Officials from the Indianapolis Prize today named the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)’s Joel Berger and P. Dee Boersma as Finalists for the world’s leading award for animal conservation. Berger and Boersma join conservation heroes Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Rodney Jackson, Dr. Russell Mittermeier and Dr. Carl Safina in the running for the prestigious title of Indianapolis Prize Winner and an unrestricted $250,000 prize.

The Indianapolis Prize was created in 2006 to recognize best-in-class conservation solutions, bring innovative ideas to scale and reward the conservation heroes who have achieved major victories for wildlife.


“The Indianapolis Prize finalists are consistent winners in the ongoing battles to save threatened species,” said Michael I. Crowther, chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, Inc., which administers the Indianapolis Prize as one of its signature global conservation initiatives. “By telling the stories of their heroism and their victories, the Indianapolis Prize aims to inspire more people to work for a planet that future generations will be happy to inherit, rather than be forced to endure.”


"I am honored to be recognized as a finalist for this award and blessed by the many people that have brought me to this place- family, friends, mentors, my students and funders,” said P. Dee Boersma, Conservation Fellow for WCS. “Science is not done by one person and conservation takes a village to effect changes in human behavior. Thank goodness for institutions like the University of Washington, Global Penguin Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society and individuals that care about penguins and the natural world that make the work possible."

WCS Senior Scientist Joel Berger said, “It is indeed an amazing honor to be named a finalist for this prestigious award, and humbling when I consider the contributions of the other finalists named and of past winners. I am grateful for this acknowledgement and beyond that, I am reminded of how privileged I am to do what I love to do and to make a difference doing it.”


The 2018 Indianapolis Prize Finalists include:


Joel Berger, Ph.D.: (Wildlife Conservation Society, Colorado State University) Berger is a distinguished scientist leading projects on the impacts of climate change on musk ox in the Arctic, saiga antelope conservation in Mongolia, and the threats to the endangered Andean deer, huemul, along the Patagonian Ice Cap. Among his accomplishments, Berger led the creation of America’s first federally sanctioned wildlife migration corridor, and more recently, has unraveled the harmful effects of the global cashmere trade on Central Asia’s endangered wildlife including wild yaks and snow leopards. Berger has written books on wild horses, rhinos, bison, and fear in prey species, and was a finalist for the 2014 and 2016 Indianapolis Prize.


P. Dee Boersma, Ph.D. (University of Washington; Center for Ecosystem Sentinels)—Boersma has been called the “Jane Goodall of penguins,” which she considers to be sentinels of environmental threats to ocean ecosystems.  For more than 30 years she has lead WCS’s Magellanic Penguin Project at Punta Tombo, Argentina gaining insights into penguin life– including how they are impacted by climate change and fishing.  She was successful in stopping harvesting and development of oil tanker lanes through penguin colonies and is the founder of Conservation, an award-winning conservation magazine. She is the co-chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Penguin Specialist Group. 


Sylvia Earle, Ph.D. (Deep Ocean Exploration and Research; Mission Blue; SEAlliance) — Oceanographer, author and founder of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, Inc., Mission Blue and SEAlliance. Focused on researching ocean ecosystems, developing new exploration technologies and creating a global network of marine protected areas. Led more than 100 expeditions and logged more than 7,000 hours underwater.


Rodney Jackson, Ph.D. (Snow Leopard Conservancy) — Conducted in-depth radio-tracking studies of snow leopards since the 1980s; helped lead an international team in the first-ever range-wide genetic assessment of snow leopards, and as their classification has improved from endangered to vulnerable, he continues to create solutions to sustain their populations. Finalist for the 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2016 Indianapolis Prize.


Russell Mittermeier, Ph.D. (Global Wildlife Conservation) — Visionary leader able to motivate every level of conservation to support the greater good of many species, including saki and muriqui monkeys and other neotropical primates; one of the first academic primatologists to become concerned with the welfare and conservation of primates. Finalist for the 2012 and 2014 Indianapolis Prize.


