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Why the stars come out

By Alanna Mitchell

Conservation International has attracted some very high-profile supporters, including an active board of directors that includes media czar Barry Diller, Gordon Moore, chairman emeritus of Silicon Valley's Intel Corp., and perhaps best known of all, actor Harrison Ford.

A passionate conservationist, Ford told me recently that he is drawn by "the strategic capacity of CI, the ability to move surely and quickly. It's the tenacity, the vigour of the group."

As well, he is impressed by how strongly science infuses the group's mandate, and by how much the staff members who grew up in hot-spot countries help to make strategy. "We are not," hew says, "imposing solutions from afar."

The support is more than verbal. CI now raises about $50-million (U.S.) a year -- 2½ times the annual budget of Greenpeace's U.S. operation. Last month alone, a glittering fundraising dinner in New York that Ford helped to arrange brought in about $1-million.

The affair featured Richard Leakey, the famed Kenyan conservationist and student of early man, as guest speaker, along with NBC-TV News anchor Tom Brokaw as master of ceremonies and political humour from Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond of television's Saturday Night Live.

Thanks to such support, CI is now a major player, along with the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy, that employs 1,000 scientists and field staff in 32 countries. Canadians hold some key posts: Claude Gascon is senior vice-president for field support and Rebecca Ham is a specialist in primates and Africa.

Ford says that mitigating the human misuse of the environment is the biggest issue facing our species. "There's enormous urgency to it," he says.

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