Wildlife expert Jack Hanna and his animal pals featured at Friends of Conservation Ball

The Friends of Conservation Ball is always a "wild" affair and, this year, the event planners upped the ante with famed wildlife expert Jack Hanna onboard. A highlight of this annual event, besides raising funds for a desperate part of our world, is the meet-and-greet with exotic animals. This year over 200 guests got up close and personal with animal ambassadors from the Columbus Zoo. They included an endangered, 5 1/2 month-old snow leopard, an African cheetah cub, a penguin, an Asian Palm civit and a lemur from Madagascar. Snow leopards are on the endangered species list with a breeding population of only 3000 left in the world.

Hanna shared sobering info about the (now) sophisticated world of poaching and stated that more than 1,200 rhinos were lost to poaching in South Africa in 2014. "Poachers have helicopters with GPS and they know where the animals bed down at night...In the late 1970's and early '80's, the rhino's horn was worth $4000 and today it's up to $500,000, so of course, you're going to have organized crime syndicates with sharpshooters involved. They can take a horn in less than 2 1/2 minutes--they shoot them from the air and come down with a chainsaw. In 2 1/2 minutes, they have a half million dollar prize to take back to Asia." Hanna advised the attendees that poaching is now a billion dollar business and that much needs to be done to protect rare wildlife from disappearing from the earth forever.

The elegant, black-tie affair, held on October 17 at the Four Seasons Hotel, was chaired by President Reute Butler, Ch. 5's Zoraida Sambolin (who served as emcee) of Channel 5 news. Vonita Reescer was a co-chair. During the program, President Butler was surprised to receive a Lalique lion from her mother, FOC founder Jorie Butler Kent, for her 30 years of dedicated work with Friends of Conservation. The crystal lion was donated by Lalique and Chicago showroom director Rachel Lang. A letter was read from FOC’s Royal Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, who is personally acquainted with the issues facing conservation in Africa, and is a longtime supporter of FOC's efforts.

FOC has been working in East Africa since it was founded in 1982 by Jorie Butler Kent and Geoffery Kent. Their mission was to join with local peoples and partners to support traditional and sustainable ways of living in harmony with wildlife and ecosystems. FOC was one of the world’s earliest leaders in the development of Community Conservation, since 1988 actively engaging the participation of communities in the Masai Mara area of Kenya in planning, decision making as well as implementation of actions and policies relating to natural resources management and capacity building, and continues with this mission today.  (To learn more about the valuable work the FOC does, click here).

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