August 22, 1997 12:00 AM

Charlize Theron, 25, who will next be seen playing the comic love interest in Woody Allen’s “Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” is playing big-time animal conservationist in real life. She is appealing to Virginia businessman David Laylin to spare the life of a rare black rhinoceros that is about to be sold for use in a hunt outside Johannesburg, South Africa. (Theron is originally from that country.) According to a letter that Theron sent Laylin and made public by the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Laylin is to be paid $60,000 for the animal from a big-game hunter. “If you agree to release (the rhino) to a sanctuary, I will agree to meet you in South Africa to celebrate her freedom,” wrote Theron. Laylin told the L.A. Times that he would be pleased to sell the rhino to a conservation group, but he cannot afford to give her away. “She’s a wonderful animal,” he said. “The last thing I want is to have her blown away.”

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