Meet the Private Equity Guy With a Plan To Save Zoo Elephants

We've been digging into into the philanthropy of Silver Lake Partners co-founder Glenn Hutchins, whose philanthropy includes pumping millions into progressive policy work, and also funding an initiative to solve the puzzle of chronic fatigue syndrome—not exactly a typical cause. But he's not the only Silver Lake partner who's active in philanthropy—another notable giver is Silver Lake co-founder Roger McNamee, a Yale graduate and Dartmouth MBA, and a co-founder of Elevation Partners, a private equity firm that invests in intellectual property and media and entertainment companies. 

Related: A Three-Pronged Focus: A Look At Glenn Hutchins' Philanthropy

McNamee and his wife Ann, a singer-songwriter and music theorist with a Ph.D. in music theory from Yale, created the pachyderm-focused NDOVO Foundation, now called Tembo Preserve Foundation. The foundation held some $19 million in assets in a recent fiscal year. Tembo, by the way, means "elephant" in Swahili.

If you get the impression that this outfit favors animal conservation, you'd be on the right track, but this elephant-loving Bay Area couple has some pretty unique and ambitious plans, here. The McNamees and the Oakland Zoo joined forces to create Tembo, whose goal is to "establish a permanent, one-of-a-kind sanctuary for retired zoo elephants in Tehama County."

Tehama County isn't in the Serengeti plains of Africa, but rather in Northern California, due north of Sacramento. The "4,900-acre Tembo Preserve will significantly advance the management and welfare of captive African elephants by providing them the freedom to roam and forage an expansive habitat and form intricate social bonds as they would in the wild." Tehama County's nickname is "cow town"—hopefully the bovines won't mind sharing the attention.

Why Northern California? Well, as turns out, according to Tembo's website "Northern California is one of only five areas in the world with a climate comparable to southern Africa. Tehama County’s climate, rolling hill topography, and grassy woodland vegetation are ideally suited to elephants and their grazing patterns." Summers are dry and hot, while winters are mild—perfect.

A team of elephant care experts from the Oakland Zoo will manage the preserve and care for the elephants in a campus that "includes eight square miles of open range land, ponds, hills, and state-of-the-art elephant shelters, supported by veterinary and research facilities." When finished, it's hoped that the preserve will benefit Tehama County and provide educational experiences for local students.

As for the timeline on this effort, the first elephants could be on the preserve within a few years. But the project likely won't be completed for 50 to 100 years, which means that it'll be quite a while before the planet's largest land animals roam Northern California en masse.

We've reported other funders who are backing different kinds of animal sanctuaries or wildlife conservation projects in the Unite States. But standing up for wild animals overseas has been especially hot lately.

A growing number of philanthropists are interested in protecting some of the world's largest and most exotic mammals. Hans Wyss and Paul Allen are two prominent billionaires who stepped forward in recent years to save elephants and rhinos from slaughter by poachers, while Jon Stryker has long been defending great apes through the work on the Arcus Foundation.

Meanwhile, several philanthropists are looking out for big cats, most notably Tom Kaplan, who we recently profiled. Duncan McFarland is another donor with an eye on big cats, specifically jaguars.