Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Environmental Organizations and Indianapolis Zoo and The Nature Conservancy and Opinion and Energy & Environment and Environment and Tourism & Hospitality and Sports Business

Conservationist awarded for his dogged pursuit to save endangered species

December 1, 2008
In a prior column (July 5-11, 2004), I commented on an article appearing in Indy Men's Magazine titled "25 Keepers." Readers were asked to nominate "people who not only make Indiana a better place but who, if their brains were drained elsewhere, the loss would most likely be palpable."

The top six vote-getters consisted of three politicians and three sports personalities. Each was a gifted man who makes Indiana a better place, but I would have preferred that at least one scientist crack that august list. Sports and politics have their place, but I expect our enlightened society to accord leaders in medicine, education and community-building a high rank as well. We need heroes from a variety of disciplines.

Michael Crowther, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoo, agrees. A few months ago, this transplanted Hoosier presided at the second edition of the Indianapolis Prize Gala. The Indianapolis Prize was initiated by the Indianapolis Zoo as a significant component of its mission to inspire local and global communities to celebrate, protect and preserve our natural world through conservation, education and research.

The prize consists of a $100,000 unrestricted cash award, representing the largest international monetary prize given to an individual for conservation of an animal species, and the Lilly Medal, a symbol of private industry's commitment to conservation. Through the efforts of Crowther and his staff, the animal conservation world lasers in on Indianapolis every two years and in doing so presents our community with an opportunity to focus on science and conservation, not hoops and touchdowns.

According to Crowther, "... conservationists are often real-life action heroes whose adventures are both thrilling and inspirational .... ." This year's recipient, George B. Schaller, Ph.D., the world's pre-eminent field biologist, is an exemplar. He was cited by the international nominating committee for his relentless pursuit to save endangered species across the globe. He has arguably accomplished more for conservation than anyone in the world. Among other accomplishments, he developed field biology and observation techniques in his work with African lions, mountain gorillas and giant pandas.

In his explorations, he rediscovered two species, the Vietnamese warty pig and the Tibetan red deer, once thought to be extinct. At the age of 75, he is still active, risking his life in such dangerous venues as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan in order to protect our fellow inhabitants of this planet, Marco Polo sheep and snow leopards. Schaller, in accepting this prestigious award, described the event as the highlight of his life.

As part of the series of events surrounding the Indianapolis Prize, Crowther scheduled exhibitions for Schaller. In one such appearance titled, "Meet a Hero, Be a Hero," Schaller appeared at the Indianapolis Zoo to meet the public and sign Indianapolis Prize Conservationists cards. The next day, he participated in a Ball State University simulcast to high school and college students, zoo professionals and the public that included answering questions posed by a live studio audience. He also spoke with Butler University students before leaving on a national speaking tour.

Schaller does not have the name recognition of Michael Jordan or Muhammed Ali. He can't throw a football or dunk a basketball, nor has he spent money in the media to enhance his name recognition or stature, but he is an admirable role model.

Thanks to Crowther, his staff and an army of volunteers, students who heard Schaller when he was in town may have altered their definition of hero. Crowther is energizing those volunteers for a repeat performance. The Indianapolis Prize is biennial and thus will be awarded again on Sept. 25, 2010.

Michael Crowther will provide the business community with an excellent opportunity to support this extraordinary program, one that brings prominence to Indianapolis and enlightens our youth. Seize that opportunity.

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Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.com.
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