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The perfect gift for animal lovers: Becoming a wildlife hero

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(BPT) - As people come together to celebrate the holidays and share their hopes for the future, the environment often comes up in conversation. Threats to animals and the planet have never been greater; more than 25 percent of the world’s mammals — such as elephants, polar bears and lemurs — are at risk of disappearing forever, and many of them live in places where people aren’t acting in their best interest.

However, small efforts by many can have a big impact, and helping protect the planet is as easy as changing the way you shop for holiday gifts. This holiday season, the Indianapolis Prize — recognized as the world’s leading award for animal conservation — is issuing Champions for Our Planet: The Indianapolis Prize Guide to Animal Conservation Giving.

You can give the animal lover on your list an inspiring gift by donating in their name to any of the 19 conservation charities, programs and projects led by the conservation heroes of the Indianapolis Prize. The guide provides background information on each Indianapolis Prize hero’s work, the animals they protect — including cheetahs, penguins, snow leopards and many more — and the steps gift-givers can take to directly support through the conservationists' associated organization. All organizations and programs featured in the guide have been vetted by an independent commission of nonprofit and legal experts to ensure the highest standards of governance, management and accountability.

Make your family, friends and colleagues wildlife heroes, and feel confident your dollars are going directly to men and women who are not just protecting endangered animals; they’re literally bringing entire species back from the brink of extinction. Here are just three of the amazing people changing fates for animals around the world — heroes who you can support this holiday season:

Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton and elephants

To find the man protecting Africa's famed elephants, look to the sky. The plane flying low and fast over the savanna is likely manned by Douglas-Hamilton. The 2010 Indianapolis Prize Winner is recognized as one of the foremost authorities on the species for his decades-long studies of elephant movements and social behaviors.

Founding Save The Elephants in 1993, Douglas-Hamilton has helped inspire new researchers and conservationists within northern Kenya and around the world. He strives to preserve the beauty and ecological integrity of the habitat in which elephants thrive while fostering a tolerant relationship between humans and elephants.

Learn more about Douglas-Hamilton's story and consider donating today.

Dr. Steven Amstrup and polar bears

During winter, images of the iconic polar bear grace everything from mugs to ornaments. However, in reality, wild polar bears face numerous threats. Amstrup, chief scientist at Polar Bears International and 2012 Indianapolis Prize Winner, has dedicated more than four decades to understanding and protecting the world's largest land predator.

It was Amstrup and his team of international researchers whose nine reports became the basis for the 2008 listing of polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act — the first animal included based on climate change effects. His work underscores the need to protect the species, and he stresses there's still time to do so, but action is needed now.

Learn more about Amstrup's mission and consider donating today.

Dr. Patricia Wright and lemurs

Early in her career, Wright discovered a species of lemur that was thought to be extinct, plus she discovered a whole new species: the golden bamboo lemur. Her efforts to create collaboration between scientists, local communities and the government have helped save lemurs and sustain their unique ecosystem on the island of Madagascar. Wright's work not only earned her the Indianapolis Prize in 2014, it was also featured in the IMAX documentary "Island of Lemurs," narrated by none other than actor Morgan Freeman.

Wright's endless dedication helped her lead the establishment of Ranomafana National Park, and in 2003 she created Centre ValBio, an organization that assists indigenous people and the international community in better understanding the value of conservation in Madagascar and worldwide.

Learn more about Wright's amazing efforts and consider donating today.

Become a wildlife hero

Most people love the natural world, and everyone has an animal or two that is near and dear to their heart. To make sure your favorite animal is around for future generations to love, too, visit IndianapolisPrize.org/GiftGuide to learn more and give today.