L.A. Zoo and National Geographic Vow to Maintain Conservation Efforts Through Political Uncertainty

Greg Doherty/Getty Images
From left: animal handler Dmetri Domerick; Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association trustee Richard Sneider; Gary E. Knell, president & CEO National Geographic Society; and animal handler Francisco Moran

At the zoo's 50th anniversary Beastly Ball, National Geographic president and CEO Gary Knell received the Tom Mankiewicz Leadership Award.

The Los Angeles Zoo celebrated its 50th year of operation Saturday night at its Beastly Ball, where conservation efforts amongst proposed budget cuts were the talk of the evening.

The celebration also honored National Geographic president and CEO Gary Knell as the recipient of the Tom Mankiewicz Leadership Award on behalf of the National Geographic Society.

Both the L.A. Zoo and National Geographic are continuing their conservation efforts with minimal pushback, despite the threat of government actions against federally funded environmental conservation efforts, such as proposed federal 2018 funding cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“We’ll keep working for animals,” said Los Angeles Zoo director John Lewis. “The needs aren’t going away. There might be a different focus, federally, but we’re still waiting to see what that is. But we’ll focus as a zoo and as a conservation professional.”

Knell echoed Lewis by stressing his mission for National Geographic to support conservation efforts in today's political climate.

“National Geographic is one of those trusted brands that is neither red nor blue, and I think that’s really important for us, that we can have an inside track to be able to provide information and education to members of the administration, as well as members of Congress,” said Knell. “So far, we have been welcomed to do that, and I think it’s a very important for us to be able to continue to provide that.”

In his acceptance speech, Knell said that in a polarized world, important issues facing the planet are too political and without the work of zoos around the world, conservation efforts would be out of sight, out of mind.

“We are doing a lot of work and granting to individuals, explorers, scientists and photographers to be able to go out and innovate around those topics, and work to come up with solutions that can tackle these, irregardless of how the government may be working on a given day,” Knell said of National Geographic, which researches and reports on issues such as climate change, the stain and health of oceans, wildlife protection and wildlife trafficking.

“A new curator of conservation can be looking out over the horizon to see where the hotspots are in the world, and if there’s a place where we can be active by bringing our specialists from the zoo, who know husbandry and animal welfare practices that are needed in a conservation situation in the wild,” added Los Angeles Zoo president Connie Morgan.

Guests participated in silent and live auctions throughout the evening, as well as open donation opportunities, while enjoying the zoo after-hours with food and drink around every curve of the windy path, which highlighted some of the best restaurants in L.A. including Salt Cure, El Cholo and Celestino Drago, among others.

Sporting “safari casual” wear in an array of leopard, zebra and cheetah prints, guests at the end of the night rocked out with Slash, a Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association trustee and longtime supporter of the zoo, who performed with Jack Black, Bernard Fowler, Grace Potter and Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band.

Funds donated over the evening raised more than $2,545,000 that will go toward a new Species Conservation Action Network (SCAN) program, aiming to provide short-term and long-term solutions to specific problems for animals globally.