Carl Safina, Ph.D. (The Safina Center) — Brought ocean conservation into the environmental mainstream by using science, art and literature to inspire a "sea ethic." Established a sustainable seafood program, connecting science-based criteria with consumers; led efforts to ban high-seas drift nets and reform federal fisheries laws. Finalist for the 2010, 2014 and 2016 Indianapolis Prize.


“WCS is proud to have Drs. Berger and Boersma nominated for this prestigious honor, and offers its’ congratulations to all of the nominees,” said John Robinson, Executive Vice President of Conservation and Science at WCS. “We are certainly fortunate to have this group of individuals working in conservation where their groundbreaking contributions to science and to making the world a better place both for people and wildlife continues to inform and inspire.”


At a time in which animals are going extinct at a rate not seen since the era of dinosaurs, a 2018 Atomik Research survey* finds that 9 in 10 Americans believe the government (federal and state) should do more to promote policies that protect endangered animals, and when given the definition of an animal conservationist, 83 percent of Americans say animal conservationists qualify as heroes.


“[The Indianapolis Prize] brings the most incredible people together to talk about their work and give us a message about where to go from here,” said Sigourney Weaver, actor and 2016 Jane Alexander Global Wildlife Ambassador, a title administered by the Indianapolis Prize to honor public figures who have been effective voices for wildlife conservation.


The 2018 Indianapolis Prize Jury, comprised of distinguished scientists and conservation leaders, will determine the Winner of the 2018 Indianapolis Prize, its $250,000 cash award and the Lilly Medal, an original work of art that signifies the Winner's contributions to saving some of the world's most threatened animals. Each of the five Finalists will receive $10,000. The 2018 Indianapolis Prize Winner will be announced in late spring and formally honored at

the Indianapolis Prize Gala presented by Cummins Inc. on Sept. 29, 2018 in Indianapolis.


“Winning the Indianapolis Prize gave my organizations a much bigger platform from which we could reach people with our conservation message,” said 2016 Prize Winner Dr. Carl Jones, chief scientist of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and scientific director the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. “The field of animal conservation is fortunate to have an

award that recognizes and celebrates individuals who have dedicated their life’s work to understanding biodiversity and protecting the species on which entire ecosystems depend.”


The Indianapolis Prize was first awarded in 2006 to Dr. George Archibald, the co-founder of the International Crane Foundation. The 2008 Winner was George Schaller, Ph.D., known as one of the founding fathers of wildlife conservation, and both a senior conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society and vice president for Panthera. In 2010, Iain Douglas Hamilton, Ph.D., founder of Save the Elephants, received the Prize for his pioneering research in elephant social behavior and for leading the way in the fight against the poaching of African elephants. Steven Amstrup, Ph.D., chief scientist for Polar Bears International, received the 2012 Prize for his work promoting the cause of the world’s largest land carnivore. In 2014, Dr. Patricia C. Wright, founder of Centre ValBio, became the first woman awarded the Indianapolis Prize for her dedication to saving Madagascar’s famed lemurs from extinction. Last year, Dr. Carl Jones received the 2016 Indianapolis Prize for his species recovery success on the island of Mauritius, including the echo parakeet, pink pigeon and Mauritius kestrel.


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ABOUT THE WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.



The Indianapolis Prize recognizes and rewards conservationists who have achieved major victories in advancing the sustainability of an animal species or group of species. Winners receive the Lilly Medal and an unrestricted $250,000 award. Remaining Finalists each receive $10,000. The Indianapolis Prize has received support from the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation since its inception.



Images that accompany this story are available for download on the Indianapolis Prize Website.

*Results of an independently commissioned survey conducted by Atomik Research, fielded Jan. 3- 4, 2018 on a sampling of 1,018 respondents representative of US adults. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRA-certified researchers and abides to MRA code.