Danai Gurira Honored for Conservation Efforts at WildAid Gala

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Danai Gurira

The 'Walking Dead' star joined Josh Duhamel and Jasper Pääkkönen in speaking to The Hollywood Reporter about the importance of activism.

Danai Gurira was presented with the Wildlife Champion award at Saturday’s An Evening in China With WildAid gala, an event focused on raising money and awareness for the organization’s efforts to decrease illegal wildlife sales.

The Black Panther and Walking Dead star spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about why the organization’s work resonated with her.

“I feel like it’s part of my heritage to be part of protecting wildlife and working against poaching,” said Gurira. “I grew up in southern Africa, a place that has one of the largest populations of elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and cheetahs.”

The actress recently appeared in a WildAid video meant to discourage the hunting of rhinos, which was screened at the event.

Gurira told THR that she was particularly invested in the initiative to save the rhinoceroses because of her character’s connection to the animal in the Black Panther movie.

Gurira was humbled by the award she received, as she is new to this type of activism. “To me, it's really just a call to do as much as I can,” said the actress. “It sparks a fire in me to do more.”

Her activism extends to the political sphere in addition to her wildlife conservation efforts. On Twitter, Gurira voiced support for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams ahead of the 2018 midterm election, a race which has yet to be definitively settled.

“I’m a believer in our great democracy,” Gurira said of the recent recount efforts by Abrams’ camp. “I believe that every vote counts and that every vote should be counted.”

Guests such as Josh Duhamel, Dylan McDermott, Maggie Q and Jasper Pääkkönen came out to support the annual dinner gala, which was held at the Beverly Wilshire.

Inspired by recent advances by WildAid with the Chinese government, several oversized Chinese lanterns hung from the ceiling, in addition to an abundance of red that filled the hotel’s ballroom.

Duhamel, a WildAid ambassador and last year’s Wildlife Champion, spoke to THR about what his continued involvement with the organization meant to him.

“It means I get to be a part of something that’s actually making difference,” said Duhamel, adding that he was particularly invested in “the fact that [WildAid is] actually making real headway into the stopping of the buying of ivory and anything that has to do with the killing of animals.”

Most of the star attendees of the event were seasoned activists, including Vikings and BlacKkKlansman actor Pääkkönen, who explained that his work in environmental activism and politics in his home country of Finland takes up almost as much of his time as acting.

Pääkkönen's focus to protect the world’s fisheries contrasts with typical conservation efforts, because many of those ignore creatures which are not “cuddly” or “cute,” he said.

In reaction to the recent California wildfires, the actor expressed distress that many are ignoring the signs of climate change, even when faced with the most disastrous of consequences. “The worst possible thing is happening and people are losing their homes,” Pääkkönen told THR. “We’re still seeing idiots denying that there’s such a thing as climate change.”

Saturday’s festivities took a fair amount of inspiration from the wildlife it aimed to protect, including costumed stilt performers roaming the ballroom and a hanging shark-shaped disco ball.

Attendees enjoyed a “wild” three-course vegetarian dinner and musical performances by David Foster, Pia Toscano and Sheléa.

By the end of the evening, $2,348,850 was raised for WildAid.