with an expansion of the Livestock Guarding Dog program into Tanzania; establishing a creamery for farmers to learn to make cheese for profit; and habitat restoration programs converting encroaching thorn bush into high-heat, low-emission, compacted logs for use as a cooking fuel or for home heating. Marker is excited to work alongside the Future Farmers of Africa to educate and train rural farmers to care for endangered land while re-establishing the heartland of rhino, wild dogs, cheetahs and many other animals.

"Our strides have been great," she said. "We've been able to show that through good wildlife management you can live in harmony with predators." [close]

Dolphins are Key to Learning Community Pilot Program

A new pilot program at the Indianapolis Zoo is bringing together students from Indianapolis Public School's Key Learning Community and a pod of Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins for an adventure you can't quite match in the classroom. [more...]


More than 400 students, from kindergarten to high school, are getting to take part in these up-close, hands-on experiences, part of a program aimed at engaging these young students and creating connections with amazing animals.


"Making a connection is the first step in understanding and ultimately caring," said Tolly Foster, program development and evaluation specialist at the Zoo. "It is our hope to build on this experience for future programs."

Whether it's a poolside encounter or actually getting in the water with the dolphins, these students are working side-by-side with trainers, learning cues for behaviors, training techniques and even giving a few good belly rubs, all to understand exactly what it takes to care for and work with these intelligent and charismatic marine mammals.

 "It is awesome to overhear the stories and reflections from scholars as they return," Key Learning Community's principal Sheila Dollaske said. "Even the ones who put on a 'tough guy' persona come back talking about getting a kiss from Jett or waving at Orin."


Planning the Program

A challenge from an executive staff member set this project in motion, creating an opportunity for Zoo staff to create lasting, once-in-a-lifetime memories for these students.

With initial conversations in October, 2014, the experiences took several months of planning and preparation, but came together for an impactful program that the trainers, students and dolphins enjoy being a part of.

The students first learned about ocean conservation and a few fun facts about the pod during a classroom session in the Polly H. Hix Institute for Research and Conservation. Then students were broken into groups, each participating in a dolphin encounter specifically designed for their grade levels.

"It's awesome because a lot of kids come in nervous … and by the end of the session they're naming dolphins, they're all excited, they're like 'me next, me next,'" Senior Marine Mammal Trainer Mandy Goin said of the program.

Changing the Future

Many animals that live in the world's oceans are highly endangered, and although the International Union for Conservation of Nature does not list dolphins as an endangered species, their ocean habitat is under tremendous pressure. The dolphins at the Zoo help to address many of those issues, including warming, acidification and pollution.

Members of the Indianapolis Zoo's pod are ambassadors for their species, helping people of all ages learn the importance of protecting the world's waterways and caring about safeguarding the wonderful wildlife that call the ocean home.

"We have seen many students come in with some apprehensions about the dolphins but there is nothing more rewarding than to see them leave with big smiles and a new appreciation for the animals," Foster said.


And for some Key Learning students, that newfound appreciation may shape their future careers.

"I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for most people, and I just want to say thank you. I always wanted to be a veterinarian but I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a wildlife veterinarian. This trip made my option clear," Key Learning student Armonie wrote in a letter to Zoo staff after her visit.

According to Principal Dollaske it has been a truly transformational opportunity for the students.

"The positive impact we have seen on our scholars since the dolphin encounters started is incredible," Dollaske said.

Key Learning students call themselves "Key Warriors." And it looks like the future may have a few new warriors for wildlife. [close]

Mission Madagascar: An Update from Prize Winner Pat Wright

Whether surrounded by the glitz and glamour of a gala, the wondering gazes of a group of students, or the flora and fauna of her beloved Madagascar, 2014 Indianapolis Prize winner Dr. Patricia Wright’s passion continues to establish her as a world-renowned force in animal conservation. [more...]


Pat’s prowess in the field has been recognized internationally since her time in Indianapolis, with her conservation contributions earning awards and features across a wide range of media, in addition to receiving an honorary degree from the university in Fianarantsoa.


Presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, which she calls a true honor, Pat was recognized alongside Nan Hauser for her dedication to whales, Sylvia Earle for ocean conservation and Birute Galdikas for orangutan efforts.

Along with making connections with Malagasy communities, Pat’s worked to spread her love of lemurs to even more audiences. She was a guest on Martha Stewart’s radio show, highlighted in an Australian children’s magazine and most recently welcomed CNN’s Parts Unknown host Anthony Bourdain to Ranomafana National Park for an episode in the show’s 2015 season.


