The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) held its annual gala at Central Park Zoo on Thursday, June 14 where 500 guests celebrated the leadership of women in wildlife conservation and the society’s impact on saving wildlife and places around the world. Guests enjoyed a cocktail hour around Central Park Zoo’s infamous sea lion tank featuring décor by Lewis Miller Design, followed by a seated dinner prepared by Peter Callahan Catering. Dancing continued under the stars with music by DJ Jane. The highlight of the evening was hearing from Dr. Jessica Moody, Assistant Curator of Mammals at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo and Dr. Natalia Rossi, Cuba Country Manager for the Wildlife Conservation Society.
“As the world’s premier wildlife conservation organization, founded in 1895, WCS has a long track record of achieving innovative, impactful results at scale,” said Paula Hayes, Executive Vice President of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Global Resources. “We run the world’s largest field programs for great ape, elephant, tiger and whale conservation, among others. Our strategy is to focus on the planet’s most important, ecologically intact places with the greatest biodiversity and resilience to climate change.”
The focus of the evening is very timely and Dr. Jessica Moody spoke eloquently on the top of women in this field: “As I look at the next generation of young women entering this field with a passion for animals and conservation-and there are many!-I am excited to provide the mentorship I was so fortunate to receive and use the experiences and opportunities I have had here at WCS to empower more women in conservation.”
Guests couldn’t help but feel inspired by the honored speakers of the evening who served as an important reminder of what everyone can do to play their part in animal conservation. Dr. Natalia Rossi, Manager of the WCS Cuba Program remarked: “I truly believe that the strides earlier generations of women in our field made-and the ones we are making happen every day with our hard work-are only meaningful if they enable the path for the next generation of young women into this field.
“This year, we honored the leadership of women working in our zoos (Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo), our New York Aquarium in Coney Island, and in our field conservation programs in more than 60 nations and across the world’s ocean,” remarked Hayes. “At our gala, we celebrated our work with this video, highlighting our colleagues in action.”
These women’s roles are not easy and have come with many professional and physical challenges. “You can only imagine the ‘toughness’ that you have to show when getting involved in crocodile conservation-a still male-dominated field,” said Dr. Natalia Rossi. “When you jump into muddy waters full of crocodiles and all male eyes are on you and you feel the silent wonder: is she going to make it? I imagine that same scrutiny imposed on so many of the women conservationists of my generation and before.”
Not only did guests celebrate the advancements of animal conversation due to the unwavering work of WCS, but also the advancements of women in this instrumental field. Cristian Samper, President and CEO praised: “As women across the professional world have pushed open doors to seize opportunities for leadership, women at WCS have led the world in wildlife conservation-whether in muddy boots, sandy flippers, or veterinary scrubs.”
Antonia Grumbach, WCS Chair, reflected on the leadership provided by women who have served on the WCS Board of Trustees and the WCS staff. She has worked for WCS since the 1970s and has watched the organization blossom into one of the world’s leading animal conservation societies. “I am proud to represent the women on the Board who came before me and those who are currently on the Board. We are a great bunch. And I am very proud of the women on our staff. When I first started … there were far fewer women on the board and working in our zoos and aquarium and in the field. All those changes are heartening, and I am sure they will continue.”
The work of WCS has played an incredible role in the lives of animals and humans. WCS internships and volunteer opportunities can change lives by connecting children to science and conservation. One extraordinary young woman became homeless as she was entering high school. Despite living with her family in a shelter for the last four years, she participated in the Bronx Zoo STEM Career Program as she was fascinated by science and passionate about animals. In April, she learned that she has been admitted to Cornell University where she will be going to study veterinary science in the fall.
WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve their mission, WCS, headquartered at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission.
“WCS is stronger today because we have had so many women working in our field programs, our zoos, and our aquarium,” said Samper. Each year community members from all fields come together to celebrate the importance of this organization and its work.
When asked what her message is to young women in the animal conservation field, Hayes responded: “You can be involved in saving wildlife and wild places as a scientist, lawyer, communications expert, zoologist, veterinarian, and any number of ways. It takes many skills to run a zoo or a conservation field project, and it is always a great idea to apply for internships to get experience and start building a network at any age.”
For more information about WCS, call 347-840-1242 or visit www.wcs.org.