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Remembering Betty White

A lifelong lover of wildlife, Betty White was a GLAZA trustee and donor, passionate Zoo advocate, City of Los Angeles “Ambassador to the Animals,” and an honorary zookeeper. Photos by Tad Motoyama and Jamie Pham.

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From the L.A. Zoo & Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association

“We are incredibly saddened by Betty’s passing and offer our deepest condolences to her family and friends as we collectively mourn the loss of a true legend, on and off the screen,” states Tom Jacobson, president of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA), the nonprofit partner of the Los Angeles Zoo. “Her work with the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association spans more than five decades, and we are grateful for her enduring friendship, lifelong advocacy for animals, and tireless dedication to supporting our mission,” he goes on to say.

Betty White Ludden’s involvement with Los Angeles Zoo began with its opening in 1966, and she officially joined GLAZA’s Board of Trustees in 1974. One of her first major undertakings was writing, producing, and starring in a TV special called Backstage at the Zoo. Betty recruited celebrity friends including Mary Tyler Moore, Jimmy Stewart, Greg Morris, Amanda Blake, and L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley to appear in the 90-minute special, which aired in July 1974 on KTTV. This was revolutionary at the time and brought the Los Angeles Zoo into the homes of thousands of Angelenos to shine a spotlight on the Zoo’s world-class animal care team and its work behind-the-scenes caring for the animals.

Betty served on GLAZA’s board of trustees continuously since 1974, taking a break starting in 1997 to become an inaugural member of the Board of Zoo Commissioners, a role she served in for eight years. She became chair of the GLAZA board in 2010.

In 2006, Betty was honored by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as the City of Los Angeles’ “Ambassador to the Animals” for her lifelong work for animal welfare. And in 2013, the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers made her an honorary zookeeper.

She also wrote a book called Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo, with the proceeds benefiting GLAZA and the Zoo. Betty said that her main goal in writing the book was to illuminate the role zoos play as centers of conservation and education.

Betty’s service to the Zoo has been incomparable. From contributions to exhibits like Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains and Campo Gorilla Reserve to her passionate support of Elephants of Asia, she has lent her voice as a donor, author, spokeswoman, and advocate.

She cared deeply for all living creatures – including us. Her loss leaves a great hole in our hearts.

Denise M. Verret, Los Angeles Zoo CEO & Director

“Betty White’s legacy will have a lasting impact on all of us here at the Los Angeles Zoo,” states Denise M. Verret, CEO and director of the Los Angeles Zoo. “She was a long-time champion and friend of the L.A. Zoo who advocated for us and helped to amplify the work we are doing to conserve wildlife. She cared deeply for all living creatures – including us. Her loss leaves a great hole in our hearts. The L.A. Zoo cannot thank Betty enough for her decades of support, and we share in this grief with all of you. There truly will never be another person like her.”

Betty White Tribute Fund

To the many fans who have inquired about making a donation in Betty’s honor to the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA), you may do so by clicking below. Now through the end of January 2022, donations made to the Betty White Tribute Fund will be matched by GLAZA trustees. “With this donation match,” says Board of Trustee Chair Brian Diamond, “the GLAZA trustees want to show their love for Betty and give fans the opportunity to double their impact when honoring Betty and her commitment to animals.”

Betty’s L.A. Zoo Tour

Visitors to the Zoo can walk in Betty’s footsteps by taking this self-guided tour to visit some of her favorite spots. Enjoy photos of Betty and animal friends from our archive and read in her own heartfelt and sometimes funny words on why she loved the Zoo. Stops include:

  • Entry Plaza
  • Sea Life Cliffs
  • Sloth habitat at the Winnick Family Children’s Zoo
  • The LAIR
  • Ludden Plaza in the Australia section
  • Campo Gorilla Reserve
  • Peninsular pronghorn, aka berrendo, habitat
  • Red Ape Rain Forest
  • Elephants of Asia
  • Masai giraffe habitat
  • Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains
  • Okapi habitat
  • World of Birds Theater
  • Rainforest of the Americas, north entrance
  • Rainforest of the Americas, south entrance
  • Treetops Terrace

Memorial Garden

Through the end of January, L.A. Zoo guests were invited to visit a special memorial garden in our Australia section’s Allen Ludden Plaza, named for Betty’s beloved husband. Displayed among the garden’s silk roses were cards with personal messages, memories, and drawings from Zoo staff, volunteers, and guests.

On what would have been her 100th birthday, January 17, we were honored to welcome Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Council Member Nithya Raman, the co-owners of Pink’s Hot Dogs, and other distinguished guests to the garden for a tribute.

“Betty’s Life at the L.A. Zoo” Photo Album

Explore five decades of friendship and advocacy through archival photos and remembrances from some of Betty’s favorite people – zookeepers!

From the Archives

L.A. Zoo Blog: Betty’s Animal Business

In honor of her 90th birthday, Betty was profiled in the Winter 2012 issue of our premium member magazine, Zoo View. “I wanted to make clear the wonderful work that zoos do, not only in working with each other to keep the genetic pool diversified, but also in helping endangered wild populations,” she said at the time. “What we’ve learned about species in zoos we can apply to endangered wild animals—and prevent them from disappearing.”

Betty’s commercials for the LAIR

Along with fellow GLAZA trustee Slash, Betty starred in hilarious TV commercials promoting the March 2012 opening of the LAIR (Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, and Reptiles), which promised to be the “wildest spot in L.A.”

“the lair: Mexican Giant Horned Lizards”
“THE LAIR: Madagascar Radiated Tortoise”
“THE LAIR: Green Pythons”