ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, October 14, 2019 (ENS) – The world’s first Global Center for Species Survival, GCSS, will open next year at the Indianapolis Zoo in Indianapolis, Indiana in the midwestern United States under a new agreement between the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, and the zoo.

Dr. Rob Shumaker, president of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, and leaders from the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission signed an agreement establishing the new Global Center for Species Survival on October 7 during the IUCN’s SSC Leaders Meeting in Abu Dhabi.

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Giraffes at the Indianapolis Zoo enjoy a treat from a staffer. July 20, 2015 (Photo by David Ellis)

“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 Dr. Shumaker. “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.”

In the 70-year existence of the IUCN, one of the world’s largest environmental conservation organizations, this partnership is the first of its kind.

Made possible through a US$4 million start-up grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. of the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical family, the Global Center for Species Survival is expected to solidify the role of the Indianapolis Zoo internationally as a hub for species conservation efforts. It is intended to transform Indianapolis into one of the world’s most conservation-literate cities.

“The Indianapolis Zoo fosters meaningful learning about conservation science by helping visitors connect their experiences with animals to conservation work that is protecting animals around the world,” said Ronni Kloth, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for community development. “The Global Center for Species Survival promises to further strengthen these efforts while enhancing the Zoo’s national and global reputation.”

The center will broaden the capacity of the Species Survival Commission to support conservationists as they tackle critical issues the planet is facing such as the loss of biodiversity, illegal wildlife trade and global climate change.

The Species Survival Commission, a science-based network with representation from almost every country in the world, formulates action plans to save species and provides information to the IUCN on biodiversity conservation, the inherent value of species, their role in ecosystem health and functioning, the provision of ecosystem services and their support to human livelihoods.

This information is used to develop and define the IUCN Red List, which identifies and evaluates species threatened with extinction. The work of the IUCN also informs the United Nations on worldwide species conservation issues.

Michael Crowther, who will retire as Indianapolis Zoo CEO at the end of 2019, worked with Species Survival Commission leaders in 2017 to develop the concept as a way to accelerate the progress from conservation needs assessment and plan development to concrete action programs that will truly save species.

Through this partnership, the Zoo will expand its ability to connect science and scientists with the public, as it has for decades through internationally recognized exhibits and programming, and through the Indianapolis Prize, the world’s leading award for animal conservation.

“The Indianapolis Prize identifies conservation champions who aren’t just trying hard but actually succeeding,” said Crowther, “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.”

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Maribou Stork and zookeeper at the Indianapolis Zoo, July 20, 2015 (Photo by David Ellis)

“The natural world has serious challenges,” Crowther said, “but we also have the science and the people to address them.”

The Global Center for Species Survival will employ a team of nine experts based at the Indianapolis Zoo who will enhance the efforts of more than 9,000 SSC wildlife experts worldwide working to save threatened species.

The zoo and the SSC are both in the process of recruiting these new team members and constructing a new operating space within the Zoo. Along with being home to the team’s offices, the GCSS will also be the location for international meetings and conferences, furthering economic benefit to the community and solidifying the Zoo’s efforts to make

“The Global Center for Species Survival represents a turning point for global species conservation,” said Dr. Jon Paul Rodriguez, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

“The IUCN SSC strongly believes that this partnership will change the way in which the global network of leading conservationists works together to save species,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “Indianapolis will be a hub for world-leading expertise and capacity building by working to bridge the gap between experts across the conservation spectrum – from zoo professionals, field practitioners, academics, to government officials.”

Renowned conservationist and 2018 Indianapolis Prize Winner Dr. Russ Mittermeier is also the chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group. Mittermeier has seen firsthand how the Indianapolis Zoo has had a positive impact, making real change for wildlife.

Dr. Mittermeier said, “The Indianapolis Prize has demonstrated that the frequently complex and esoteric concept of conservation can be understood by the general public and may also be appealing and exciting when presented in an accessible manner.”

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