Category Archives: Fundraising

A Worthy Cause – Rhinos Without Borders

The LEO Chronicles got its start talking about Big Cats conservation. Today I am broadening the conversation to bring awareness to an important African wildlife initiative currently underway where time is of the essence. Rhinos without Borders is an expansive project being undertaken by Great Plains Conservation and &Beyond, two extraordinary eco-tourism travel organizations who each operate safari camps in Botswana. Evan and I have been fortunate to visit Great Plains Conservation’s concessions at Zarafa, Selinda and Duba Plains. Great Plains also has concessions in Kenya, while &Beyond’s properties can be found in ten African countries as well as five countries in Asia. Dereck Joubert, CEO of Great Plains, and Joss Kent, CEO of &Beyond, are leading by example and stand in solidarity to save the rhino from its current path towards extinction.

Speaking from our own experience, in our three trips to Southern Africa, which includes two visits to South Africa and two to Botswana, we only saw rhino while visiting the Mala Mala reserve in South Africa (which is in close proximity to Kruger National Park). We were incredibly fortunate on one morning to come across a mother rhino and her young calf, who our guide estimated to probably be about a month old. Needless to say, he had not yet grown that coveted horn…

Baby Rhino & Mother - Photography by Evan Schiller

Baby Rhino & Mother – Photography by Evan Schiller

Rhinos are dying at a rate of at least one every eight hours. News outlets are reporting the recurring atrocities of rhino poaching on the African continent, particularly in South Africa where the majority of rhino can be found, and sadly, easily killed. As of the end of July at least 622 rhino have been killed in Africa, with approximately 2/3’s of those deaths occurring in Kruger National Park.   The rhinos are killed solely for their horn, which Traditional Asian Medicine purports to provide certain healing qualities, including everything from reducing fever to curing cancer (this has been scientifically proven to be false). Asian demand for rhino horn, particularly in Vietnam, has fueled the black market (in this case “Black” market literally means “Death” for the rhino). Last year over 1,000 rhino were killed, so at the current rate of three rhino deaths per day, it can only be assumed that a similar number will be reached in 2014. More sobering is that professionals on the ground, like Les Carlisle, a long-time Group Conservation Manager at &Beyond, believe that the rhino death rate is probably UNDER-estimated by 20% because not all killings are reported or even discovered. Poachers are highly sophisticated, heavily armed and technologically savvy. Their job is made easier in South Africa where the animals are clustered in parks and private reserves located near more densely populated areas than exist in Botswana. As I researched this epic problem, I was also shocked by the accounting of the number of wildlife rangers who have died at the hands of poachers.  A National Geographic Daily News article that came out June 27, 2014 titled “For Rangers on the Front Lines of Anti-Poaching Wars, Daily Trauma” quotes Sean Willmore, the President of the International Ranger Federation and Founder of the Thin Green Line Foundation, as saying that worldwide, at least two rangers are killed every week in the line of duty. StopRhinoPoaching.com, which specifically tracks poaching in Africa, reports that a minimum of 54 poachers in South Africa were fatally wounded in shoot-outs with anti-poaching units in 2011 and 2012. This number increased to 50+ in 2013 with the majority occurring in Kruger and a smaller number in KwaZulu-Natal. A further 30 poachers have been shot and killed in shoot-outs so far this year. Bottom-line, rhino poaching is a dangerous and deadly business for everyone involved, but most deadly for the rhino and its ability to survive as a species.

