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- Press Release, Indianapolis Zoo, November 18, 2011 - Acclaimed conservationist and educator vies for prestigious international honor and $100,000 award - Poachers, disease, civil wars, heat, cold, rain, drought, pollution, ignorance, indifference. Those are just some of the challenges faced by the 29 conservationists who have devoted their lives to saving the Earth’s endangered species and who have been nominated to receive the biennial Indianapolis Prize, the world’s leading award for animal conservation. Sharon Matola is one of them. Matola, director and founder of the Belize Zoo, has been recognized for her dedication to educating both the citizens of this small Central American nation and the rest of the world about Belize wildlife.  

Matola founded the Belize Zoo 30 years ago from nothing, and it is now known as “The Best Little Zoo in the World,” due to the impact it has had in bringing about awareness on behalf of the biodiversity in Belize. The jaguar species has played a large role in Matola’s efforts along with a heightened awareness about the Endangered Central American tapir, the harpy eagle, and all species of native fauna. Additionally, her years of fieldwork on behalf of the endangered Northern Central American scarlet macaw brought international attention to the unsound development of a dam project that would destroy their only known reproductive grounds in Belize and publication of the book “The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw.” Most recently, Matola was awarded the Meritorious Service Award by the Belize government for her work over the years on behalf of education and the preservation of the nation’s wildlife.

The work of all the Indianapolis Prize nominees spans the globe, representing a range of species and locales. The Nominating Committee will review the applications and select six finalists, who will be announced in the spring of 2012. The Prize Jury will then determine the winner, who will be announced in mid-2012 and honored at the next Indianapolis Prize Gala presented by Cummins, Sept. 29, 2012, at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis.

In addition to receiving the $100,000 Prize, the recipient is also awarded the Lilly Medal, an original work of art that signifies the winner’s contributions to conserving some of the world’s most threatened animals. The 2010 Indianapolis Prize was awarded to legendary elephant advocate Iain Douglas-Hamilton. His accomplishments span decades and continents, bringing global attention to the issue of blood ivory and inspiring others to join the battle against poachers and traders.

“Douglas-Hamilton has set a high bar, but the current nominees are remarkable,” said Michael Crowther, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoo, the organization responsible for initiating the conservation award. “Each conservationist has his or her own unique story and has made significant contributions toward the preservation and awareness of Earth’s precious wildlife.”  

Matola shares this prestigious nomination with 27 other conservationists who have been nominated for the prize which includes conservationists working along with polar bears, penguin colonies, the endangered black rhinos, kangaroos, gorillas, sea turtle, snow leopards, butterflies and many other animals from around the world. Sharon Matola has been nominated for spearheading Belize’s environmental education on behalf of jaguars. To see the complete list of nominees CLICK HERE.

(The Indianapolis Prize was initiated by the Indianapolis Zoo as a significant component of its mission to empower people and communities, both locally and globally, to advance animal conservation. This biennial award brings the world’s attention to the cause of animal conservation and the brave, talented and dedicated men and women who spend their lives saving the Earth’s endangered animal species. The recipient also receives the Lilly Medal, an original work of art that signifies the winner’s contributions to conserving some of the world’s most threatened animals. The 2010 Indianapolis Prize was awarded to Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder and CEO of Save the Elephants and legendary conservation figure. Additional Prize predecessors include Dr. George Archibald, the co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, and Dr. George Schaller, the world’s pre-eminent field biologist and vice president of science and exploration for the World Conservation Society.  The Indianapolis Prize has received support from the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation since its inception in 2006.)

Sharon Matola nursing a baby JaguarSharon Matola, Director, feeding Indy the baby tapirSharon Matola with The Belize Zoo's most famous resident April the Tapir (the National Animal of Belize)Sharon Matola shares her knowledge with young minds

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