In the months since the Gala, Pat released her newest book, “For the Love of Lemurs: My Life in the Wilds of Madagascar,” documenting her breakthroughs bringing lemurs back from the brink of extinction. The Prize winner continued celebrating successes during Ranomafana’s World Lemur Week, joining nearly a thousand people in the festivities. Full of lemur costumes, traditional dancing to lemur songs and other shows, Pat said it’s moments like these that show how the local residents are responding strongly to and supporting conservation efforts in the area.


In her continued work with Centre ValBio, the Madagascar National Park and the people of Madagascar, Pat reports a 50 percent decrease in deforestation in Ranomafana over the past five years. The governor has now declared that area a conservation success. [close]

Scientific Evidence Connects Orangutan Calls and Human Speech

Data from the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center Used in New Study

With help from the Indianapolis Zoo, scientists now have clues to the connections between great ape and human vocal behavior. [more...]


New research from the University of Amsterdam, published in the journal PLOS ONE, provides evidence that orangutan vocalizations may be useful models for the evolution of human speech.


Dr. Rob Shumaker, the Zoo’s Supervising Vice President of Conservation, Science and Education, is a co-author on the publication.

Lead author Dr. Adriano Lameira and researchers from across the world analyzed two never-before-heard calls from a female Bornean orangutan,Tilda, an orangutan at the Cologne Zoo in Germany.

Tilda’s sounds showed similarities to rhythms in human speech, and included voiceless calls or clicks, as well as voiced calls known as faux-speech. These both present similarities to consonants and vowels, the two basic building blocks of human speech, suggesting for the first time that great apes are able to control sounds and vocalize voluntarily. Prior to this research, many held the belief that orangutans’ vocalizations were only reflexive.

By using the largest database of assembled orangutan calls, including audio samples from several apes at the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, to compare with Tilda’s, this research offers a potential origin for speech evolution.


“We’re very proud to collaborate with Dr. Lameira on this important work.” Dr. Rob said. “The results expand our understanding of the impressive range of orangutan mental abilities.”


The Indianapolis Zoo enjoys an ongoing collaboration with Dr. Lameira and looks forward to his future publications.

Researchers at the Center offer the apes computer-based cognitive tasks on a daily basis, and they eagerly participate. These opportunities for learning and problem solving are conducted in a demonstration format with visitors. By directly witnessing the intelligence of orangutans, the Zoo inspires people to advance their conservation. [close]

Race-a-Cheetah, Save a Species

One, two, three.

That's all the time it takes for the world's fastest land animal to race up to 60 miles per hour — an acceleration that leaves even most cars in the dust. But despite its speed, the vulnerable cheetah will need some help to outrun the devastating effects of habitat loss, human conflict and the illegal wildlife trade. [more...]

Now in its fourth year, International Cheetah Day was created to recognize this beautiful species and raise awareness about their race against extinction.


Race for Survival

The oldest and most at risk of African cats, their current populations have dwindled from nearly 100,000 in 1900 to only 10,000. Today, cheetahs can only be found in 23 percent of their historic African range and are now extinct in more than 20 countries.

With hopes of reversing that trend, the Indianapolis Zoo opened its Cheetah: The Race for Survival exhibit in 2010, with a hope of engaging young visitors to care for the future of these felines and to generate direct funds for the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, one of many initiatives the Indianapolis Zoo supports. Dr. Laurie Marker, the founder of CCF and two-time Indianapolis Prize finalist, consulted on the exhibit and helped create one of the most popular attractions in the Zoo's Plains

area. Race-a-Cheetah allows Zoo visitors to make their best attempt to outrun a light array that duplicates a cheetah's speed.


Along with demonstrating just how fast a cheetah can run, the attraction helps tell the story of cheetahs in the wild and support efforts to save their habitat in Africa. Since its opening, the Indianapolis Zoo has raised more than $64,300 for the CCF through Race-a-Cheetah.

It's a Cat and Dog World

A vast majority of cheetahs live outside protected areas, alongside human communities and therefore often get blamed for attacking domestic animals. To many farmers, cheetahs are seen as a detriment to their livelihoods rather than as a valued asset to the ecosystem. So, in addition to direct cheetah conservation, funds from Race-a-Cheetah help the CCF raise dogs used to guard livestock, reducing the inclination by farmers to trap or kill cheetahs.

CCF staff members train Kangal and Anatolian shepherds to act as protectors. Known for their physically imposing size, strength and threatening bark, these dogs have been utilized as livestock guardians in Turkey for thousands of years, bred for their attentive nature and ability to work in hot, arid climates. Instead

of herding or moving the sheep, goats and other livestock, which can cause an attack, the dogs place themselves between the prey and predator, an intimidating presence, even on the African plains, that keeps cheetahs at bay.


