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Herd of nominees up for $250K animal conservation prize

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Thirty-nine protectors of pronghorn antelope, sea turtles, jaguars, ibis, puffin and other endangered species were named Wednesday morning as nominees for the $250,000 Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation.

The Indianapolis Zoo, which created and administers the biennial prize, announced the nominees at 10:30 a.m. Their names, affiliations and projects can be found here.

The cash award for the next winner marks an increase of $150,000 over 2012’s award of $100,000. Five runners-up in 2014 will receive $10,000. The prize money is covered by a grant from the Eli Lilly and Co. Foundation and the operating budget of the Zoo.

“The whole premise is, ‘Let’s find people who succeed and then give them more resources to succeed more,'” said Zoo President and CEO Michael Crowther. “It’s about identifying winners and giving the higher stakes to play with.”

In a year-long evaluation process, the herd of nominees will be thinned to six in the spring, with the winner not revealed until mid-2014. A ceremony will take place at the JW Marriott on Sept. 27, 2014.

As important as the dollar amount, Crowther said, is the lack of restrictions on how the money is spent. For example, a past winner involved with elephant conservation wanted to build a health clinic—for humans—with part of the funds.

“A traditional grant would not have allowed that,” Crowther said. “But with the Indianapolis Prize, nobody tells him what to do. And he now has an easier sphere to work in. He’s winning the hearts and minds.”

In addition to the obvious value of the award to the winner and to the species he or she is protecting, the prize also serves to increase the visibility of the Indianapolis Zoo around the world. And, for Crowther, that's central to the Zoo’s mission.

“This is hard for a lot of people to understand,” Crowther said, “but our purpose is not to operate a zoo. Our mission is to empower people and communities both locally and globally to advance animal conservation. The zoo here in Indy is just one of the vehicles.”
 

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