Cougars and eagles and gators, oh my! They are among the magnificent creatures that the National Wildlife Federation works to protect. So they were on hand for the NWF’s 75th anniversary gala. Over the years we’ve seen some wild events in the ballroom of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, but the furry, feathered and scaly critters that were there last week certainly trumps everything else I’ve seen. The evening was as educational as it was entertaining, thanks to the attending wildlife.
It was important to show the animals to the supporters of the organization at the “Voices for Wildlife” gala, explained Larry J. Schweiger, president and CEO of the NWF, “To inspire a love of wildlife, and to reinvigorate our commitment to protect them.” Every guest at the event got a copy of Schweiger’s powerful book Last Chance, Preserving Life on Earth.
World-renowned animal expert Jack Hanna (Into the Wild) was on hand with an amazing variety of animals that he brought on stage throughout the celebration. Hanna explained how some species have come back from the brink of extinction with the help of the National Wildlife Federation. One lucky survivor is the bald eagle, which Hanna had swooping over the guests in the ballroom. And he told the folks to remain in their seats when he had Shiloh the grey wolf come in from the back of the room. They are still wild animals, but they were not able to be in the wild because of rehabilitation. So it was an opportunity for supporters to get really up-close with them.
Foxy actress Frances Fisher (Titanic) looked very comfortable caressing a beautiful red fox named Shadow. Among the other creatures, great and small, were a porcupine, armadillo, owl, cougar, and Spike the alligator. Spike was my favorite, since I have a strong affinity for the reptile because I was in the movie-thriller Alligator in 1980.
Among the other celebrities at the event: Rachel Hunter (Gravity), Amber Lancaster (The Hard times of RJ Berger), Marco Regil (TV host) and the animal-loving veteran performer Jane Withers (Bright Eyes, Giant), who was in awe of the collection of polar bear photographs that lined the ballroom. They were from the acclaimed nature photographer Howard Ruby.
The event was emceed by comedienne Annabelle Gurwitch, who handed out awards, and Howard Ruby received the NWF’s Wildlife Hero honor. Ruby, founder and chairman of Oakwood Worldwide, has traveled the world, with numerous trips to the Arctic, and said he has witnessed the effects of climate change first hand. He is proud that he has had a special exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where he was named “International Conservation Photographer of the Year” by the NWF. His dramatic images and emotional photographs help educate children and adults about the polar bears’ plight, as well as environmental stewardship.
Also honored was film producer Lawrence Bender, who exploded onto the Hollywood scene with the cult-classic Reservoir Dogs, and has gone on to produce Quentin Tarantino’s films, among many other productions. Bender was honored as a Wildlife Hero because he produced the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, for which he won an Academy Award. He talked about the impact of turning Al Gore’s environmental slideshow into a movie to spread awareness of climate change. Following the film’s success, Bender noted, “I was able to see firsthand with An Inconvenient Truth, how much a movie can educate and start a movement.”
Comedy icon Chevy Chase wrapped up the awesome evening by surprising Jack Hanna with a special Wildlife Hero honor. A pioneer in taking wildlife conservation education to the public, Hanna has been serving as a voice for wildlife for decades, for NWF and other organizations. His life’s work embodies NWF’s mission “to protect wildlife for our children’s future.”
For more exclusive photos from the event, go to our website at www.tolucantimes.com.