By the end of 2013, the CCF's Livestock Guarding Dog program has placed nearly 500 dogs with farmers in Africa. After the success in Namibia, CCF is now assisting with further programming, including puppies heading to working farms in Tanzania and throughout the country.

Indianapolis Zoo visitors can get up close and personal with these guardians during seasonal Keeper chats in Plains, where guests can learn more about cheetahs and meet our own Kangal brother-sister duo, Solo and Ayla.

Check out more cheetah chatter here. [close]

​Elephants, Educators and the Ivory Effect

Inquisitive and intelligent, elephants have long been revered in books, films, even religion spanning international borders. Elephants and humans have shared a complex relationship throughout history, a story filled with awe, wonder and now tragedy. The desire for precious ivory has become a global phenomena causing heightened poaching, but few people know the true cost. [more...]


A staggering 96 elephants are killed each day in Africa by poachers who sell the elephant tusks on the black market — a crisis inspiring the creation of the 96 Elephants campaign through Wildlife Conservation Society. As a supporter of global conservation initiatives, the Indianapolis Zoo joined this endeavor to save the world's largest land animal.


With the United States ranked second only to China as the largest ivory market worldwide, efforts close to home carry an immense impact for this vulnerable species.

Bringing Conservation to the Classroom

Educators and students throughout Central Indiana and beyond have joined the Indianapolis Zoo in showing enthusiastic support for 96 Elephants. Projects have varied from simply building awareness to semester-long research delving into the conservation as well as the cultural and social issues surrounding the plight of Africa's elephants.



It all began locally with Lawrence Township teacher Sonya Schkabla and her fourth- through sixth-grade students whoshined a spotlight on the issue by writing brochures about animal conservation, creating posters to educate other students and staff, and signing the 96 Elephants petition. The group even gathered 96 students for 96 elephants, posing for a photo to illustrate the crisis.

Since then 71 educators have pledged to bring awareness to their students, spanning elementary to collegiate-level

assignments, from science to art classes. Groups include Laura Brentlinger's first graders at Deer Meadow Primary School, who created a bulletin with more than 96 pictures of elephants, as well as Brooke Winebrenner's sixth graders at Central Noble Middle School, who created a showcase for the school on poaching and ivory, plus many more creative undertakings.


The Zoo hopes to exceed a total goal of 96 classrooms taking part, inspiring countless children to care about elephants and add a voice to efforts aimed at protecting their future.

From Feet to Funds

But help doesn't have to stop at schools. If you can put your mind to something, why not put your feet to something too?

Recently WCS and the Clinton Foundation joined forces with the TOMS Animal Initiative to create a specially designed classic-style shoe. The funds from shoe sales will help support saving African elephants, tackling the poaching crisis on three fronts: ending the killing, trafficking and demand.

Elephants and the Indianapolis Zoo

The Indianapolis Zoo is currently home to a herd of eight elephants. These incredible animals are ambassadors for their species, helping to highlight the need for continued conservation efforts. The Zoo follows the successes of 2010 Indianapolis Prize winner Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton with his organization Save the Elephants and also continues its work with many elephant-focused initiatives, including the International Elephant Foundation and the Tarangire Elephant Project. [close]

​​Mission Madagascar: Notes from the Jungle (3)

Written by Dr. Patricia C. Wright/2014 Indianapolis Prize Winner

As part of the PIVOT Board events we had three local bands come to Centre VALBIO to perform. The bamboo dancers won the competition. Michael Herrnstein, the youngest Board member joined the dancers. [more...]


PIVOT Board member joins band.jpg
Yes, our Environmental Arts Program includes acting and theater! Zara Aina is a group of Broadway actors who visited Madagascar over a year ago teaching performing arts to Malagasy children. Last year Bryce Pinkham (Starring now in the Tony Winning Broadway Musical "A gentleman's guide to Love and Murder), Lucas Rooney and Annie came to Centre ValBio to teach our local children to act out nature stories. Although Bryce couldn't come having to go to the Tonys,  Lucas and Annie arrived on their motorcycles the day of the PIVOT Board meeting. The Mayor loaned his car to bring up children from Ranomafana and 150 children somehow emerged from a pick up truck like clowns in a Volkswagon. Let the performance begin!! Part of the fun was the children invading the PIVOT Board meeting. Its all filmed and must be on the web by now. Great fun for all. And a good way to bring awareness of the specialness of Madagascar's wildlife to the local communities.
Anne Norton Weaving Baskets.JPG
 Our environmental arts program is growing and we brought PIVOT our basket weavers from Sahavondronona Village to teach basketweaving to the Board. This program of incorporating basket weaving lessons into tourist schedules is another way CVB is helping the household budgets of local village women.​



Mission Madagascar: Notes from the Jungle (2)

Written by Dr. Patricia C. Wright/2014 Indianapolis Prize Winner

The villages around Ranomafana are some of the poorest in the world, and part of our conservation program is to help the people around the park to have better health. [more...]

