Relativity's Ryan Kavanaugh Raises $400K to Save Elephants

Courtesy of Number 29 Communications/Splash News/Corbis
Elisabeth Moss

The Relativity Media CEO bid $400,000 for an African safari trip and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation pledged $1 million at an evening benefiting the Elephant Crisis Fund.

Hollywood wasn’t shy when it came to talking about the elephant in the room.

In fact, some of the industry’s top names shelled out major cash to help preserve the giant pachyderm from extinction and reverse the repercussions of poaching at an elephant crisis fund Saturday night at a private estate in Malibu.

“I think that the very fact that we could — and this is very, very plausible as tragic as this is — lose this species during our lifetime is unforgivable,” said film director Rupert Wyatt, who co-hosted the event with his wife, screenwriter Erica Beeney.

PHOTOS: The Big Screen's Evolution of Talking Animals

The evening honored Save the Elephants founder Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton by recognizing his efforts and raised more than $2 million, all of which will go to the Elephant Crisis Fund, a joint initiative of Save the Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network that will fund a coalition of groups fighting to protect the majestic animals.

At the event, it was announced that the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation was pledging $1 million as a challenge matching grant to the fund. Ticket sales to the dinner had already raised more than $500,000. But another $400,000-plus was needed in order to get the whole matching grant.

A live auction began after the main course was served, but at first it didn’t look like it would make up much of the difference. Then an extended trip to Africa for two, worth $25,000, came on the docket. Up at a table near the front, a man called out, “What if I wanted to take eight people?” And then continued, “What if I wanted to take eight people and give $400,000?” The white knight was Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh, who pushed the total take over $2 million in one flourish.

The total sum represents more than the yearly operating budget for many of the operations that target wildlife conservation, Wyatt said.

Barbra Streisand, wearing a black hat and seated near the stage, was just one of the celebrities in attendance at the Malibu estate. Guests entered the event through a seashell-encrusted pool house, nursed cocktails and dined throughout the night on food from Malibu Farm. Jonah Hill, television producer Steve Levinson, Relativity’s Tucker Tooley, Kelly Meyer, Elisabeth Moss of Mad Men, Diana Agron of Glee and Brie Larson of Community and indie Short Term 12 also attended the event, chaired by philanthropist Lyndie Benson. Neuro Drinks and its founder Diana Jenkins underwrote the entire cost of the evening, meaning that 100 percent of proceeds went directly to saving elephants.

STORY: Stacey Snider Hosts Star-Studded Charity Benefit at Sony Studios

“Just do the math. It’s fast approaching, but there is a very tangible and very plausible way of reversing that,” Wyatt said.

Moreover, the ivory tusk trade has a larger impact, aiding the funding of terrorism and drug trafficking, Wyatt said. 

The key solution is a three-pronged approach: protecting elephants on the ground from poachers, attacking trafficking and using awareness to reduce demand in Asia for ivory.

“You can actually reverse the situation rather than stall it and that’s ultimately what we want to try to do,” Wyatt said.