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The Friends Of Conservation Gala 
Annual Conservation Ball featured wildlife expert and international personality Jack Hanna 
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  DURING a memorable night that focused on the protection of elephants, rhinos and other animals, supporters of Friends of Conservation (FOC) got an eye-opening wildlife update from TV personality and naturalist Jack Hanna, who shed light about the ravages of poaching and how it is decimating the population of some of the world’s most majestic animals.
   The annual Conservation Ball at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago attracted a huge crowd who oohed and aahed over Hanna’s adorable wildlife friends, but it was the zookeeper’s message about how poaching could lead to the extinction of certain animals that left a lasting impression on many of those attending the elegant black-tie gala.
   South Africa, for example, has suffered major losses to poachers over the last year, with more than 1,200 rhinos lost to the illegal activity in 2014, according to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs.
   Hanna spoke passionately about the damaging effects of poaching, describing just how sophisticated poachers have become and how they have turned the practice into a billion-dollar business. “What you see today is a totally new ball game. Poachers have helicopters with GPS and they know where the animals bed down at night,” Hanna said. “In the late 1970s and early ’80s, the rhino's horn was worth $4,000 and today it’s up to half a million dollars, so of course you’re going to have organized syndicates with sharpshooters. It’s so organized today that, by using a helicopter, they can take a rhino’s horn in less than 2 ½ minutes. They shoot them from the air, come down with a chainsaw and in 2 ½ minutes they have a $500,000 prize to take back to Asia.”
   The Conservation Ball––hosted by Event Chairman and FOC President Reute Butler, who was joined by co-chairs Vonita D. Reescer and NBC 5’s Zoraida Sambolin––raises funds to continue FOC’s efforts in the conservation or our natural heritage. Established in 1982 to aid preservation of fragile ecosystems in East Africa, FOC interacts with the Maasai Mara communities in efforts to find ways to support wildlife and to assist in finding ways to manage natural resources. Community programs also reach 50 Mara schools on conservation education. “I love the work of FOC. It is dear to my heart and something I am privileged to help make happen,” Butler said. “I am so proud of all that we have accomplished in 33 years––and even more excited to think of the promise the future holds for the Maasai.”
Special guest Jack Hanna addresses the crowd, and (below) his wife, Suzi, handles a baby cheetah.
Kristina and Mike McGrath feed a banana to a palm civet from Asia, and (right) auctioneer Jason Lamoreaux accepted bids on a wide variety of items that were up for auction.
Event planners include (left to right), Vonita D. Reescer, co-chair; Reute Butler, president, Friends of Conservation; Jorie Butler Kent, founder and international chairman Friends of Conservation; and Zoraida Sambolin, co-chair and master of ceremonies. Supporters (below) dance to the tunes of the Stanley Paul Orchestra.
At the annual gala, Vonita D. Reescer, event co-chair, and Reute Butler, president of Friends of Conservation, are introduced to a snow leopard.
For more information about Friends of Conservation, go to www.friendsofconservation.org.
  –– Walter Leavy