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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Tortoises, start your engines for the Zoopolis 500

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As Hoosiers gear up for the Indy 500, the Indianapolis Zoo is preparing for its own special race.

Zoopolis 500, also known as the “Greatest Spectacle in Tortoise Racing,” returns to the zoo’s Bicentennial Pavilion May 24. The famous tortoise race is the Indianapolis Zoo’s oldest and longest-running event, and it is aimed at getting families excited for race day while promoting the zoo’s tortoise conservation efforts, said Cody Mattox, public relations specialist for the zoo.

“It’s actually one of the most popular events as well because it’s a good tie in, getting everybody excited for the weekend of the race of the Indianapolis 500,” Mattox said. “It’s also promoting a conservation mission for our tortoises, and it’s really just a great fun time, you know, for zoo-goers and race fans to get together.”

The race itself is straightforward, Mattox said. The Zoopolis 500 analysis begins at 11:15 a.m. with the emcee and the zoo’s tortoise experts. Then the zoo’s radiated tortoises take a parade lap accompanied by their animal care team, 500 Festival Princesses and the American Dairy Association mascot, Buttercup.

At 11:30 a.m., the racing tortoises are placed at the starting line of a “track” outside the Bicentennial Pavilion, where guests of all ages wait with bated breath. Finally, the green flag is waved, and the tortoises take off toward the finish, where a platter of fruit provided by Kroger waits for them.

2.	The tortoise race is a fun way to raise awareness about endangered species and the zoo’s tortoise conservation efforts.
The tortoise race is a fun way to raise awareness about endangered species and the zoo’s tortoise conservation efforts. (Photo provided/Indianapolis Zoo)

Once a winner is declared, a “pit crew” member for the winning tortoise gets to join race sponsor American Dairy Association Indiana, Inc. in the Winner’s Circle for the ever-famous race day tradition: Drinking a glass of milk. 

“It’s like one of their big things that they have here is like the big milk jug,” Mattox said. “And they’re handing out complimentary chocolate milk to all of our fans as well because the Indy 500 is not complete without the milk.”

Following the race, guests are invited to check out the tortoises and ask the zoo’s Deserts Team any questions about the tortoises. The Zoopolis 500 also falls just one day before World Turtle Day, which was created in 2000 by American Turtle Rescue as a yearly observance “to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world.”

“Our mission is to protect nature and inspire folks to care for our world,” Mattox said. “We support conservation efforts and programs across the globe. And that includes radiated tortoises.”

According to the IUCN Red List, radiated tortoises are critically endangered due to threats of illegal poaching that feed into the illegal pet trade, Mattox said. However, through the help of conservation programs and organizations across the globe, the Indianapolis Zoo is able to help protect tortoises and their habits in order to prolong their future.

Although the Zoopolis 500 is not an official partnered event of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mattox said guests will have the opportunity to meet and take photos with the Indy 500 Festival Princesses, IndyCar legend Tony Kanaan and the American Dairy Association Indiana’s giant milk jug and Buttercup.

The Zoopolis 500 will take place at the Indianapolis Zoo, 1200 W. Washington St., from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Bicentennial Pavilion. The event is free for members and included in general zoo admission for nonmembers. For more information, visit indianapoliszoo.com/events/zoopolis-500

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or chloegm@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.

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