A Special Message from Betty White

By Betty White

In celebration of our Trustee and friend Betty White’s birthday, we would like to share an excerpt from a letter that she wrote for our member magazine, Zoo View, in 2009. Ten years ago, before the openings of Elephants of Asia, The LAIR, and the Rainforest of the Americas habitats at the Los Angeles Zoo, Betty had this to say:

Dear Friends…

Zoos have changed dramatically in our lifetimes. It’s not like the old “Well, we have one of this and one of that.” Major zoos today work with the wild community to try to save species that are fast disappearing.

… I have been involved with the Los Angeles Zoo for forty years. When I believe in something, I don’t just pay it lip service. I have put my heart and soul and money into this zoo, and have worked hard for the many improvements that you have witnessed over the years. I often say that I have to stay in show business to pay for my animal business—true—but it is truly a joy to work with and for animals of all shapes and sizes.

Betty White and friend photographed by Tad Motoyama.

Our zoo animals serve as ambassadors to the public—to make people aware of the diminishing wild populations before it is too late. A message that will only register by seeing these wondrous creatures live and up close.

If you’ve been part of the zoo family for decades, like I have, you’ve seen the old enclosures from the 1960s give way to new, improved habitats. You’ve seen the tremendous transformations we’ve already made for our chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas, and you’ve read about the changes in store for many other species.

You have read, in the pages of this magazine, about the successes we’ve had with the critically endangered California condor. At the time we took the last wild birds into the Zoo to begin a captive breeding program, … activists protested vigorously: “Let them die with dignity!” No way. These birds have been around since the Pleistocene. No way are we going to let them die. Not while we can do something about it. Today, California condors fly freely in the skies of California, Arizona, and Mexico.

You’ve also read about field work our staff has done to protect wildlife in its native habitat, traveling to Africa, Asia, Mexico, and Australia to aid endangered species. You’ve read about the advances we’ve made in veterinary care, and our acquisition of state-of-the-art digital diagnostic equipment that allows our doctors to perform high quality radiographs in seconds, at an animal’s enclosure, reducing stress on the animal and saving precious time—a vital consideration when the health of an animal is at stake.

You’ve read about—and probably witnessed firsthand if you visit the zoo as often as I do—the people who are the heart and soul of this Zoo: the animal keepers. They are a passionate, compassionate, hardworking group of people, many of whom don’t just call it a day when the zoo closes, but continue their studies, field work, research, and fundraising for conservation efforts. Like me, they’ll do whatever it takes to improve this Zoo for the benefit of all its animals.

Without zoos to provide a refuge for endangered animals; without zoos to carry out breeding programs to ensure the survival of species; without zoos to provide opportunities for young people to see and learn about animals so that they will grow up to become the conservationists of tomorrow; the world will be a pretty sad place.

… Thank you,

Betty White
Trustee for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association and Ambassador to the Animals for the City of Los Angeles

An expanded version of this letter originally ran in the Winter 2009 article of Zoo View, the award-winning quarterly publication of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. A subscription is complimentary with any level of membership.