A sold-out crowd of 610 Santa Barbara Zoo supporters escaped to a Polynesian paradise for several hours for the zoo’s annual fundraiser, this year dubbed Tikifari. Guests felt like they were on a luxurious South Seas vacation, and the zoo got to add about $400,000 to its coffers for its animal programs. A 44-member event committee spent an entire year planning the event. Lisa Carter’s Behind the Scenes Event Design, which has done the event for the past 21 years, along with zoo staff and other vendors, spent a whole week doing the install.
During the extended cocktail hour on the zoo’s expansive hilltop lawns surrounded by lush botanical gardens, guests clad in island wear partook of exotic cocktails and copious hot and cold hors d’oeuvres while the Replicas played soothing island tunes. Zoo Catering by Rincon prepared a succulent Polynesian-inspired buffet dinner, including macadamia-crusted yellowtail and coconut shrimp. Guests dined at round tables clustered under idyllic tiki huts with palm thatching. Repurposed seashells provided romantic lighting and space heaters mimicked tropical evening weather.
CEO Rich Block welcomed guests during the short program and recognized many sponsors and individuals whose money and time allowed this magical night to happen. Special thanks went out to Zoo Director and Event Cochair Nancy McToldridge, who has been with the zoo for 35 years, and her event cochairs Lisa Carter and Development Events Officer Kelly Whitaker. Then the Replicas took the stage, and the dance floor quickly filled.
Unlike many other zoos, the Santa Barbara Zoo is a nonprofit organization that receives no tax dollars. It has about 150 species and about 500 animals on its 30-acre ocean view estate. The zoo operates with 160-200 employees, depending on the season, and more than 500 volunteers. Veterinarian and Director of Animal Care and Health Julie Barnes related how the zoo is committed to providing the highest level of care and welfare for its animals, which extends to nutrition ($250,000/year budget), veterinary care, behavioral enrichment, husbandry training, and the maintenance and upgrading of animal spaces.
Barnes shared that the entire zoo staff is amazingly passionate and committed not only to the animals in its care, but also to the natural world beyond. According to Barnes, the zoo’s contribution to conservation is unique for a small- to medium-sized zoo. It provides expertise to several area conservation programs including those directed at the California condor, the island fox in the Channel Islands, the California red-legged frog in the Santa Monica mountains, and the Western snowy plover. The zoo also supports international endangered species programs.
The zoo has an extensive education program as well. Under the Zoo for You Program, last year nearly 6,000 students from Title 1 schools from Santa Maria to Los Angeles were given free admission for zoo field trips. The zoo runs camps during the summer, holiday weeks, and spring break, and has a small program providing scholarships for low-income youth to participate.
The zoo clearly excels in all its endeavors, including throwing its annual party.
For more info about the zoo, visit sbzoo.org.
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