 In order to step this up we have encouraged the founding of PIVOT, a new NGO with their first goal to bring infrastructure of health care delivery to international standards around the Ranomafana National Park.
PIVOT headquarters in Ranomafana.jpg
PIVOT became operational in Ranomafana six months ago.. I am on the PIVOT BOARD and we had a Board Meeting in Ranomafana. PIVOT works closely with the Ministry of Health, and so far has begun upgrading and rebuilding the Ranomafana Health clinic as well as purchasing two ambulances, the first ever in the region, to be able to get sick people to the district or province hospital. They have been saving lives already. The District Hospital and six other basic health clinics will be upgraded this year. And 40 essential medicines provided to all these clinics. The Board was impressed with the first six months of progress towards the goals of Health for Conservation. PIVOT and Centre ValBio work closely together​ [close]


​​​​​Mission Madagascar: Notes from the Jungle

Written by Dr. Patricia C. Wright/2014 Indianapolis Prize Winner

Three of us from Centre ValBio traveled half an hour west to a picturesque Betsileo village on Route 45 with two story adobe houses and several blacksmith forges. [more...] This sunny Wednesday morning we had arrived for a meeting with the President to discuss the possibility of Ambatovaky being a tourist destination. The President wasn’t there and we made an appointment with his wife to convene the meeting on Friday morning. We heard the hammers and were guided to the forges.


The barefoot blacksmiths were heating pieces of wrought iron until the metal glowed red and became soft enough to be shaped with handmade hammer, anvil and chisel. The glowing forge of charcoal was fanned by home made bellows, twin upright logs alternatively pushed by hand. Three muscular men hammered and shaped the metal after it was glowing hot. In fifteen minutes we had a shovel handle.  It was a dynamic experience and as a tourist, I bought the narrow shovel that I had seen made.


Two days later we returned to Ambatovaky for a meeting with the President and the Executive Committee to discuss the “Artisanal Path for Tourists”. Susan Findel’s dream was to have the circuit start at Ambatovaky with observation of the blacksmiths. The President said “ other countries have engines and machines, why would they want to buy our iron made by hand?” And I explained, that yes other countries had machines and had forgotten how to do metal work by hand and they would be fascinated to see the work accomplished here. We discussed training in the English and French language, a museum, a Shoppe for selling their wares, and training to do metal sculpture. They asked for our collaboration and they showed us the land where the museum and shop could go. I bought two “coup-coups” two sickles and two more shovel handles to put on the wall of my USA house as works of art. [close]


African Painted Wild Dog Population Declines

Wildlife population decreases in the Sahara desert concern scientific organizations across the globe. A recent study led by New York's Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London calls the species decline in the Sahara desert a "catastrophic collapse of its wildlife populations."  [more ...]

The study says the African painted wild dog (Lycaon pictus) is extinct from the desert along with many other species like lion, an antelope known as bubal hartebeest and scimitar horned oryx while cheetahs and gazelles are nearly gone. The African painted wild dog is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) red list of endangered species. It is estimated that there are only 6,600 adult African painted dogs left in the world with the population declining due to habitat loss, disease and conflict with humans.

The Indianapolis Zoo's African painted dog is an ambassador for her counterparts in the wild. Tano helps people understand and learn about the dangers her species face across the world. Tano is a bit shy, but very motivated by food. Indianapolis Zoo keeper Holly Balok works with Tano on enrichment and diet. Whole prey is beneficial mentally and physically, so Tano will eat a whole rabbit — ingesting pelt and bones which is good fiber. She also gets enriched meat and femur bones and is motivated to track and find her food independently. Holly will hide the food and Tano tracks it down. Other enrichment focuses on scent with herbs, spices and extracts used to interest Tano.  Reserve blood is frozen from meat and turned into the much loved African wild dog treat — a bloodsicle! Sounds gross, but Tano likes it.

African painted dogs can run 40 miles per hour and hunt twice a day. In the pack, every dog gets its share with food being brought back for injured or older pack members. They don't have much trouble catching food since they can outrun most prey. Each year, only one female in the pack gives birth (six to 16 pups) and all the other dogs in the pack raise the pups. African painted dogs need a lot of space — 3,861 square miles. Indiana is 36,420 square miles and would barely be enough room for 10 wild dog packs.

