Beastly Ball Raises $1.2 Million for Los Angeles Zoo

Jamie Pham/GLAZA

Among the stars in attendance, Melanie Liburd and Animal Planet’s Dr. Evan Antin spoke of animal conservation at the annual after-hours event.

At the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association's 52nd Annual Beastly Ball on Saturday night, an array of actors and television personalities were in attendance, but the true stars of the event were the animals themselves.

“I grew up around animals, and my family rescued animals. My mom rescued swans, budgies, dogs, cats … so for me [being here] is a personal thing,” actress Melanie Liburd (This Is Us) told The Hollywood Reporter. “The animals bring so much joy to us, and it's so important for our future, in our history, for everything."

More than 800 guests flocked to the after-hours zoo event, grinning ear-to-ear as they fed flamingos, struck poses with a woma python and waved to turtles that seemed to wave back with their webby appendages.

“This is a gift to L.A.,” Deer Hunter and The Last Full Measure actor John Savage added about the Los Angeles Zoo event.

Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer in Residence and Beastly Ball honoree, would describe these types of interactions as “childlike curiosity.” This, she told THR, is a key ingredient in getting the general population, especially city-dwellers in L.A., to care about animal conservation.

“People that grow up in cities, spend their whole lives in densely populated areas and don't know that everything we care about, the air we breathe, our existences rely upon the natural world,” said Earle. “Having a place such as Los Angeles, to be able to open the door for children in particular, and more than that, the zoo brings out the child in the crustiest CEO, the most sober-sighted person who thinks they don't care about critters, but when a giraffe looks you in the eye and put its long tongue out, you can’t help but just say, 'Wow!'”

Earle was one of three honorees at the safari-casual ball. The others included Conservation Hero Award recipient Glen Curado and recently retired GLAZA president Connie Morgan, who has been with the L.A. Zoo for 16 years and counting. Along with conserving animals, the event prompted attendees to conserve their appetites for the evening’s ‘wildly’ extensive food bounty. The entire pathway of the zoo was dotted with delicious, provision-packed tables: El Cholo’s Tamales, Kabuki’s hand roles and El Coyote Mexican Café’s street-style tacos, to name a few.

The Beastly Ball follows National Endangered Species Day with the same vocation: to raise awareness (and in the case of the ball) funds to protect endangered animals and their habitats.

“We need animals, and now they need us to proactively responsibly take care of them as if our lives depend on it because in fact they do,” Earle told THR. “Our technology has given us the power to clear-cut forests in an afternoon to take entire populations of tuna and swordfish or anything else we set our mind to. We have a destructive power that is unprecedented. But we also have the capacity to wonder, to see ourselves as a part of nature, not apart from it.”

Dr. Evan Antin, veterinarian and Animal Planet star of Evan Goes Wild (its debut season recently aired), has had an opportunity to perform a vet exam on one of the “sweet condors” at the zoo, he told THR. The California Condor is one of the endangered species that the L.A. Zoo strives to conserve, in addition to mountain yellow-legged frogs and the peninsular pronghorn.

“That interaction was really cool and she's a very sweet bird,” said Antin. “When you see them face to face, you realize how big and beautiful and powerful and incredible these animals are.”

When asked about what place animal conservation has in America after the Trump administration proposal to lift certain protections on at-risk animals listed in the Endangered Species Act, Earle said, “A lot of these [endangered] species are native to our country. There's a lot of people in our country that want to help these animals and there's a lot of people that just like to travel and see or know these animals even being in captivity. So, I think we play a big role and as Westerners, being able to help out in other countries is super important.”

Liburd also took the time to comment on another political controversy: the recently passed abortion laws in Alabama and the states that are following suit.

“I think it's an important time for us. We need to come together and fight for our rights. This is an attack on women as far as I'm concerned,” she said. Liburd speaks from the perspective of someone who has portrayed a character onscreen with a sexually traumatic past. “This is a crucial time to come together and make sure we change this.”

The event raised about $1.2 million for the protection of endangered animals.