Indianapolis Zoo

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Indianapolis Zoo
Zoo entrance
Date openedApril 18, 1964[1]
LocationIndianapolis, Indiana, United States
Coordinates39°46′1″N 86°10′37″W / 39.76694°N 86.17694°W / 39.76694; -86.17694Coordinates: 39°46′1″N 86°10′37″W / 39.76694°N 86.17694°W / 39.76694; -86.17694
Land area64 acres (26 ha)
No. of animals3,800
No. of species320 [2]
MembershipsAZA,[3] AAM[4]

The Indianapolis Zoo is located in White River State Park, in Indianapolis, Indiana, United States.

The Indianapolis Zoo is an institution accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the American Alliance of Museums as a zoo, an aquarium, and as a botanical garden. The zoo is a private non-profit organization, receiving no tax support and is supported entirely by membership fees, admissions, donations, sales, grants, and an annual fundraiser.


In 1944, thoughts of the Indianapolis Zoo first came to mind by a newspaper columnist named Lowell B. Nussbaum. He began to write his opinions of wanting a zoo through his column "Inside Indianapolis." It was his writing that inspired the Indianapolis people and in October 1944 the "Articles of Incorporation for the Indianapolis zoological society, INC" emerged.[5] Soon the members of this group had outlined the future plans of their zoo, one thing that the group members were adamant about; "the zoo will rely on admissions, in-park sales, contributions and memberships to support the zoo.[5]" It first opened to the public in 1964.

George Washington Park[edit]

The Indianapolis Zoo opened on April 18, 1964, at its original location on in George Washington Park on East 30th Street. The official opening was two decades after the Indianapolis Zoological Society Inc. had been formed and planning for the zoo started. In its first year, the new attraction drew more than 270,000 visitors. The zoo originally featured an Asian elephant, penguins, kangaroos, foxes, raccoons, camels, bison, deer, lambs, tortoises, llamas, prairie dogs, pygmy goats, and buffalo exhibits. In 1965, the zoo became one of few in the country to employ a full-time education staff. By the 20th anniversary of the zoo, its animal collection had doubled in size and it was determined that the zoo needed a new location where it could continue to expand.

In 1982, international zoo, aquarium, and wildlife authorities gathered to set goals for establishing the new zoo. It was determined that a zoo should not only be a place to see animals, but also an institution of conservation and education. That same year, White River State Park was announced as the new site of the zoo. The groundbreaking at the new downtown location was held in September 1985. The old zoo closed in 1987.

White River State Park[edit]

The current zoo in White River State Park was opened in 1988 with a size of 64 acres (26 ha).

After the construction of the Waters building and the Dolphin Pavilion, the zoo earned AZA accreditation as an aquarium as well as a zoo. In 1996, the Indianapolis Zoo became the first institution to be triple accredited as a zoo, aquarium and botanical garden. White River Gardens was considered a separate facility from 1999 to 2006, but now is included as part of the zoo.[1]

The zoo hosts more than a million visitors each year and plays a role in worldwide conservation and research, including accomplishing the world's first successful artificial insemination of an African elephant.


The Indianapolis Zoo is organized around the concept of biomes. Biomes are areas of the planet with similar climate, plants, and animals. Animals at the Indianapolis Zoo are clustered in groups with similar habitats, which define the biomes. At the Indianapolis Zoo, one can visit the five biomes listed below.

Each of the biomes participates in conservation and breeding programs.


Pinniped Shore

First Tanks

Shark Touch Pool

Tube Tanks

Small Tanks

Penguin Hall

Sharing One World: Long-Tailed Macaques

Walrus Complex

Dolphin Pavilion



China Display

Tiger Forest

Magnificent Macaws

Other Exhibits

MISTery Park


Dome Exhibits

Size, Speed, and Venom: Extreme Snakes

Other Reptile Exhibits

Rest of Dome

International Orangutan Center[edit]

Flights of Fancy[edit]

Flamingo Pool

Budgie Aviary

Lorikeet Aviary

Other Animals


St. Vincent Dolphin Pavilion[edit]

Dolphins and trainer

The Indianapolis Zoo's highlight is a large dolphin pavilion, which features a combination of approaches to dolphin/human interaction and some new architecture, including:

Underwater Viewing Dome

The pavilion has a 30-foot (9.1 m) diameter, 12-foot (3.7 m) high, underwater dome placed squarely in the middle of the dolphin performance pool – a first for U.S. zoos. Opened on Memorial Day weekend 2005, zoo visitors can view dolphins from underneath the surface of the water.

St. Vincent Dolphin Theater

On top of the water, the interior of the St. Vincent Dolphin Theater features a million-gallon plus pool where dolphin presentations occurs daily.

Dolphin In-Water Adventure

The Indianapolis Zoo has the Midwest's only in-water dolphin program for the public, allowing guests to interact with the dolphins in their exhibit.