So what can be done to shore up the future for this species? The IUCN has several recommendations including reducing conflict with humans, cost effectively surveying the dogs across large geographic areas, establishing sustainable techniques for disease control and studying landscape connectivity — where animal movement is blocked. The IUCN says many action plans are in place in Africa but there's a need to increase public awareness and understanding of the dogs.  You can read more about these strategies at You can also learn more about the conservation efforts for these animals by going to Painted Dog Conservation — which is an organization founded by 2006 Indianapolis Prize nominee Greg Rasmussen.   [close]

96 Students for 96 Elephants

If 96 elephants die each day from poachers seeking to make money off their ivory tusks, what can 96 kids do about it? Plenty!  [more ...]

Especially when they have a teacher who wanted to dig a little deeper into understanding a campaign called 96 Elephants. The campaign was created by the Wildlife Conservation Society in efforts to educate people on the fact that 96 elephants are killed each day in Africa. When Lawrence Township teacher Sonya Schkabla learned about the statistic through the education department at the Indianapolis Zoo, she knew right away it would be a great teaching tool for her fourth- through sixth-grade students. 

How many kids does it take to help visualize the problem? 96! The students posed for this picture (top) to illustrate what 96 of anything looks like — now imagine if it was a picture of 96 elephants! 

Schkabla's mission fell smack dab in the middle of a historic event that drew world-wide attention to the slaughtering of elephants for their tusks. In November, the United States pulverized nearly six tons of elephant ivory including tusks, carvings and curios.

Schkabla's students are also trying to do their part for elephant conservation. They have written brochures about animal conservation, created posters to educate other students and staff, and signed the 96 Elephants petition. Schkabla says, "I love that they are feeling empowered and heard!"

Elephant conservationists know the key to saving elephants is to make sure a spotlight shines on the elephant poaching problem. According to the International Union for Conservation Nature (IUCN), at the start of the prior century, there were 10 million elephants walking the earth. The IUCN says that number has dwindled to 400,000 with fears elephants could be extinct within 50 years at the rate they are being killed. 

December 2-4, an emergency summit took place in Gaborone, Botswana,  to take action on the increased poaching of the African elephant. The IUCN and the Government of Botswana have put together a list of urgent changes needed to address the elephant issue. Delegates approved 14 strong measures to combat the elephant killing  reports some of the measures include, pushing for laws to strengthen wildlife crime sentences, getting communities involved in elephant conservation and classifying the issue as a serious crime.   

A world away from Botswana at Brook Park Elementary, a new generation of conservationists realize, they can make a difference. One student said, "I helped President Obama make the decision to give money to save the elephants because I signed the petition on 96 Elephants!"

Thanks to one teacher who saw a need and took action to try to save our most majestic creature on earth.  [close]

Cheetah Conservation

The world's fastest land mammal is in a race against extinction. International Cheetah Day – a day to raise awareness about this sleek and unique cat.  According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, there are an estimated 10,000 cheetahs left in the world.  [more ...]

About a third of the remaining cheetahs live in Namibia. The cheetah, with its long legs, can reach speeds of approximately 70 miles per hour in just three seconds. It needs that kind of speed because it's not an aggressive animal and has small teeth and weak jaws making it vulnerable to larger predators.

If you've visited the Indianapolis Zoo's, Cheetah: The Race for Survival exhibit, you may have already helped cheetahs in the wild.  Our "Race-a-Cheetah"  feature allows guests to pay fifty-cents and run against LED lights that simulate the speed of a cheetah to see the lightning velocity of the fast cat.  The exhibit features the voice of Tony Stewart, Indiana native, animal fan and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Indianapolis Zoo guests can also enjoy watching Kago, Kuzo, Jira and Chiku interact in their exhibit.  
So far, all the money collected at the Indianapolis Zoo's "Race-a-Cheetah" attraction has gone directly to the Cheetah Conservation fund. Since our exhibit opened in 2010, zoo guests have contributed more than $52,000 to help save wild cheetahs in Africa. The "Race-a-Cheetah" area is one of the exhibits that most exemplifies the Indianapolis Zoo's animal conservation mission

While cheetahs are a protected animal in Namibia, farmers are allowed to trap and shoot a cheetah if the animal is suspected of threatening livestock.  The Cheetah Conservation Fund uses much of its money to work with farmers on protecting livestock by using Kangal dogs.  This breed of dog is used for protecting flocks of sheep and goats.  The dogs intimidate predators like cheetahs which means famers won't have to kill to protect their property and livelihoods. The Indianapolis Zoo has two Kangal dogs—a brother and sister named Solo and Ayla.  
So the next time you are at the Indianapolis Zoo, head over to the Cheetah exhibit and take the challenge.  You just might be saving a Cheetah in the wild.  [close]

Zoos Join Forces to Stop Illegal Palm Oil manufacturing​

Orangutans at the Indianapolis Zoo will move into their new world-class home in weeks.  [more ...]

