An Epic Evening for Elephants in Malibu


Frank Pope – COO

Date Published

On May 10th 2014, elephants received a significant boost from a new type of supporter. A throng of almost three hundred Hollywood stars, film producers and directors, artists and celebrities attended an evening gala that raised $2.1 million for the Elephant Crisis Fund, a joint initiative by Save the Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN).

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation co-hosted the event and – after a heartfelt speech by honouree and STE Founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton – announced a stunning $1 million dollar bequest to the Fund. With actor Mark Whalberg as co-chair, the evening was off to a great start.

Stunning starlets and stubbled leading men milled around the pool of a surreal seaside palace, which Richard & Liane Weintraub had generously donated for the evening. A helicopter circled the party searching for parking space and security men struck tough poses in doorways and gates. Then, as if to remind us of what life – and the event – was really about, out to sea several California Gray Whales blew past on their northward migration.

Lyndie Benson, Chair of the Host Committee, deserves special thanks for securing both the stunning location and the backing for the gala, as well as the Farm to Table dinner. The host committee was a powerful team whose contributions were too many to list, but our deepest thanks – and those of the elephants – go out to you all. Hosts Erica Beeney & Rupert Wyatt catalyzed the whole event and orchestrated it like maestros, and all the while the Wildlife Conservation Network beavered away making sure that all the details were in place.

In an indication of his commitment to the Fund, Charlie Knowles, co-founder of WCN, signed up for $100,000 and so did his co-founder, Akiko Yamazaki, along with her partner Jerry Yang. Then both the African Wildlife Fund and Michael Piuze committed another $100,000 each. Diana Jenkins, the brains and beauty behind Neuro Drinks, covered most of the costs of the event with her donation of the same amount.

Once the speeches were done and the auction began, we were $400,000 short of matching Leonardo’s $1m pledge. The first couple of items sold well, but made little dent in the shortfall. As bidding on a 10 day luxury safari for two people, organized by ROAR Africa began to slow, a voice called out from the darkness.

“Would you take $400,000 for 8 people instead?”

Once the audience had recovered from their stunned silence and had established that the offer was serious there was a standing ovation for the man behind the bid. In the spotlight was none other than Ryan Kavanaugh, founder of Relativity Media. His astonishing, impulsive generosity injected a surge of even greater energy into the Californian night air. Jon Batiste and his band then took to the stage – and soon afterwards the dining tables – to provide the perfect ending to the evening.

The Elephant Crisis Fund is proving ever more powerful in its ability to deliver rapid, catalytic financing to the most urgent and effective projects aimed at stopping the poaching, thwarting the trafficking and ending the demand for ivory. Fully 100 per cent of all donations reach the projects on the ground, and donations to the fund are matched dollar for dollar to double their impact.

The event was covered widely in the press, including Vanity FairMonga Bay and the Hollywood Reporter.

To read about the projects supported during the ECF’s first year here.

To support the fund visit the elephant crisis fund website.