A $35 million gift will endow and name the Cornell K. Lisa Yang Center for Wildlife Health to address key challenges at the intersection of wildlife health, domestic animal health, human health and livelihoods, and the environment that supports all life on Earth.
The transformational gift to the College of Veterinary Medicine from philanthropist K. Lisa Yang ’74 – the largest in CVM’s history – will greatly advance the mission of the former Cornell Wildlife Health Center, which launched in 2020 to promote and facilitate multidisciplinary collaboration to address global wildlife conservation challenges.
“Supporting and endowing the Center for Wildlife Health helps send a message that wildlife and human life, conserving our natural environment, and abiding by more mindful economic practices are critical if we are to leave a viable planet for our children,” said Yang, who is also a member of the Cornell Board of Trustees and a lifetime member of the Cornell University Council.
“Cornell’s unique strengths, focused on universal goals, will enable the institution to truly leave an outsized footprint in ‘doing the greatest good,’” she said.
The gift will help the center to expand its efforts to move science into policy and action, train future wildlife health leaders and provide opportunities for student experiential learning.
“Lisa’s wonderful gift reflects the kind of thoughtful philanthropy that has already done so much to strengthen our work toward sustainability,” said President Martha E. Pollack. “This investment in wildlife health and conservation will pay dividends that will compound over time, building the awareness and expertise that are critical for our shared future on this planet.”
The center, led by Steven Osofsky, DVM ’89, the Jay Hyman Professor of Wildlife Health and Health Policy (CVM), aims to unify applied researchers, practitioners and others from across the university who are involved in wildlife health and conservation. The center includes more than 25 wildlife health professionals from a wide range of disciplines, with an emphasis on impact and fostering wider partnerships in the U.S. and around the world. Partnerships between Cornell professionals and local communities have aimed to reduce human-wildlife conflict and to leverage conservation to improve economic opportunities and help alleviate poverty.
“Our fundamental goal is to help humanity make more holistic, better-informed decisions, in terms of land- and ocean-use planning, public health policy and environmental conservation,” Osofsky said. “We will utilize the opportunities this incredible gift provides to work on tilting the scales back toward the type of environmental stewardship we ourselves need to survive as a species.”
Ongoing work at the center has included Osofsky’s own applied research in southern African countries to reconcile conflicts between livestock and wildlife through holistic approaches to land-use planning and restoration of corridors critical for migratory wildlife. Martin Gilbert, associate professor of practice in population medicine and diagnostic sciences (CVM), has been tracking canine distemper virus in wild tigers and other big cats in Asia, which threatens the survival of these species. Other priorities include addressing health threats to wildlife in New York state, through the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab, and improving and sustaining the health of aquatic ecosystems.
The funding will support faculty, staff and students in several ways, including through the new Cornell K. Lisa Yang Wildlife Health Fellows Program, which will create 14 new opportunities for veterinarians, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students. It will also create a Catalyzing Conservation Fund, an internal grants program that will provide seed money for critical wildlife health programs led by CVM faculty and staff.
Additionally, the gift will provide five years of core support to the recently launched Cornell Wildlife Health Center Student Support Fund, which allows veterinary students with wildlife health interests to participate in off-campus experiences and on-campus research.
“This extraordinary gift will support existing programs as well as new ones – all focused on the center’s stated vision of securing a healthy future for wildlife, people and planet," said Dr. Lorin Warnick, Ph.D. ’94, the Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “We are better positioned than we’ve ever been to train the next generation of wildlife health leaders in an era wherein biodiversity loss, climate change and our need to feed a growing human population all make the center’s integrative work more urgent than ever.”
Yang, who also received an MBA from Columbia University in 1976, retired in 2001 after a career in investment banking at the First Boston Corporation and Lehman Brothers. She was the lead donor to establish the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Employment and Disability Institute at Cornell’s ILR School.
She is also co-founder of the Hock E. Tan and K. Lisa Yang Center for Autism Research at Harvard University, launched in 2019, as well as six interlinked centers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology operating as the Yang Tan Collective, with major investments in autism research; neuroscience; molecular, genetic and circuits therapeutics; integrative computational modeling; bionics; and global engineering and research.
Yang holds memberships in the ILR School Dean’s Advisory Council, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Administrative Board, and the advisory council of the K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics, which she endowed with a $24 million gift in 2021.