The International Orangutan Center is stretching 150-feet into the Indianapolis skyline where soon, our group of orangutans will swing, climb and hang from The Myrta Pulliam Hutan Trail upwards of 70 feet above the zoo. Orangutans in the wild face a crisis — there's a huge threat to these great apes living in Borneo and Sumatra. The threat is over palm oil which is used in 50 percent of manufactured food and other products we commonly buy at the grocery. Palm oil when produced legally and sustainably is fine to use. Illegal palm oil plantations are destroying the forests where orangutans and other animals live. These illegal farms are planted after forests are destroyed and flattened. The orangutan land is targeted because it offers a rich, moist growing area for palm oil trees. These illegal farms are destroying the ecosystem — taking away even one part of the delicate balance endangers the survival of not only orangutans, but other wildlife and vegetation.

In their population's current state of decline, orangutans in the wild are on pace to go extinct in approximately 10 years if humans don't intercede and stop the deforestation. "The current generation of wild orangutans could well be the last unless we can find workable solutions for the Indonesian economy, its government and the orangutans," said Rob Shumaker, Ph.D., the Indianapolis Zoo's vice president of conservation and life sciences and one of the world's foremost authorities on orangutan cognition.

Important partnerships have been formed to tackle deforestation and illegal palm oil production. The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was created in 2004 to educate and encourage sustainable growth of Palm Oil. The Indianapolis Zoo, in partnership with the San Diego Zoo and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo have recently joined the RSPO to take an active role in strategic planning and understanding their criteria for certifying palm oil plantations for legal practices. These zoos are the first in the United States to join RSPO.  The zoos' memberships in the RSPO add to a growing movement among zoos to become an active voice in the palm oil crisis. Last month, a resolution was unanimously passed at the 68th annual conference of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) in support of the RSPO and encourages all zoos to promote certified sustainable palm oil.

"The vision of the RSPO — to drive the sustainable palm oil agenda forward to protect our environment, wildlife and communities — is a transformative journey that involves the cooperation of an extensive group of players," said the RSPO's secretary-general, Darrel Webber. "We welcome the San Diego, Cheyenne Mountain and Indianapolis zoos, whose combined annual visitors exceed 7.5 million, to the RSPO and look forward to working closely with them in helping to educate the broader community about the need to support the sustainable production of palm oil," Webber added.

Back in Indianapolis, as ambassadors for their counterparts in the wild, our congress (the name for a group of orangutans) will help to educate Zoo visitors on the threats wild orangutans face. Azy, Charly, Katy, Knobi, Lucy, Nicky and Rocky are soon to be loved and visited by hundreds of thousands of people. The International Orangutan Center opens to the public on May 24, 2014. [close]

We're Bonkers About the Benefits of Bats

Creepy blood-sucking creatures that terrorize their victims from overhead — it's a wildly fictional storyline from countless Hollywood horror films that depict bats as dirty flying demons.   [more ...]

Myths about bats have created needless fears about these critters, and many of those fears are perpetuated around this time of year, as people often use plush bat decorations to get a scare out of their guests at Halloween.

But in reality, bats are nothing to be feared. In fact, these furry friends are vital to ecosystems around the world, and chances are that you can thank bats for many of your favorite foods, beverages and even medicines! That's why we're bonkers for bats!

Bats get a bad rep from the countless vampire stories that have been circulating for centuries. But of the more than 1,200 bat species, there are only three species of vampire bats and almost all of them live in Latin and South America. And even those don't hunt humans. Instead, they prefer to prefer small animals.

The majority of bat species, including those found in Indiana, prefer a feast of fruits, nectar, pollen or insects. Bats are the bug zappers of the mammal world and help protect farmers' crops from harmful pests. A single bat can eat several thousand insects in one night!

Despite their poor eyesight, bats can accomplish their prolific pest control using a technique called echolocation. Using this bio-sonar, bats emit sound waves through beeps and clicks that bounce off of objects and back to them. This helps them find the things they want, like insects, and avoid the rest.

Fruit bats also play a big role in agriculture. They spread seeds through their droppings and carry pollen in their fur that helps to pollinate other plants. From cotton to cacao (chocolate), peaches to papayas, and even tequila — bats help bring us more than 450 commercial products and 80 medicines! They're also helping to keep rainforests lush and beautiful, by spreading seeds that provide for about 95 percent of forest re-growth.

