Tributes continue to pour in for Betty White, the beloved sitcom star and animal activist who died last month at the age of 99. Many people honored the late actress on Monday, which would’ve been her 100th birthday.
The most famous tribute was the viral #BettyWhiteChallenge, which raised huge amounts of money for shelters as fans donated in Betty’s honor.
And one zoo had a tribute of their own, one that honors both Betty’s legacy as an animal lover and the lasting cultural impact she made on TV.
On January 17, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden announced they had named their blue penguin chick in honor of Betty White — no, they didn’t name her Betty. They named her “Rose,” after the actress’ character on The Golden Girls.
“We think Betty would approve,” the zoo wrote, on what would’ve been the star’s 100th birthday.
“Betty White was a huge Zoo supporter and animal lover,” Cincinnati Zoo director Thane Maynard told WLWT. “I had the pleasure of making her acquaintance years ago when she attended a Cincinnati Zoo fundraiser. We introduced her to our first ambassador cheetah, Angel.”
The character of Rose Nylund, the sweet, innocent but not-too-bright roommate of The Golden Girls, was one of Betty White’s most famous comedic roles. She played the character for eight years, for the entire run of The Golden Girls and its spin-off The Golden Palace. She won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for the role.
The Golden Girls was a critically-acclaimed hit and remains a beloved TV show, and is a big part of why White remained so popular with audiences. The penguin’s name honors her incredible TV legacy.
Will the zoo name their next penguin Dorothy Zbornak? Or perhaps another Betty White role like Sue Ann Nivens? Perhaps: the zoo has a tradition of coming up with punny themed names for their penguins.
For instance, according to WLWT, they name their king penguins after different “kings,” like “Martin Luther,” “Larry” and “Burger.”
Naming the penguin in honor of Betty White is a fitting tribute in many ways. White had been a supporter of zoos throughout her life: she was a lover of animals from a young age and says she always wanted to become a zookeeper.
During her long lifetime, White saw the conditions and reputations of zoos increase drastically, and she was happy to support accredited zoos do important work.
“Modern zoos of today are not like the old, old, old zoos,” White told People in 2011. “Lot of people have the impression they don’t like zoos because animals shouldn’t be kept in captivity; they should be in their natural habitat. But what they don’t realize is that the zoos not only exhibit animals, but they work in that natural habitat to save small populations of endangered species. They save many animals from going extinct.”
She became involved with the Los Angeles Zoo from its opening in 1966 and joined the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association’s Board of Trustees in 1974. She became chair of the GLAZA board in 2010.
In 2013, she fulfilled her lifelong dream by being named an “honorary zookeeper” by the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers.
“Her work with the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association spans more than five decades, and we are grateful for her enduring friendship, lifelong advocacy for animals, and tireless dedication to supporting our mission,” GLAZA president Tom Jacobson said in a statement after her death.
And after her passing, one story of her helping out a zoo in a crucial moment of need went viral — and it, fittingly, involved helping penguins.
In 2004, as New Orleans was being evacuated ahead of the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina, White paid to evacuate penguins and sea otters from the Audubon Institute to another zoo in California.
The flight reportedly cost $70,000, but White gave the money completely anonymously.
“She did not ask for fanfare; she just wanted to help,” the Audubon Institute wrote.
What a sweet tribute to animal hero Betty White, and what an adorable penguin!
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