By Gemma Follari
When Gabby Wild was 20 years old, she traveled to Thailand where she met a baby elephant “who fell madly in love with me.” The elephant, who had been stolen from his mother in the jungle, wouldn’t take milk from anyone and was expected to die until Wild arrived and got him to drink from a bottle.
After Wild left Thailand to continue her undergraduate studies at Cornell University, the baby elephant passed away. “He stopped eating, became very depressed, broke one leg, broke the other, and then died. It was horrific. Absolutely horrific.”
Wild said after this experience and seeing “how horrible the plight for wildlife is today,” she decided to start The Gabby Wild Foundation, which she founded in October of 2011 with a mission to “to raise awareness and funds for various threatened animals,” said Wild.
“One fourth of mammals, half of amphibians and an eight of all bird species are at risk of extinction and that’s a very scary fact.”
Today Wild, now 23, is the president and face of The Gabby Wild Foundation. As well as a student pursuing a degree in veterinary medicine at Cornell Veterinary College.
The foundation brings together conservation groups that have similar goals. “We’re uniting them all together, so that way we’re stronger in numbers,” said Wild.
Currently, Wild is working with several different amphibian groups on a campaign called Metamorphosis, which is not yet online. National Geographic photographer Robin Moore, who is also a project manager for Conservation International, took photos of Wild transformed through makeup into a variety of amphibians and posing with live amphibians.
“It was an honor being transformed into creatures so physically & intrinsically beautiful & precious,” said Wild about the process.
The makeup and prosthetics were done by Academy Award winner Brian Sipe who has done makeup for movies including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Star Trek, and Emmy Award-winning makeup artist Jennifer Aspinall.
“Together they changed me, metamorphosized me, into a bunch of amphibians to raise awareness for them and also to raise funds which we’re doing at the moment and it’s going very nicely,” said Wild.
Since its inception in 2011, The Gabby Wild Foundation has done a lot of photography campaign work. The foundation’s work has been featured at New York Fashion Week, Art Basel in Miami, and in major publications including the New York Times and the Huffington Post.
The foundation has done multiple campaigns and Wild is now focused on expanding the interactive part of her foundation.
The “Create Your Own Campaign” section of the website, which will not be on the website for a few months, will allow people and companies to design their own wildlife conservation campaigns. The Gabby Wild Foundation will guide them and help promote the campaigns. Wild’s foundation will also provide materials to help companies promote their campaigns on their own networks. Each campaign will set a monetary goal but “there’s no pressure to reach that goal, as whatever is made still gets donated to their animal of choice,” said Wild.
This new component “allows the public to see what any person can do to protect animals,” said Wild who added she is very excited to launch “Create Your Own Campaign.”
Wild said the most rewarding part of the work she has done has been people’s responses.
“I think the most impact has been when people send messages or emails about what they have learned and how that influenced their daily lives.”
People from places as far away as Japan and Taiwan send in small donations with messages telling Wild about what they’ve learned.
“I think that’s the most beautiful part, when someone say ‘I never even knew what the Chinese Giant Salamander’ and you hear them go ‘I’m going to try to help you save it.’”
For more on Gabby and this year’s Campaign, visit GabbyWilde.com.