Contrary to the myth about bats being dirty or carrying diseases, they are extremely clean creatures, and spend a lot of time grooming their fur.  

Bats make up about one-fifth of all mammal species in the world, and they range in size from the tiny bumblebee bat which is the world's smallest mammal to giant flying foxes with a 6-foot wing span!

Many of these bat populations are in decline because of habitat loss and threats from humans. But you can help these incredible creatures by building a bat house in your backyard.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has identified 13 bats species that are native to Indiana. The most common species are the big brown bat, red bat, little brown bat and eastern pipesterelle. Some of Indiana's bats choose to live in forests, where they roost in large trees, others live in cave colonies, and still others make their homes in buildings, whether abandoned warehouse in an urban setting or old barns in rural areas.

The Indianapolis Zoo is also home to two species of bats, the African straw-colored fruit bat and the island flying fox. Because all bat species are nocturnal, Zoo guests can often find our bats asleep inside their exhibit in Forests. But because the Zoo is open late during ZooBoo and Christmas at the Zoo, it's the perfect time of year to see how active and amazing these animals really are!  [close]​

Who Decides Who Wins the Indianapolis Prize?

The Indianapolis Zoo has 39 Nominees for the 2014 Indianapolis Prize. It received a great deal of attention (here's the story that ran in the Indianapolis Star, for example: 2014 Nominees — Star ). The Nominees span the globe and represent a broad range of species including chimpanzees, snow leopards, sea turtles, giant pandas, bats, swans and many more.  [more ...]

As you know, these men and women are real heroes: they're people who have had memorable adventures and brilliant victories that have quite literally changed the world.

But how do we determine who wins the $250,000 cash award and the prestigious Lilly Medal?

Actually, "we" don't.

Right from the start, we decided that an internationally-regarded award needed an internationally-regarded group of decision-makers. Every two years, we recruit some of the most well-known and distinguished conservationists in the world. They comprise two groups, the Nominating Committee and the Jury. The Nominating Committee reviews all accepted nominations and selects six Finalists. The Jury reviews those six Finalists and chooses the Winner. It is not an easy task, and it requires not only some very specialized knowledge, but also a great deal of wisdom and a considerable amount of hard work as they research and review each candidate. 

We are honored to share with you the names of the individuals who are serving on the Nominating Committee and Jury for the 2014 Indianapolis Prize:


  • Dr. Onnie Byers,  Chair, IUCN Species Survival Commission Conservation Breeding Specialist Group;

  • Dr. Malcolm Hunter, Distinguished Professor, University of Maine; Author, Fundamentals of Conservation Biology;

  • Dr. Jorg Junhold, President, World Association of Zoos & Aquariums;

  • Peter Knights, Executive Director, WildAid;

  • Cyril Kormos, J.D., Vice President for Policy, The WILD Foundation;

  • Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, Biodiversity Chair, Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and Environment;

  • Nancy V. Elder, Community Leader (Indianapolis Zoo Board Representative);

  • Nancy B. Hunt, Community Leader (Community Representative);

  • Robert Shumaker, Ph.D., Vice President of Conservation and Life Sciences, Indianapolis Zoo (Staff Representative).


  • Dr. Corey Bradshaw, Director, Ecological Modeling, The Environment Institute, University of Adelaide;

  • Steve Burns, Chair, AZA Field Conservation Committee;

  • Dr. Stephen Hubbell, Distinguished Professor, UCLA; Sr. Scientist, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute;

  • Dr. Norman Myers, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Science, Duke University; Visiting Fellow, Green College, Oxford University;

  • Dr. Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research, Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation;

  • David Yarnold, President & CEO, National Audubon Society;

  • Myrta J. Pulliam, Director of Special Projects, Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis Zoo Board Representative);

  • Tom Linebarger, Chairman and CEO, Cummins Inc. (Community Representative);

  • Paul B. Grayson, Deputy Director and Senior Vice President of Science and Conservation, Indianapolis Zoo.

It is hard to believe, but we are just months away from awarding the 2014 Indianapolis Prize! I'll keep you informed of the major milestones, and you can also read about the Prize on its websitethis blog and follow the Indianapolis Prize onFacebookTwitter and YouTube. In the meantime, please mark your calendars for the Indianapolis Prize Gala on Sept. 27, 2014, at the JW Marriott!  [close]

Inspiring Citizen Science

Citizen science, that's what Dr. Rodney Jackson, the founder and director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy, was in Indianapolis to promote. It was his first visit since attending the 2012 Indianapolis Prize Gala presented by Cummins Inc., where he was one of the finalists for the world's leading award for animal conservation[more ...]

