The 21st annual Zoofari black-tie extravaganza on August 24 raised over $75,000 for the Santa Ana Zoo. Hosted by the non-profit organization Friends of Santa Ana Zoo (FOSAZ), the Zoofari event promotes awareness for the Zoo and its many educational programs and conservation efforts, while facilitating philanthropic support of the same. The nearly 300 guests included the “Who's Who” of Orange County, who turned out in Victorian, and animal-print attire to match the “Zoofari State Faire” theme.
This annual fundraiser is an integral part of helping the Santa Ana Zoo fulfill its mission of recreation, education, and conservation. The monies spearhead necessary maintenance and improvements, special projects, and new habitats within the Zoo.
Operations Director Kevin Jackson, dressed to the nines in top hat and tails, spoke glowingly of the FOSAZ and the group of volunteers that help mount the event. "We have an entire committee that is board and volunteer run, that helps to put the event together. Between the cooperation of [FOSAZ] and the City, we just make a wonderful event!"
There was an unmistakable sense of pride in not only this gala, but in the Zoo itself. Philanthropist Peggy Baldwin-Butler, dressed in beautiful Victorian lace, spoke glowingly of executive director Cathi Decker. "[Cathi] just whipped this whole Zoo into place. It used to not look so great, not to be kept up as well, and she knew the right treasures to hire, the landscapers, and the whole bit. Peggy joined the Board of FOSAZ in 2005 because, "I've always loved the animals." As principal and majority owner of Villa Ford in Orange, Peggy sponsored all the valet parking, and she and her family help the Zoo in a number of ways, both practically and financially.
Jon "Rip" Ribble, Board member, and former Executive Director of Parks and Recreation, has seen the growth of the Zoo, from breaking ground for the Zoofari Express (where he enjoys being a train Engineer on Tuesdays) to the installation of the Crean Family Farm for rare breed domestic animals. Rip was also instrumental in the Zoo's accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). "Out of the 2,500 zoos in America, only 217 are now accredited," Rip said. "The big deal about being accredited is that you can trade animals with other accredited zoos, so you don't have to go to some other country to get an animal. We trade with San Diego, and we trade with the Bronx in New York, and Wichita, Kansas. So it's really kind of a neat thing to be able to do."
Karen Ribble, draped in a halter-style animal-print silk shift, sees the Zoo as a "hidden treasure here in Orange County. A lot of people that aren't familiar, they come for the first time and say, 'Oh my gosh, I had no idea that you had a Zoo like this!' It's a great children's Zoo—it's perfect for children."
The Zoo first opened in March of 1952 with land donated to the City of Santa Ana by Joseph Prentice. Prentice stipulated that the city keep 50 monkeys at the Zoo at all times, and that a park be named after him. Hence, "The Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park" was birthed. The Zoo maintains an extensive primate collection with over a dozen species from around the world, many endangered.
"The Zoo is not only about teaching, but we're also working to save endangered species," said Director Kent Yamaguchi. "So we have quite a few conservation programs. We are extremely successful in our breeding of monkeys, and known across the United States and around the world for how good we are at keeping our monkeys healthy, happy, and reproducing."
Janet Yamaguchi, Vice President of education for the Zoo's Discovery Science Center agreed. "My degree is in zoology, so I'm really passionate about teaching about the animals. In order to preserve the animals you have to really care about them."
Kent interjected, "And tonight is a fun way to get people passionate about the Zoo and what we do."
The evening launched at 5:30 p.m. with cocktails and appetizers, as well as animal encounters with photo opportunities for the attendees. Animals available for photo-ops included a three-banded armadillo, a ball python, Danny the Exmoor pony, and Bindi the binturong. Guests also had time to review the silent auction items, with such treasures as beautifully framed photographic animal prints, a mountain dinner theater giveaway, a ski weekend, and a shopping spree. The silent auction alone raised $30,000.
R.W.B. Party Props, Inc. provided the Victorian-themed decor, and Parties by Panache catered the appetizers and dinner elegantly served with wine.
At 7:30 p.m., Southern California PBS anchor Ed Arnold emceed the evening with special awards and honors given to community and Board members who were instrumental in leading and growing the Zoo’s events and programs. The apex of the evening was the live auction, hosted by spirited and efficient auctioneer Glen Fladeboe, which netted over $25,000. Some of the goodies up for auction were two iPad Minis donated by FOSAZ Board member Howard Hall, a Halloween Party for 20 with dinner and drinks, and a 5-day, 4-night stay at the St. Regis in Vancouver, with airfare provided through Alaska Airlines. The evening concluded with dancing ‘til midnight to the versatile artistry of the “Groove Factory”.
FOSAZ Executive Director Cathi Decker has been at the helm of the Zoofari events for over 13 years, and with the help of the FOSAZ Board and 20 volunteers, it runs like a well-oiled machine. "We have a routine set up," Cathi said. "We have a committee, and the committee is very creative, and they always come up with different themes and different ideas, depending on what we're raising money for."
Through FOSAZ’s many years of fundraising efforts, the Zoo has seen marked growth and improvement, developing into a valuable asset to the Orange County community, the nation, and the world.
Kent Yamaguchi feels the Zoo provides, "a nice, safe, quiet place to come and spend time with family or spend time with your friends. It's sort of an urban oasis in this crazy environment that we live in. And we really like that we can provide that. That, I think, is something that we are providing to the community."
The Santa Ana Zoo is open for special events throughout the year, including a "Membership Appreciation Day" in September, and "Boo at the Zoo" in October. The Zoo is also available for birthdays, intimate gatherings, and gala events. Visit their website for more details and information on the Zoo, its hours and exhibits, as well as future events.