Mala Mala Momma & Baby Rhino - Lisa Holzwarth

Mala Mala Momma & Baby Rhino – Lisa Holzwarth

Baby Rhino & Oxpecker - Photography by Evan Schiller

Baby Rhino & Oxpecker – Photography by Evan Schiller

Rhinos are at their Tipping Point: We are losing rhinos to poaching faster than the rate at which rhinos can reproduce. The white rhino gestation period is 16 months and a new calf birth usually occurs every 2 to 3 years, while the black rhino’s gestation is 15-16 months with a new calf being born every 2.5 to 4 years. It should be no surprise that given a rhino’s size (1800 to 2700 kgs for the white and 800 to 1350 kgs for the black) that their gestation period is one of the longest in the animal kingdom. (And by the way, white rhino and black rhino are both gray.)  Besides the size differential, the main difference between the two species is the shape of their mouths. White rhino have broad flat lips for grazing, while black rhino have pointed lips for eating foliage.  The IUCN SSC’s African Rhino Specialist Group estimates that there are probably 20,000 white rhino left on the African continent, almost 19,000 of which can be found in South Africa. They estimate that the total African black rhino population is approximately 5,000 of which 2,000 are in South Africa and 1,750 are in Namibia (these population numbers were as of December 31, 2012).  Poaching has been growing 39% a year from 2008 to 2013. If this keeps up, the IUCN SSC’s African Rhino Specialist Group projects that the tipping point could be reached somewhere in the 2014 to 2016 period. Given that it is most likely that rhino kill rates are underestimated, we are probably already there. This chilling scenario is not hyperbole.

Making a Difference for the Common Good. It is the intention of this joint venture, working with the support of Africa Foundation, to relocate at least 100 rhino (both black, Diceros bicornis, and white, Ceratotherium simum) from high density/high risk poaching areas of South Africa to Botswana where population densities are significantly lower and poaching is virtually non-existent. The translocation would also create breeding diversity, strengthening the rhino gene pool by creating new stock in a safer long-term environment with the intention that the Botswana national herd might reach 400 rhino by 2016 (it currently stands at approximately 75). This will not occur naturally, but only by taking immediate action like that envisioned by Rhinos without Borders.

Putting the Plan into Action. The Rhinos without Borders team of experts believes that to acquire and translocate 100 rhino to Botswana will cost approximately US$7 to $8 million. The absolute number is somewhat fluid and will depend on how many animals are freely given to the cause (this includes private landowners and/or national parks donating their animals with the intention to make them safer, versus purchasing rhino at the annual South African Wildlife auction). The general plan is to acquire young adults in the ratio of 1 male for every 4 females, but this will ultimately be determined by what is offered. Transportation of the animals is also a large factor in the financial equation and there is talk of the possibility of plane capacity being donated to help with the safe transport. If not by plane, the rhinos will be moved via truck. 40% of the funding is projected to be used for the capture, transport, bomas, quarantine and release of the animals. The balance, 60%, will go to continued conservation, protection and monitoring of the animals. The team will continue to work closely with Botswana’s Ministry of Environment, the Department of Wildlife and the Botswana Defense Force to ensure the safety of the animals in their new environs. It is the intention of Rhinos with Borders that after three years the translocated rhino and their offspring will become the responsibility of the people of Botswana to proudly protect and grow.

Mala Mala Rhino family - Lisa Holzwarth

Mala Mala Rhino family – Lisa Holzwarth

Opportunities to Donate!!!!

Rhinos with Borders is supported by, and donations can be made through the following organizations:

Great Plains Foundation, a US public charity contributions to which may be tax deductible for US federal income tax purposes under Section 501 (c) (3) of the US Internal Revenue Code. Visit: www.greatplainsfoundation.com

Africa Foundation, a separate independent organization registered with the South African Revenue Service as a Public Benefit Organization (PBO) and as a Nonprofit Organization (NPO). Visit: http://www.africafoundation.org.za

Africa Foundation (USA), a US public charity, contributions to which may be deductible for US federal income tax purposes under Section 501 (c) (3) of the US Internal Revenue Code. EIN 88-0461880. Visit: www.africafoundation.org

Africa Foundation (UK), a separate independent organization registered with the UK Charities Commission. UK registered Charity Number 1092616. Visit: www.africafoundation.org

Great Plains Conservation has also generously donated its green season beds (for travel between November 1, 2014 and May 31, 2015) under an initiative called Zeros for Rhinos. Guests can elect to stay at selected Great Plains Conservation Camps and donate the cost of that directly to the Foundation towards this rhino effort.

Please check out this link to Rhinos Without Borders which includes a special message from Dereck and Beverly Joubert discussing the importance of this very special project: http://eepurl.com/0bXWn

Evan and I firmly believe in Rhinos Without Borders and the people driving this effort and we are making a personal donation to support this important and worthy cause.

