New York, NY - The wildlife conservation world has lost a champion. On February 3rd, 2014, Art Ortenberg, the brilliant business partner behind the legendary fashion designer (who was also his life partner) Liz Claiborne, passed away at the age of 87. While his family and friends at Panthera mourn his passing, we also remember a life well-lived, with meaning and cause, and celebrate the legacy Art Ortenberg has left on some of the world's most magnificent and endangered species.
In 1987 on an inspired trip to Africa, Liz and Art created the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation, "dedicated to the survival of the natural systems that produce the richness and beauty of this earth." Shortly after their founding, Panthera's CEO, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz (while at the Wildlife Conservation Society) formed a life-changing relationship with both Art and Liz, that would pave the way for creating and implementing the world's largest carnivore conservation network in the world: The Jaguar Corridor Initiative.
"It's difficult to talk about Art without talking about Liz because their thinking and passion was of one mind. They were the ultimate visionaries, long before their time, realizing that saving species like the jaguar, the tiger, and the elephant, would take time, passionate individuals on the ground, and sustained financial backing, all of which was in short supply. Art and Liz were each other's best friends, unparalleled partners, both in the fashion industry and for saving wildlife," said Rabinowitz. "After Liz's passing, Art carried the torch and remained dedicated to the people, projects, and species that they had fostered over the decades. While it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to my friend and collaborator, I can't help but smile when I think about the impact this one individual has had. For me, he helped change my life. He helped me follow my passion and through that he changed the future for jaguars and tigers. His support for my work and for that of Panthera has helped us build the world's leading organization to save wild cats. That's impact. That's a life to honor. That's a life to remember."
Since Panthera's founding in 2006, the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation not only continued with their critical support of the Jaguar Corridor Initiative, they supported Panthera's Tiger and Lion programs, and also launched the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation Jaguar Research Grant Program in 2008, awarding grants to 25 research scientists across 16 countries in Latin America (jaguars are found in 18 countries in Latin America). These grants have been instrumental in conducting in some places the first ever research on the elusive jaguar, setting strong foundations for building large-scale jaguar programs in places like Colombia and Panama, and for finding and cultivating young, local scientists who are becoming leaders in their field in their own countries.
Panthera's Vice President Dr. George Schaller said "my wife Kay and I knew Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg for over two decades and greatly admired not only their passion for wildlife but also their wisdom and insight about how to do effective conservation through research and by involving local communities. Their interests spanned the natural world, from Alaska's Arctic to the high Tibetan Plateau, from the wildlife of Patagonia to the rainforests of Laos. With the death first of Liz and now of Art, the Foundation has lost its two founding and dynamic leaders. I personally miss them both, and we shall all strive to fulfill their vision."
Art Ortenberg, like some of the species he dedicated his later life to saving, was a giant. And giants leave large footprints. His friends at Panthera are deeply grateful for his unwavering commitment, foresight, and his vision, and vow to build upon and expand the impact he and Liz have made to big cat conservation. We thank him for his fortitude and generosity of spirit, and say farewell, but not goodbye, to our dear friend, a true champion for wildlife.