Monday, October 26, 2009

From U.S. to Africa, With a Fortune and a Tractor

“THERE they are!” exclaimed Howard G. Buffett, the Illinois corn farmer, philanthropist and down-home son of one of the world’s richest men, as he steered his dusty Toyota Land Cruiser toward a pair of nature’s fastest and most majestic creatures.

Orion and Titan — cheetahs bought at $2,000 apiece for the cheetah conservation reserve he established here — sat smack in the middle of the dirt road. They licked each other’s faces and ambled languorously into the bush. Then one of them scented prey. His elegant body elongated into a tensile creep, the tip of his tail twitching.

“He’s on to something,” Mr. Buffett whispered. “Look how he’s moving.”

Despite his affection for Orion and Titan, Mr. Buffett’s recent drive through the Jubatus Cheetah Reserve is likely to be among his last. He has decided to sell the 6,000 acres of bush in Limpopo Province, along with the rhinos, giraffes and zebras that ramble through it. He will try to relocate the cheetahs.

The reserve was his original philanthropic stake in Africa and his most sizable commitment to animal conservation. Once it is gone, he will complete his evolution from a man galvanized by an enthusiasm for cheetahs, polar bears and mountain gorillas to one consumed by helping the poorest people: African farm families, starving children and victims of conflict.

The making of this accidental philanthropist — the accidental part being his birth as the son of the legendary investor Warren E. Buffett — is an American tale of wealth and conscience passed on to a second generation. The elder Mr. Buffett, 79, did not believe in giving his money to his children to spend on themselves, but decades ago he did begin preparing them to give some of it away.


Related book: FRAGILE: The Human Condition – By Howard G. Buffett

Related link: The Charlie Rose Show (Howard Buffett is on the show that aired on 10/16/09 – use the ‘Archive’ tab to locate)