With help from a $4 million startup grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the Indianapolis Zoo plans to open an international center dedicated to species conservation.
The Global Center for Species Survival, or GCSS, is expected to open at the zoo next year. Plans call for the center to employ a team of nine experts who will be based in Indianapolis and work with more than 9,000 wildlife experts worldwide to save threatened species.
The center is a partnership between the zoo and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission. A deal was signed Monday to establish the center during an IUCN meeting in in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Officials said the GCSS will host international meetings and conferences, providing an economic benefit to the city while helping make Indianapolis “one of the world’s most conservation-literate cities.”
“It’s no exaggeration to say that every significant conservation project in the world will be touched by the Global Center for Species Survival,” said Indianapolis Zoological Society Inc. President Rob Shumaker in written comments. “This is the next important step in our zoo’s commitment to advancing animal conservation, and it fundamentally transforms our ability to make a genuine difference in protecting the natural world.”
The IUCN, founded 70 years ago, is considered the world’s largest and most important environmental conservation organization. Officials said the first-of-its-kind partnership will “support leading conservationists as they tackle critical issues the planet is facing, including loss of biodiversity, global climate change and illegal wildlife trade.”
The Species Survival Commission, or SSC, a science-based network with representation from almost every country in the world, formulates action plans to save species and provides information to IUCN. The information is used to develop and define the Red List, which identifies and evaluates species threatened with extinction. The IUCN also informs the United Nations on worldwide species conservation issues.
According to the zoo, CEO Michael Crowther, who is retiring at the end of the year, began working with SSC leaders in 2017 to develop the concept for the center as a way to accelerate conservation-needs assessment and plans for concrete action programs that will save species.
The center is a natural offshoot from the Indianapolis Prize, the world’s top award for animal conservation, which the zoo has awarded every other year since 2006.
“The Indianapolis Prize identifies conservation champions who aren’t just trying hard but actually succeeding,” Crowther said in written remarks, “and the Global Center for Species Survival will apply an outcome-based project planning model throughout the world while also making it clear to the public and policy makers that there are proven paths to success. The natural world has serious challenges, but we also have the science and the people to address them.”