My wife and I are huge animal lovers. Our pets become full-fledged family members, and we have great respect for all creatures in nature. We love the Indianapolis Zoo and support its mission to empower people and communities, both locally and globally, to advance animal conservation. So it is only natural that we have both been drawn to the Indianapolis Prize, the world’s leading award for animal conservation.
Yes, I said the world’s leading award. And this is not some public relations hype. It’s a fact. The Indianapolis Prize is an internationally recognized animal conservation program and award. It was established in 2005 by the Indianapolis Zoological Society and was created to bring the world’s attention to animal conservation and celebrate the men and women who have made extraordinary contributions to the sustainability of wildlife. The prize is awarded every other year.
The Indianapolis Prize is the largest monetary award for animal conservation in the world. In 2016, there were six finalists from 28 nominations. The winner received an unrestricted $250,000 award and the remaining finalists each received $10,000. A quarter-million dollars is no small change and can make a huge difference in an individual’s conservation endeavors. Many generous sponsors help with funding, but the Indianapolis Prize has received support from the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation since inception.
This year’s winner is Carl Jones, chief scientist for the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, in addition to his role with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. Jones has dedicated his life to restoring endangered animal populations and habitat. He is responsible for developing and leading successful recoveries for reptiles, mammals and birds, including the pink pigeon, echo parakeet and, most famously, the Mauritius kestrel. Jones brought the total population of the rarest bird on the planet from only four to nearly 400 in a decade. He exemplifies what it means to save a species from extinction.
The other 2016 finalists are:
• Joel Berger, Wildlife Conservation Society, Colorado State University. Berger strives to save flagship species like the muskox in the Arctic tundra and the wild yak of the alpine on the Tibetan Plateau.
• Dee Boersma, University of Washington Department of Biology. For more than 40 years, Boersma has studied how Galapagos penguins are indicators of environmental change.
• Rodney Jackson, Snow Leopard Conservancy. Jackson is one of the world’s foremost experts on the elusive, endangered snow leopard.
• Carl Safina, The Safina Center at Stony Brook University. A crusader for the ocean and its creatures, Safina works to effectively connect humans with marine species.
• Amanda Vincent, Project Seahorse, the University of British Columbia. Vincent helped put the world’s 47 species on the global conservation agenda.
The Indianapolis Prize has also created the Jane Alexander Global Wildlife Ambassador Award to recognize the advocacy and outreach of a few remarkable people who are changing the future by sharing their passion for our planet’s wild wonders with others. This year’s award goes to actress Sigourney Weaver, an advocate for the mountain gorillas of Rwanda since her starring role in the 1988 film “Gorillas in the Mist.”
The Indianapolis Prize highlights the Indianapolis Zoological Society’s ongoing commitment to solving global conservation challenges. Through the leadership of President and CEO Michael Crowther—who took on the role in 2002—the attention of the international conservation world is on Indianapolis. At the Indianapolis Zoo, he has endeavored to break down as many barriers as possible between animals and patrons. The goal is to give visitors a greater sense of empathy for the animals and inspire interest in animal conservation.
A tip of the hat to Crowther, the entire zoo staff, board members and volunteers who make all this happen. Your tireless work is important, and we take note of it and appreciate all your efforts for animal conservation.
As you readers allocate your year-end philanthropic giving and look to the year ahead, I’m hopeful the Indianapolis Zoological Society is a priority on your list. I know they appreciate your support greatly. Beyond financial giving, you can support the mission by being an advocate for animal conservation.•
Morris is publisher of IBJ. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.