As the foremost expert on snow leopards, much of Jackson's ability to study these elusive and mysterious cats has been due to his innovative work with camera trap photography. And that's exactly what brought him to Indianapolis on this visit.

Of course there are no snow leopards to be found in the wooded hills outside Indiana's capital city. Instead, this trip is all about teaching people how to use the same technology to learn more about the wildlife living around them.

Pausing briefly from his regular schedule of field work, conservation outreach and occasional time at his home in California, Jackson recently visited Bradford Woods, near Martinsville, to present a workshop on the practical applications of camera trap photography. With 30-plus years of experience, the small group who attended couldn't have found a better teacher than Jackson.

"When I do these workshops, it's really to raise awareness for the local wildlife," he said.

In the 1980s, Jackson helped to pioneer camera trap techniques and was among the first to capture images of the stunning snow leopard.

"We were trying to do a census for snow leopards and using trail cameras. This was before they were commercially available, so we made one," Jackson recalled.

He showed the group one of the first cameras he built using a standard point-and-shoot camera, a small pelican case, and basic wiring and circuitry that's now readily available online. This model, pictured at right, has been in use for decades in harsh climates high in the mountains of Central Asia, but remarkably, it still works! But for less than $200, Jackson said, anyone can purchase a camera that's practical, reliable and a heck of a lot of fun!

Intermixed with amazing camera-trap images of snow leopards in their native habitat are stealthy images of Jackson's house cat as it wanders out for an evening adventure. Similarly, Jackson has helped set up homeowners with cameras that capture photographic proof of the animals that raid their garbage bins at night.

"More and more this is going to happen," said Jackson, noting the continual overlap of human and animal territory. "I think you need to use cameras to see and determine when you have problem animals and what you can do."

For instance, eliminating raccoons requires a much different approach than eliminating bobcats or even bears. First, Jackson said, you have to see what animal you're dealing with before you know how to handle the problem.

What he's found is that as people capture images of these animals, they become more curious about them. And many of the people he's taught set up cameras simply to enjoy the intriguing wildlife photography they generate.

Just as he's empowering people to connect with wildlife during these workshop, so too has he empowered the small communities that speckle the landscapes of Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia and other remote Asian countries.

Several years ago, Jackson began a program that partners students in these small towns with livestock herders in the area. Many herders have lost livestock to snow leopards and they're intimately aware of the patters of these big cats.

"We team up the kids and the herders because the kids know the technology and the herders know where the cats are," he said.

"The people see snow leopards as pests, but we want them to see them as an asset. When we get these photographs, you can look and see that this is a beautiful animal. And it's making a difference!"

Because snow leopard ranges are measured across thousands of miles of rugged, remote terrain, it's difficult to say how many are left in the wild. But, Jackson said, while a single sighting in a year used to be commonplace, now he and his team are seeing evidence of multiple cats in the same areas in much shorter times spans.

For Jackson, that's enough to know these methods are working. So he'll continue teaching these workshops so that more people will become inspired to meet the nature around them.

"Citizen science — I think that's going to emerge as a very important conservation tool."   [close]

Going High-tech to Track Polar Bears

Tracking polar bears' movements and behavioral patterns in the wild is key to understanding the effects of ​climate change on these amazing creatures. Yet observing polar bears as they move across the Arctic is virtually impossible for scientists.  [more ...]

But thanks to some high-tech gadgetry, researchers at Polar Bears International and elsewhere will soon have access to information critical to their efforts to save these beautiful beasts.

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey have developed a special collar that can be used to track polar bears and record data about their specific movements. The collars are fitted with an accelerometer that detects even subtle motions and directional changes. It's the same device in most smart phones that recognizes and adjusts to the user's movements. And it could change the game for polar bear researchers.

For years, scientists like Dr. Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for Polar Bears International and recipient of the 2012 Indianapolis Prize, have used radio collars to gather information about polar bears. Through the groundbreaking studies of Amstrup and his team, polar bears are now recognized as a threatened species because of global warming.

With this latest device, which is a project of the USGS' Changing Arctic Ecosystems research, scientists will have the ability to capture information about a bear's specific daily activities — from sleeping to swimming to running to eating.

USGS scientists are currently working with the Oregon Zoo to perfect the device. There, Tasul, the zoo's polar bear, wears the collar while keepers record her movements. That allows scientists to compare the data recorded by the collar to the motions of the bear and calibrate the device. Watch this amazing video to see the device in action.  [close]​