If you check out Julie Cialini’s Facebook page, its clear she loves cats. She loves all animals, but considers herself a serious feline aficionado. Julie is fascinated with big cats, and is particularly enamored with and interested in the Siberian tiger–a critically endangered subspecies of tiger and the largest cat in the world.
Julie grew up in freezing cold Rochester, New York and recalls seeing her first Siberian tiger at the city’s renowned Seneca Park Zoo, where they comfortably romped around in the snow just as they do in the Russian Far East. She credits zoos for introducing her to exotic animals at a young age.
When Cialini left the East Coast to pursue her modeling and acting career she ultimately ended up in Los Angeles, where she worked in television and as a spokesmodel. Eventually, she graced the pages of Playboy as Miss February 1994 and went on to become Playmate of the Year 1995. Cialini was a frequent guest at the mansion and attended red carpet functions and photo shoots, but her favorite experiences were spent with the wildlife ambassadors in residence on the grounds of Playboy’s sprawling West Coast campus. She recalls feeding the colony of squirrel monkeys, and talking to the macaws. She said at one time the Mansion’s campus had a large collection of exotic birds.
I wrote an article about Playboy’s work to save the critically endangered subspecies of rabbit for National Geographic a couple years ago. Hence, Playboy was involved in preserving threatened and endangered species before some North American zoos had even became involved in the environmental movement.
Kimberly Conrad Hefner, ex-wife of Hugh, has been a friend of Miss Cialini’s for 25 years and introduced the PMOY to sphynx cats. She now has four of the nearly hairless felids herself!
Julie is an ardent supporter of zoos even in light of recent criticism of the zoo industry. She says that through her modeling career she was fortunate enough to travel to exotic locations and see wildlife in the wild, but most people aren’t afforded such luxuries. She said, “In this economy, in particular, and with the dangers associated with some foreign travel today, many people will never see the dwindling wildlife populations that are vanishing before our eyes.”
Cialini recalls looking into the eyes of a majestic Siberian tiger and is humbled by the notion that so few are left.” Even if populations of some imperiled species are recovering, so many aren’t and zoos provide an opportunity to educate people about the plight of wildlife. Our hope is that through zoo visits, future generations will be inspired to protect nature and natural resources for years to come.
Dr. Jordan Schaul is American zoologist, journalist and domestic and exotic animal trainer. He lives in Los Angeles where he recently opened I Can! K-9, a boutique canine training, boarding and enrichment center for dogs in need of behavior modification and conditioning. Please feel free to follow him on Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/jordan.schaul