Reinforcing the impression that you never know quite where he is headed next, one of the world’s richest men, ultra-alpha-male Larry Ellison, is taking a philanthropic plunge for an animal rescue center dedicated, in part, to a butterfly.
Ellison is known for living life fast and loose. When the Oracle founder suffered serious injuries while mountain biking, he took up competitive yachting. He's given millions in the past for research to wage a war on death and aging. He bought the Hawaiian island of Lanai.
He stunned us and the rest of the philanthropy world (although we reported it about a month before most), when his Ellison Medical Foundation in 2013 abruptly stopped accepting applications for aging, neuroscience, and other medical research, and decided it would be pursuing a different, broader direction. The foundation changed its name to the Lawrence Ellison Foundation, leaving many biomedical researchers scratching their heads.
We also predicted a while back that Ellison was going to get into animals and wildlife philanthropy, based on some random gifts from the foundation, including toward ocean conservation and stopping elephant poaching. He also is on the board of trustees of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. We also heard he donated a big piece of land for an animal rescue center a while back, and apparently this latest project has been in the works for five years.
But this new center turns out to be pretty different compared to his previous wildlife giving. Rather than the typical elephant, lion, etc. that animal philanthropists go nuts for, this new Saratoga-based rescue center will focus on the little guys— bugs, snakes, salamanders—that are often overlooked, but which play an important role in California ecosystems. The Conservation Center for Wildlife Care will act as a refuge, a rehab center, and a breeding center for key invertebrate species like Lange's metalmark butterfly.
The center is a project of the Humane Society, and will sit in the Santa Cruz Mountains at the site of an abandoned quarry. And it is big. The center will be around 80,000 square feet total, and Ellison’s investment in the building alone is likely around $50 million, not to mention costs for the land and ongoing support.
But if I were another animal or environmental group, I wouldn’t exactly get my hopes up. There’s no way to tell if this is an indicator of things to come for the new and ambiguously defined foundation. After all, the foundation’s website is still displaying the same medical research program information and the Ellison Medical Foundation name. (What, it can't afford a webmaster to do a few updates?)
Related: IP's Profile of Larry Ellison
Ellison has said that 95 percent of his wealth will eventually go to philanthropy. As for now, there’s been talk of education, global health, and development funding in the foundation’s future. And when the shift happened a year or so ago, even the executive director didn’t explain the reasons, or what the future would hold for Ellison’s giving. The board, after all, only has three trustees, including Ellison. That’s just one of the nerve-wracking things about high-stakes philanthropy driven by an adrenaline junkie. Hard to say exactly what's going on in there.
Come to think of it, that’s an awful lot of space for an animal rehab center. Maybe he's building an ark!