This Retired Investment CEO is a Big Friend to Big Cats

We’re seeing a lot of finance guys in conservation these days, and they really like closing deals. Whether it’s buying up big chunks of the Amazon, or in the case of Duncan McFarland, securing land to protect jaguars. 

Larry Linden really got our attention last year when he helped broker a $215 million deal to protect a huge piece of land in the Amazon. We've noticed a breed of retired investors who have decided they want to use their wheeling and dealing insights to help secure sensitive land. Duncan McFarland and his wife Ellen, for example, just committed $1 million to protect a ranch in a part of Brazil that’s home to world’s highest density jaguar population. 


The gift goes to Panthera, of which McFarland is on the board, and the Rainforest Trust, and will convert the Jofre Velho Ranch into a testing ground for mitigating human-jaguar conflict, common among the region’s ranchers. 

"Ellen and I protect land because it's a simple, secure solution for people and wild nature to thrive,” McFarland said in a statement. Guy has money. Guy wants to save something. Guy buys it. Pretty simple indeed.  

The appeal of this kind of philanthropy reminds me of the late Robert Wilson’s thoughts on giving away his money for land conservation: “I decided to try and preserve things that, but for my money, might go away forever.” 

Related: What's an Atheist, Libertarian Millionaire With No Heirs to Do With His Fortune?

McFarland made his wealth over a 40-year career at Wellington Management Company, a private investment firm that he served as CEO until he retired in 2004. He and wife Ellen live outside of Boston and spend their time focusing on philanthropy, with a particular interest in international environmental work. He serves on the boards of both Panthera and the conservation group Rare. The McFarlands’ other big cause is helping inner cities, and he serves as a director of New Profit, Inc., a venture philanthropy fund in Boston that focuses on increasing opportunities for mobility. 

While the couple have given some big personal gifts (they gave $4 million to the private school Duncan attended), they also have a foundation, the Bromley Charitable Trust. Not surprisingly, the foundation supports Rare, New Profit, and Panthera, as well as several other smaller conservation groups and some community nonprofits in Boston and elsewhere. 

Even though Duncan McFarland sounds pretty pragmatic, the couple have a bit of an earthy side. They set up a nonprofit spiritual education center that includes yoga, meditation, and healing. Now they can add a jaguar ranch to the roster.