All it took was one trip to South Africa last year to convince entertainment manager Matt Luber that he had to do something to keep the rhinoceros from disappearing into extinction.
"I was visiting a set in Johannesburg with my wife, and in our downtime we had a drink at a bar with a safari guide," Luber tells The Hollywood Reporter. "He explained there are poachers who literally shoot at the safari guides who are trying to protect the rhinos. It's totally unacceptable to me that we live in a society where people would poach a species into extinction for the sole reason of their horn."
Rhinos are slaughtered to feed a demand in Asia for their horns. Rhinoceros horns -- which are made of keratin, the same material in fingernails -- are believed helpful in treating illnesses, despite the fact that they do not have any real medical usefulness. The horns, says Luber, can fetch up to $50,000 each.
Since his visit to South Africa, Luber -- co-owner of Luber Roklin Entertainment -- has started his own rhino conservation group, Vanishing Giants, which on Tuesday, Oct. 23, will hold its first Hollywood fundraiser. The event, Stop the Slaughter, will take place at new bar The Phoenix in Beverly Hills (14 N. La Cienega Blvd.).
"Rhinos are so similar to a prehistoric animal, so it spoke to me that they're close to extinction. They could be the biggest mammal since the woolly mammoth to go extinct," says Luber. "I don't know what will be the next vanishing giant, maybe the shark or the elephant. Right now the rhino is critically endangered, and we have to stop it in its tracks."
A manager for such talent as actors Paul Walker and Stephen Moyer, Luber has focused his fundraising -- done in conjunction with the African Wildlife Foundation -- on protecting the Southern White Rhinoceros. Only an estimated 21,000 remain on the globe, mostly in South Africa. There has been a record number of rhinos poached in South Africa so far this year: 455, already eclipsing the record set in all of 2011 of 448 animals killed. Last year, a subspecies of the black rhinoceros -- known as the western black rhinoceros -- was declared officially extinct. As for the Javan rhinoceros and the Sumatran rhinoceros, there may be only 50 and 200 individuals, respectively, left of those species.
It's a cause that some in Hollywood are increasingly paying attention to. Actors Tom Hardy, Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio -- long an advocate for protecting such species as tigers and elephants -- are reportedly developing two films at Warner Bros. that focus on illegal animal trafficking and poaching.
Poaching, says Luber, "is being conducted by these highly organized international crime syndicates using helicopters and massive weaponry." The slaughter itself is gruesome. "They hack them off with machetes. Many times they are still alive. Sometimes, they'll put explosives underneath them so that when people go and try to help them, the rhino will explode."
Earlier this year, Luber -- an executive producers on such films as Bride Wars, Janie Jones and the upcoming Pawn Shop Chronicles starring Walker and Elijah Wood -- ran the Los Angeles Marathon to raise money for his cause. He's also a member of the group Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching.
Event information can be found at vanishinggiants.blogspot.com.
"It's an effort to spread awareness and raise funds to help this cause," Luber says. "It's going to be low-key. Come for cocktails and listen to a few people speak from the AWF."