Lions and Rhinos and Okapi, Oh, My!

The African Wildlife Foundation celebrates its golden anniversary with a day at the zoo

By Erin Keyes, Membership Services Associate, African Wildlife Foundation

The air is electric with anticipation. Dozens of eyes fix intensely on a single target. The crowd hushes. Suddenly, a pack of African wild dogs charge forth from their den, barking and yelping as they begin feasting on the meal laid before them.

This exciting sight was witnessed, not by safari goers in Africa, but by zoo-goers just 14 miles from downtown Chicago.  On July 23, more than 900 members of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) helped celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary with a day at the Brookfield Zoo. Sporting VIP badges, AWF supporters from the Chicago metropolitan area, as well as Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa, enjoyed special keeper chats and feedings with zoo and AWF staff, as well as a picnic-style BBQ hosted by AWF Board Chair and Brookfield Zoo Trustee, Dennis Keller.

AWF is a leading conservation organization focused solely on Africa. Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, AWF works directly on the ground in more than a dozen nations in key, defined landscapes—called Heartlands—to save wildlife, preserve natural habitats, and develop sustainable initiatives that benefit the people living closest to the wildlife.

Even though AWF’s work is focused on Africa, according to AWF CEO, Dr. Patrick Bergin, celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary at the Brookfield Zoo was a natural fit. “Zoos are critical conservation partners for AWF; they help bring Africa closer to the general public,” he said. “They show people just how magnificent the species that call Africa home are and why it is so imperative that we work together to protect them and their habitats. Events like this connect people with AWF and our mission to ensure that the wildlife and wild lands of Africa endure forever.”

In Brookfield’s Habitat Africa exhibit, guests were awestruck to see two of Africa’s most intriguing—and least-known—species: the red river hog and the okapi, the latter of which was once thought to be extinct. Other Africa-related sights included the Pachyderm House, home to hippos and lowland tapirs; and the Fragile Kingdom, where visitors learned about some of Africa's smaller cats, such as caracals and sand cats. Throughout the day, people were overheard sharing stories from their own travels to Africa.

Over the past 50 years, AWF has been at the forefront of African conservation initiatives, from establishing a research project on mountain gorillas to leading the charge against elephant poaching and international ivory sales. And while it is wonderful to look back on all that AWF has accomplished during its past five decades of service, Bergin stressed that there is still much more that needs to be done.

“While AWF has achieved some notable conservation successes in the past 50 years, we will continue to confront challenges as Africa modernizes,” he said. “Thanks to our loyal members, AWF can continue working to prevent key and vital wildlife from passing into myth and habitats from being decimated.”

AWF thanks all of its supporters, trustees and the Brookfield Zoo for helping it to achieve 50 years of conservation success in Africa, and looks forward to many more years of the same.

AWF is a proud member of EarthShare. Find out how easy it is to support AWF and dozens of other environmental and conservation charities through a workplace giving campaign.  Federal employees can support AWF in the CFC by donating to #11219.

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