As if Betty White isn't busy enough.
Yes, she juggles two television shows, heaps of guest-star appearances, and AARP celebrity spokesmanship. Yet America's ageless It Girl still finds time to get out to her favorite place: the zoo. And these aren't drive-bys. White has been intimately involved for half a century with the Los Angeles Zoo, where many of the animals run to greet her on sight.
In her new book, Betty and Friends: My Life at the Zoo, White takes us on an affectionate pictorial tour of her favorite moments, while describing the great asset modern zoos are to the world. The AARP Bulletin spoke with her about her long love affair with the animals who live in them.
Q. From the looks of this book, you get kissed a lot at the zoo.
A. Yes, I do, by some rather unusual creatures. And that's just the staff.
Q. Which animals are the best smoochers?
A. I have some very special friends. I love the elephants; there are a couple who I really am close to. Bruno the orangutan and I have a wonderful relationship. If I get there before the zoo opens, he'll come over to the fence and stick his big muzzle through the chain link so that I can pet it.
Q. Why is this book important to you?
A. This project has been on my mind for decades. I've worked with the Los Angeles Zoo for over 50 years. I've got a wonderful photographer, Tad Motoyama, who takes beautiful pictures. He's always given me a print of the pictures he's taken. So it dawned on me to put a book together to get out the message how much work zoos do, because many people don't realize that.
Q. Work such as?
A. Zoos don't only exhibit animals; they do a lot of wonderful conservation work. Many people say, "Oh, animals should only live in their natural habitat." Well we've done a pretty good job of destroying many animals' natural habitats, and they have really no place to go. Zoos go much farther than just exhibiting animals. They use their animal expertise and knowledge of the wild population, and have saved many species from extinction just by helping them to multiply.
Q. How have the exhibits changed since you started in the 1960s?
A. I got involved with the Los Angeles Zoo because I was kind of shocked that Los Angeles had such a poor zoo inside. I've never been one to stand outside and criticize. I'd rather get inside and see what's going on, see how I can help. In 1966, our present location opened. But now we have a state-of-the-art chimpanzee exhibit, a state-of-the-art orangutan exhibit, and we just opened our pachyderm exhibit. It went from one acre to four and a half over beautiful, wild rolling country. It's really lovely.