Take us to Botswana! - Lisa Holzwarth

Take us to Botswana! – Lisa Holzwarth

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Success!! Big Cats II wins big for Panthera – Finally, the Story

Dr. Luke Hunter, Lisa Holzwarth, Alison Nicholls, Evan Schiller

Dr. Luke Hunter, Lisa Holzwarth, Alison Nicholls, Evan Schiller

All the planning, organizing, phones calls, emails, arm-twisting and finger-crossing worked – we had a great turnout for our Big Cats II event in Manhattan on October 2nd benefiting Panthera.   The weather cooperated this year, and while Metro-North did not, our dedicated friends and colleagues pulled out all the stops and made the evening a huge success – raising over $31,000 for the Big Cats.   Dr. Luke Hunter, President of Panthera and Andrea Heydlauff, Panthera’s Vice President , joined us in welcoming our friends from Connecticut, Manhattan, Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey, Washington DC and California (!) to a wonderful evening at Panthera’s headquarters.  Some of our special guests included Alison Nichols, my absolute favorite wildlife and conservation artist http://www.nichollswildlifeart.com, and Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld and Charles Trout, co-founders of the African People & Wildlife Fund whose work focuses on Eastern Africa, particularly in Tanzania in the Maasai Steppe and in/around Tarangire National Park http://afrpw.org.

When I look back at the evening and the days and weeks leading up to Big Cats II, I am forever appreciative of all the people who made the event such a success.  Every dollar made a difference.  To be honest, some of the dollars that meant the most to me were not necessarily the largest, they were the ones where I know the person was sacrificing to make the contribution – and ironically, these were the dollars that came unsolicited.

Our Auction items were extraordinary and unique.  We included two of Evan’s large photographic archival pigment prints on canvas including the  “Chobe Lion” and “Tamboti Leopard”, Panthera Media Director, Steve Winter’s chromogenic color print that is the cover shot on his new book coming out in November called “Tigers Forever”, handcrafted jewelry, Alison Nicholl’s original acrylic “Lines of a Lioness”, as well as great rounds of golf at US Open courses and a catered Day Sail on a Morris Yacht.   Panthera had also offered two amazing trips – one to the Pantanal to track jaguars and another to the Tetons to track cougars, each to be accompanied by Panthera experts.  Unfortunately we did not have any takers on these very big ticket items, though Evan and I were caught drooling over both of these amazing opportunities.  If you know of anyone with a keen interest, please let me know and I will put you in touch with the Panthera development team.

At the end of the day I think our friends and family really appreciate our passion for the Big Cats and are willing to take a stand with us on behalf of these amazing creatures.  The evening was light, fun, and informative, and I believe the Big Cats message rang true.   Luke Hunter spent a few minutes giving the group some background on how Panthera got started and their philosophy.   One of the things that really resonates with me is Panthera’s inclusiveness and thoughtfulness.  A Panthera board member recently described Panthera as the “venture capitalist” for the Big Cats movement.  Panthera is always asking itself what are the best possible investments to be made on behalf of the Big Cats.  They have no intention of re-creating the wheel or adding unnecessary bricks and mortar.   They stretch their dollars as far as they can out in the field and since their founding in 2006 have conducted over 155 wild cat conservation projects in 59 countries.   The organization is fortunate that its budget is funded by Panthera’s co-founder, Tom Kaplan, and the Board, so that all dollars raised can go directly to field projects.  Tom is currently featured in Forbes.  It is a great article on who Tom is, his passion for wildlife and what he and his wife are doing to make a HUGE difference, especially for the Big Cats (and snakes).

Evan and I offer our most sincere thanks and appreciation for all who participated and donated to our Big Cats II event.  We couldn’t have done it without you!

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2013/10/08/tom-kaplan-billionaire-king-of-cats/

Chobe Lion - Photography by Evan Schiller

Chobe Lion – Photography by Evan Schiller

Save the Date: Big Cats II takes Manhattan – October 2, 2013

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Evan and I are extraordinarily excited about creating Big Cats II scheduled for Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 6pm at Panthera’s Midtown Manhattan headquarters across from Bryant Park on West 40th Street.  This year’s beneficiary, Panthera, is the largest dedicated funder of wild cat conservation in the world.  The evening will include a Silent Auction with some unique items.  If you did not receive an invitation last year and would like to attend, or at the very least, contribute, please respond to this post or send us an email at savebigcats@bigcatshots.com with your address and we will include you on our physical mailing list which will be going out in the next few weeks.  There is limited room, so we are looking forward to hearing back from you as soon as possible.

