A Gathering for Gorillas
Saturday, September 23, 7–8:30 p.m. in the Witherbee Auditorium
Join us for a lively and informative panel discussion and Q&A moderated by the L.A. Zoo’s Director of Conservation Jake Owens and featuring gorilla experts from the Los Angeles Zoo and GRACE Gorillas.
A coffee and dessert reception will immediately follow the discussion.
Tommi Wolfe combines a lifelong passion for African conservation with decades of leadership strategy, organizational development, and startup expertise.
She brings an uncommon depth and breadth to leadership. From managing complex, global, Fortune 50 teams to deliver a billion-dollar project, to building an award-winning seven-figure consulting startup, she reliably delivers results.
As Executive Director of the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE), she is privileged to combine her conservation passion and her leadership skills to help preserve planet Earth’s largest primate, the Grauer’s gorilla.
GRACE’s mission is to build a healthy, stable population of wild Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to make this animal a source of pride for the Congolese people.
Tommi is based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and loves wildflowers, birding, and hiking. She believes in creating WIN-WIN solutions and doing the right thing, even when it is hard.
Beth Schaefer has been the Director of Animal Programs at the L.A. Zoo since December of 2014. She is a native Angeleno, and after graduating with a degree in microbiology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, she started her zoo career as a docent at the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero, CA. The next twenty years were spent moving around the country from the Kansas City Zoo to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Center for Great Apes, and the Houston Zoo before arriving happily back in L.A. She has had the opportunity to work with many taxa including primates, marine mammals, carnivores, and birds. In her role, she oversees all aspects of the Animal Care division at the zoo.
Beth is deeply committed to saving animals in the wild and sharing the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) value of respect for wildlife and wild places. Beth is a steering committee member of AZA’s Wildlife Conservation Committee (WCC) and the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA). The WCC oversees AZA’s Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) flagship conservation efforts. Beth serves as the WCC liaison to the Orangutan and Black Rhino SAFE programs. Her involvement in the WTA has included playing a key role in the formation of the Southern California Wildlife Confiscation Network (WCN), which aids law enforcement in caring for and placing animals affected by wildlife trafficking.
The Los Angeles Zoo believes that zoos have more to offer than contributing dollars to a cause. The value of shared expertise is why zoos matter. With this value in mind, Beth actively participates in conservation efforts around the globe. Her conservation focuses are currently Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she lends her husbandry expertise to help rehabilitate gorillas orphaned by poaching, and the conservation of pronghorn on the Baja peninsula where the Los Angeles Zoo is helping to repopulate these unique animals and bring awareness to this often-overlooked species.
Beth’s career has allowed her to see many fascinating and far-flung regions of the globe including Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences with fellow Angelenos and explorers of this planet, whether that exploration is trekking through a desert, trekking around the zoo, or imagining a future trek while attending a talk.
Laurie Cummins brings more than 13 years of conservation education experience to her new role as GRACE’s Education and Community Engagement Manager. Laurie is passionate about meeting the needs of people and communities in order to conserve wildlife and wild places. She has served as an Education Advisor for the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center for the past seven years, helping to develop curriculum and materials and conduct onsite trainings with the educators in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Prior to joining GRACE, Laurie was an Education Manager with Disney’s Animals, Science & Environment for the past eight years. As an Education Manager, she trained diverse teams of interns and international cultural representatives from Africa and Asia, supported conservation educators at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Epcot, and created educational materials for a global audience. Laurie also led a team of education instructors in community outreach efforts and summer conservation day camp for the Central Florida community.
As Education and Community Engagement Manager, Laurie is honored to support the GRACE Education Team full-time. She looks forward to continuing and expanding GRACE’s conservation education efforts throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo and the United States. Laurie trusts fully in GRACE’s mission to build a future for Grauer’s gorillas, based on community.
Laurie is originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she grew up boating on Michigan’s inland lakes, walking in the woods, and camping with her family. She holds an undergraduate degree in Biology from Eastern Michigan University and an MBA from Stetson University. Laurie now resides in Florida, where she enjoys spending time at the beach, volunteering at a nearby nature preserve, and performing in local choirs. Laurie strives to live through her values of integrity, empathy, creativity, and excellence. She believes everyone can be a hero for Grauer’s gorillas through their actions; small changes make a big difference!
Dr. Jake Owens is an international conservationist and researcher, with a B.S. in Biology from Stockton University and Ph.D. in Environmental Science from Drexel University. For his PhD, Jake performed the first focal study on the ecology and behavior of the Bioko Island drill, an elusive and highly endangered monkey found only on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea. Following his Ph.D., Jake spent more than five years in China codeveloping a novel release program for giant pandas at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Jake became the first Director of Conservation at the Los Angeles Zoo in 2019, where he has led the development, launch, and initial implementation of the Zoo’s first Conservation Strategic Plan. Ultimately, his role at the Zoo is to coordinate the expansion of its conservation impact in Los Angeles and around the globe to help create a just and sustainable world where people and wildlife thrive, together.
Jake is passionate about fieldwork and travel, having conducted field research on a wide range of species and topics on five continents and spent years living in remote field sites. Jake is a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group and Conservation Translocation Specialist Group (CTSG), and co-founded the CTSG Human-Wildlife Interactions Working Group. He is also a Review Editor for Frontiers in Conservation Science, a partner of the Society for Conservation Biology Publishing Partnership Program, a member of the Los Angeles Biodiversity Expert Council, and the Advisor for Endangered Species Conservation at the Chengdu Panda Base. His work has been featured in numerous peer reviewed publications, news, and popular press print and multimedia, and in the 2018 film IMAX Pandas.