Clintons honored at Wildlife Conservation Society gala
Amid barking sea lions and the calls of a cockatoo, members of Manhattan's charity circuit gathered in tuxedos and ball gowns last night at the Central Park Zoo to donate money to the Wildlife Conservation Society and honor Chelsea and Hillary Clinton for their efforts in stopping the global ivory trade.
"I had the unique honor of working with Hillary Rodham Clinton," Mayor Bill de Blasio told the crowd as Hillary, Chelsea and Bill Clinton sat feet from the podium. De Blasio was Clinton's campaign manager during her 2000 Senate run in New York.
"If you think you know what laser-like focus is, it would not be the truth until you've spent time with Hillary Rodham Clinton," the mayor said. "When she sees a problem she gives it her all."
The problem of poaching elephants, said W.C.S. president Cristián Samper, is not merely an ecological threat. The illegal ivory trade fuels terrorist and criminal syndicates throughout Africa that wreak havoc on local populations and threaten security abroad.
Samper told of a tour he took in Dzanga Bai when Clinton was still Secretary of State. Days after he witnessed elephants in the wild, he said, poachers had moved in to the same area and killed dozens of the creatures, sawing their tusks from giant carcasses to sell on the black market.
"That is when I called Hillary Clinton," he said.
Chelsea and Hillary Clinton made the issue a priority of the Clinton Global Initiative. Chelsea produced a news documentary on the ivory trade for NBC News, and Hillary gathered intelligence and security advisers to assess the issue.
They launched "The Partnership to Save Africa's Elephants," a campaign to convene nongovernmental organizations and governments to ban the ivory trade, increase dwindling elephant populations and publicize the links between the ivory trade and poaching.
"We've reached a crisis point and 96 elephants a day [killed] is just a horrifying number," Hillary told the group of close to 600 W.C.S. donors who dined at the zoo. "At this rate African forest elephants will be extinct within ten years. So we don't have any time left."
Clinton said poachers have become more organized and use automatic weapons, night-vision goggles, helicopters and satellite technology to track and slaughter elephants as well as park rangers and authorities who try to stand in their way. She said terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab and the armies of Joseph Kony were engaging in and profiting from the trade.
"It's an ecological disaster and it also threatens to undermine security, stability and economic development in many parts of Africa and beyond," Clinton said.
Chelsea, who routinely tweets about the plight of the elephants, echoed her mother's sentiments and thanked the Wildlife Conservation Society for its efforts not only to save animals worldwide, but for bringing an appreciation of wildlife to cities like New York.
The society, based at the Bronx Zoo, began as the New York Zoological Society and runs five of the city's zoos as well as education and conservation programs in 60 countries. Longtime W.C.S. board member Diane Christensen was also honored at the event.
"For so many of us, our love of wildlife and appreciation of the greater ecosystem in which we all live, does start in zoos," Chelsea said.
Hillary praised the New York State Assembly, which on Wednesday passed a bill banning the sale of ivory in New York.
"I was delighted to hear the news coming out of Albany," she said. "I was also delighted to hear this month's announcement that Antiques Road Show will stop appraising ivory."
A conservation society spokeswoman said the group raised "well over a million" dollars from the evening's event.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article has been changed to reflect the fact that Samper discussed taking a tour of Dzanga Bai, not Dubai.