On-Screen Wolf Steps Up Funding for Tigers and Other Species

Yes, Oscar contender Leonardo DiCaprio lost out to Matthew McConaughey last night. But the Wolf of Wall Street star has weightier concerns beyond awards season. The longtime environmental activist is taking his conservation philanthropy to the next level.  

In the past year, DiCaprio has entered the big leagues of environmental giving, raising $38.8 million in a record-breaking charity auction to benefit his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. In recent months, the actor’s philanthropy made two rounds of giving with the winnings from the auction. In November, LDF gave $3 million to conservation heavyweight the World Wildlife Fund, to protect Nepalese tigers. And just this month, the foundation followed up with another $3 million to Oceana to stop the practice of drift gillnets, which threaten protected sea life such as dolphins, whale and turtles. 

DiCaprio’s foundation has been making grants (it’s actually housed as a fund of the California Community Foundation) and running public education and petitioning campaigns since 1998. But the celebrity art auction at Christie’s in 2013 drew some serious attention, bringing in double the haul anticipated. And after raking in $50 million with a backend Wolf of Wall Street deal, his biggest movie paycheck yet, his foundation is likely to keep shelling out big funding for environmental issues.

What are Leo’s big causes, and what wildlife issues can we expect his foundation to keep supporting? 

First off, it’s not clear that they’re disbursing funds from the auction in their entirety or on any timeline. And aside from wildlife, DiCaprio will no doubt offer some major support to energy and climate change issues. 

But DiCaprio seems to favor the titans of conservation, and his favorite wildlife nonprofit seems to be the World Wildlife Fund. He sits on the board and has backed multiple campaigns, aside from the tiger grant from November. For example, the foundation supported a collaborative campaign with WWF, the Frankfort Zoological Society, the Australian Orangutan Project, Kehati and Eyes on the Forest to protect rainforest habitats in Sumatra. As DiCaprio and his foundation’s Executive Director Justin Winters—who also sits on WWF’s National Council—set priorities for the windfall, we can expect WWF to remain high on the list. 

Another big cause for DiCaprio and Winters has been protecting elephants from ivory poachers. In 2013, the foundation ran a campaign to ban ivory trade in Thailand. One organization he favors for this type of work is the International Fund for Animal Welfare, where DiCaprio also serves as a board member. IFAW works to protect elephant habitats, prevent poaching and end the ivory trade. They also work with researchers to improve how elephant populations are managed. 

But IFAW works on a bundle of other wildlife causes, including tigers, seals and whales, but even less exotic animal protection such as cats and dogs and animal rescue. Another smaller wildlife org that DiCaprio has backed is The Gorilla Organization, which works in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. 

Finally, as you’d expect from the Oceana grant, marine wildlife is a big issue for DiCaprio. The foundation has worked to curb international trade that threatens species of sharks and to establish marine reserves in Antarctica. 

For now, at least, DiCaprio’s biggest interests seem to be biologically dense and sensitive areas in Africa and Asia, with a focus on rainforest protection and ending trade that threatens endangered species. But unlike some celebrity donors, he doesn’t seem to have one specific animal that dominates his attention, taking more of a habitat approach and supporting efforts of certain groups. 

To learn more about DiCaprio’s foundation, see his website here.