Why Panthera?  We were fortunate to meet Dr. Luke Hunter, Panthera’s President, last December.  The chemistry was there from the start and and with each additional phone call and meeting, Evan and I felt both comfortable and confident that Panthera’s pedigree, research and process was the right way for us to move forward in our efforts to help save the Big Cats around the world who are threatened with extinction.  Panthera has not only surrounded itself with the foremost experts in the Big Cat space but they have been thoughtful about how and where the precious dollars they receive should be spent to have the best chance of making a real difference for these iconic creatures.  Panthera’s mission is to ensure the future of wild cats through scientific leadership and global conservation action.  They are directing and implementing effective conservation strategies for the world’s largest and most endangered cats – the tigers, lions, jaguars and snow leopards.  But their work goes beyond the most critically endangered to also include programs for the cheetah, the leopard and the cougar, all of whom need help to ensure their long-term survival.   Ultimately, Panthera seeks a future in which the world’s 37 wild cat species have the necessary and ongoing protection from human and environmental threats to not only persist, but also to thrive in the wild.

Andrea Heydlauff, VP at Panthera, uses the great analogy that the Big Cats are the “keystones” for our environment and our planet.  A keystone is that all-important architectural piece used in the construction of an arch that, without it, the arch can not bear weight and ultimately collapses… It’s really that simple, if We the People make an effort to save the Big Cats, we will be putting in the place the remedies to save our planet.  One of the greatest problems facing the wild cats is the growth of the human population and the ultimate conflict created by the scarcity of land, so many of the programs implemented are to the benefit of the local people AND the wild cats that live among them.

In addition to Luke Hunter and Andrea Heydlauff, we will also be fortunate to have Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, the co-Founder and CEO of Panthera with us on October 2nd.  Alan is passionate beyond belief – and has devoted his life to ensuring the safety and future of wild cats.  I am including a three minute video on Alan – prepare to be inspired!

http://www.weather.com/video/on-the-brink-graphic-video-37634?

For more information on Panthera, please visit their website, www.panthera.org.

We look forward to your help and seeing as many of you as possible on October 2nd!

On the ground progress by Big Cats Initiatives Grantees

Evan had an opportunity to speak to Luke Dollar today at National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative.  He shared with us the latest map of where National Geographic is putting the Big Cats Initiative money to work.  In addition to Africa, they now have a grantee based in China doing work for the Snow Leopard.  The typical grantee receives $25,000 to $30,000.  Our fundraising event on September 18, 2012 brought in close to $30,000 so in essence we have been able to fund a grantee!  Evan and I plan on traveling to DC later this month to meet with National Geographic and some of their grantees – very exciting! Will keep you posted.

Placing a value on your Word

How important is it to YOU to honor your word?  How do you react when others don’t honor theirs?  Does anyone care?  Do we believe anything that we hear or are we so jaded we believe nothing?  How many of us find the mistruths of others to be so glaringly obvious and yet we have a huge blind spot to our own missteps?  Are we even conscious of the promises that easily roll off our tongue which we have no intention of fulfilling… (“the check is in the mail” immediately comes to mind).

In the midst of this election cycle, barraged by candidates and special interest groups twisting their opponents’ words and spinning their own, it is easy to rationalize how “out there” no one is to be believed.  I wonder though, how often we catch ourselves doing the same thing?  Are we blind to our actions, or do we consciously find ways to rationalize or justify our mistruths?  What is behind our unwillingness or inability to be honest with each other?  Is it the fear of being judged? or something else?

Our fundraising on behalf of the Big Cats Initiative over the last few months really had me wrestling with these questions and the frustration of not always getting a straight answer from friends, colleagues and acquaintances.  I am respectful of the fact that not everyone is going to be as passionate about saving the Big Cats as Evan and I are – but then just tell me so.  At the end of the day, our job is to enroll others in why we are so passionate about this cause.  If we can’t do an adequate job in enrollment, we fail at our mission.  I can respect (at least on an intellectual level) if someone says, “I have another cause which is more important to me and I only have limited resources to devote to charity” – fine, I get it.  But when someone tells me that “they would be happy to contribute and the check is in the mail” – and then no check arrives – it is disappointing to say the least.  If I had ten dollars for every person who said their check was in the mail, our fundraising milestones would have been significantly higher – I guess more experienced people would say, “Welcome to the non-profit world”.  Another common excuse – “I never received the invitation”.  That worked on me for a while – really, I can be so naive, I actually began wondering if the US Postal Service was made up of an army of Seinfeld-like “Newmans”.