International Orangutan Center[edit]

In early September 2012, the Indianapolis Zoo broke ground on a new, $21.5 million project known as the International Orangutan Center which will serves not only as an exhibit for guests to enjoy, but also as a research hub to help orangutan conservation.[6] The project is being partially funded by a $2 million donation from the family foundation of Dean and Barbara White.[7] The exhibit houses nine orangutans [8] and features a 90-foot-tall viewing atrium and an aerial cable ride to give visitors a one of a kind view of the animals. The exhibit includes a series of cable highways to allow the orangutans to travel throughout the zoo at their leisure.[8] The exhibit opened Memorial Day weekend 2014.[8]

MISTery Park[edit]

MISTery Park is a landscaped path featuring flowers, tall grasses, and trees with a cooling fog created by misters. It is also the home of the two-toed sloth exhibit. The exhibit opened in 2019.[9]

Other Rides and Attractions[10][edit]

  • Flamingo Feed Experience
  • Feed a Budgie or Lorikeet
  • Feed a Giraffe
  • Race-a-Cheetah
  • Kombo Family Coaster
  • White River Junction Train Ride
  • Endangered Species Carousel
  • Skyline
  • Playground
  • Tots Treehouse and Play Area

Conservation and research[edit]

White River Gardens

The Indianapolis Zoo has a multifaceted approach in its conservation and research efforts. The Indianapolis Zoo is the presenter of the Indianapolis Prize, an award for animal conservation. The Indianapolis Prize includes a US$250,000 cash award and the Lilly Medal, which is presented every two years to a conservationist who has made substantial contributions toward the sustainability of an animal species or group of species. The Indianapolis Zoo participates in the Species Survival Plans (SSPs) and conservation programs of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), the national zoo membership organization of the United States. Under the auspices of the Polly H. Hix Institute for Conservation and Research, an initiative that supports the Society's current and future research and conservation programs, the zoo conducts research projects both in situ and ex situ on selected species. The Indianapolis Zoo also participates in three conservation and research foundations – the International Elephant Foundation (IEF), the International Iguana Foundation (IIF), and the International Rhinoceros|Rhino Foundation (IRF). The Hix Institute also supports the Tarangire Elephant Project in Tanzania to protect migration corridors from Tarangire National Park to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The zoo has a second partnership with the IUCN – The World Conservation Union, a conservation network. The Indianapolis Zoo, in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, is supporting the IUCN's project documenting the known impacts of climate change on species and habitat.


On August 9, 2006, a truck with a shipment of 24 penguins, an octopus, and several exotic fish from the Indianapolis Zoo to Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas, flipped over due to driver error. Several fish died immediately as their bags popped. Three gentoo penguins were killed after being hit on the roadway. As the truck was turned back over, two rockhopper penguins were found, one dead and one alive. A king penguin had an injured wing and two other penguins were in shock. The surviving animals were taken to a zoo near Tyler, Texas for treatment. Texas law requires that drivers of such a vehicle hold a commercial driver's license to legally drive it, and neither of the women driving the truck held such a license. The surviving animals eventually arrived at their destination at Moody Gardens.[11]

On November 11, 2007, a fire broke out in the Encounters area and killed several small animals. Before 4:30 am, it started in the Critter Corner building, and fire fighters arrived within five minutes. The flames were put out within 35 minutes. However, it killed three turtles, two birds, an armadillo, a snake, a colony of hissing cockroaches, several different birds (including an aracari) and other animals in that time, and more were treated at the zoo's hospital. The Critter Corner temporarily closed and the cause of the fire was due to the armadillo pushing hay bedding high enough to touch a heat light.[12]

On January 19, 2009, 15 bonnethead sharks died due to a maintenance error. When the filtration system was taken offline for cleaning, the ozone valve was turned off, to prevent the sharks from suffocating. The valve was turned back on by a staff member effectively killing them.[13]


  1. ^ a b "The History of the Indianapolis Zoo". Indianapolis Zoological Society. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  2. ^ Indianapolis Zoo - Dare to Discover: OCEANS Archived 2006-10-16 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Currently Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". AZA. Retrieved 19 January 2013.
  4. ^ "List of Accredited Museums" (PDF). AAM. Retrieved 19 January 2013.
  5. ^ a b INDIANAPOLIS ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETY. "The History of the Indianapolis Zoo". Retrieved 8 November 2012.
  6. ^ "Indy Zoo Breaks Ground On International Orangutan Exhibit". The Indy Channel. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  7. ^ Schouten, Cory. "Zoo breaks ground on $21M orangutan exhibit". Indianapolis Business Journal. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
  8. ^ a b c Milz, Mary. "Indy Zoo breaks ground on new orangutan exhibit". Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  9. ^ "Indianapolis Zoo plans to take visitors to the "extremes"". WRTV. 2019-05-17. Retrieved 2019-05-24.
  10. ^ "Discover Our Rides and Attractions". Indianapolis Zoo. Retrieved 2019-05-24.
  11. ^ WTHR - Indianapolis News and Weather - Texas crash leaves penguins shaken
  12. ^ Several Animals Killed In Indy Zoo Blaze - Indiana News Story - WRTV Indianapolis
  13. ^ WTHR - 15 sharks die at Indianapolis Zoo

External links[edit]