Photography by Evan Schiller

Mala Mala Lion

Anyway, I pride myself on my word, but the experience forced me to look in the mirror and see where I too can sometimes fall short.  I am now that much more mindful of my own words and that much more intentional in how I choose to express myself.  Think about it and Pass it on!  We’ll all be better for it.

Mother Nature throws a temper tantrum, but Big Cats still win Big

I find it highly ironic that on the night of our Big Cats Initiative fundraising event, September 18, 2012, Mother Nature decides to throw us her own version of a molotov cocktail – which included tornado warnings, flash flood warnings, high winds and driving rain. Understandably, we had some cancellations, but despite the absolutely horrendous weather conditions we had about 35 guests come out in support of us and the Big Cats. The embrace we received was heartfelt and we so appreciated everyone’s willingness to participate in such a generous way. One of our invited guest speakers who was scheduled to attend was Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld. Laly co-founded the African People and Wildlife Fund and is also a Big Cats Initiative grantee. The majority of her group’s work is done in East Africa, primarily in Tanzania. Laly was in the States visiting and getting ready for the birth of her baby. We completely understood when she called us and said it just wasn’t safe for her to make the long car ride to Connecticut. She did share with us that as a result of her team’s work and funding from National Geographic, the African People and Wildlife Fund will have constructed 200 “living walls” (chain link fences combined with fast growing native thorn bushes) by year-end 2012 and these 200 living walls will be protecting over 50,000 heads of livestock from the easy grips of the big cats – making it a much safer living environment for all involved, the Cats, the cattle, the goats and People! This is just one example of the kind of difference that we all can make when we support grantees like the African People and Wildlife Fund.

My good friend Avis shared a great quote with me this past summer and it really resonated. We shared it with everyone the night of our event who braved Mother Nature to support Mother Nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Who you are speaks so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying”. The corollaries of course being, “talk is cheap” and “actions speak louder than words”. Evan and I wanted to make something happen and we continue to act with that intention. We are still tallying and collecting, but I think/hope we will raise close to $30,000 from our 9/18/12 event, if everyone follows through as they have promised.  The Big Cats thank you, as do we.

Photography by Evan Schiller

Selinda Lioness and 3-month old cub

“Show me the money!” – Our first foray in fundraising

Last year Evan and I made a concerted effort to raise AWARENESS about the declining numbers of the Big Cats around the world, and specifically to share our Africa experiences and Evan’s photography with others who might also be inspired to take up the cause.  We thought we needed to get through to a younger generation who would want to wake up their peers, their parents and the WORLD, so we spoke to Fairfield University students and faculty and then we spoke at the Pequot Library in Southport, CT and finally the Berkshire School in Sheffield, MA.  Evan also arranged to speak at some of the local Fairfield County, CT Rotary Clubs.  The response from every group was (a) shock, that these Big Cats could potentially face extinction in the near term and (b) varied levels of interest in wanting to make a difference.  We really pushed to have as many people sign a petition that was being circulated by multiple wildlife groups to put the Lion on the Endangered Species List in the United States – this would prevent the importing of Lion trophies by hunters as well as any sort of “lion part”.  Most everyone was very willing to sign this petition which was forwarded to the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar.  We felt good about what we were doing at the time but the ultimate conclusion we came to is that Awareness is just the FIRST step.  What we ultimately needed to accomplish was to truly ENROLL others in our passion and the need for change.  Awareness is great, but Awareness without Funding, only goes so far.Sooooo, we worked tenaciously all summer and on the evening of September 18 (which is just hours from now) we will hold our first fundraising event for the Big Cats Initiative which funds on the ground initiatives in Africa. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.  The fundraising is an experience unto itself.

The picture of the cubs was taken by my photographer husband, Evan Schiller at a camp called Duba Plains in the Okavango Delta of Botswana.  We woke up to a pelting rain.  Our guide, Solomon, asked if we were still up for going out on the morning game drive.  The answer was a resounding YES!  We were rewarded with the special treat of getting to spend the morning watching a mother lioness and her three young cubs (about four months old).  Here the two young cubs are caught in the midst of a big brotherly “hug”.