Zoofari Returns to Basecamp

650 Guests Party on Hilltop Venue

Honorary Chair and Founding Zoo Director Ted McToldridge and Honorary Chair, Zoo Director, and Event Coordinator Nancy McToldridge | Credit: Gail Arnold

On August 28, the Santa Barbara Zoo hosted its 35th Zoofari event, which sold out a month early and raised more than $200,000 for the zoo. With a “Return to Basecamp” theme, many of the 650 guests arrived sporting stylish safari attire, while others opted for animal prints or animal costumes. Guests trekked up the walkway, passing animal exhibits along the way, to the scenic, hilltop venue.  

During the two-hour cocktail reception, guests greeted each other with excitement and were happy to experience this treasured Santa Barbara venue after hours. As always, Rincon Events provided gourmet appetizers at multiple stations and a delicious buffet dinner later on. Extensive silent auction offerings were located throughout the area.

For dinner, guests adjourned just a bit further up the hill, where they were seated at tables adorned with small drums and other African-themed items. During the short program, CEO Rich Block welcomed guests and Board Chair George Leis paid tribute to Event Honorary Co-Chairs Ted and Nancy McToldridge. Ted was the founding zoo director and his wife, Nancy, is the current zoo director (as well as one of the event coordinators). After dinner, guests danced into the night to music by The Replicas.

Since the start of COVID, there’s been quite a baby boom at the zoo — Twiga the Masai giraffe was born in March 2020, Pauline the lion cub in November 2020, and last month, Marta the Amur leopard cub. Adia and Audrey, both Masai giraffes, are expecting, which will make a dozen Masai giraffe births at the zoo since 2013. Eight of these baby giraffes have gone to other zoos as part of a cooperative breeding program for this endangered species.

Later this year, the zoo will open its Australian Walkabout, a 15,000-square-foot exhibit with the iconic western grey kangaroo, Bennett’s wallaby, and emu. It will be located on the former elephant exhibit site. Adjacent aviaries will feature the sulphur-crested cockatoo, the tawny frogmouth, and the kookaburra. The exhibit is designed to give guests an up-close experience, and there will be programming on Australian wildlife and conservation needs.

COVID forced the zoo to close twice for a total of about five months. This caused a budgetary shortfall of roughly $5.2 million plus the zoo lost revenue from not being able to hold events while open. However, the zoo expects federal stimulus aid to total $4.8 million and donors have stepped up in a big way as well. The zoo received $3 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans — half has been forgiven, and the other half is expected to be. It received or expects to receive $1.82 million in Employee Retention Credit tax credits. 

The zoo’s 2021 operating budget is $12.8 million, and it has 96 full-time employees, 110-140 part-time employees, and about 500 animals (150 species).


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Pre-COVID, the zoo had more than 500 volunteers, but all positions ended with COVID, and it is only recently that a small number have been allowed to return. The hope is for all volunteer programs to resume soon, and the zoo is seeking new volunteers. For info, go to http://sbzoo.org/about/volunteer.

For coverage of other events, go to http://independent.com/society.

CEO Rich Block with major sponsor Frank Schipper Construction President Paul Wieckowski and Donna Wieckowski | Credit: Nik Blaskovich
Laurie Leis and Board Chair George Leis | Credit: Gail Arnold

Boardmember and Event Committee Member Betsy Turner and Holly Murphy | Credit: Gail Arnold
Event Coordinators Sam Franz and Lisa Carter-Alford | Credit: Gail Arnold

Jordan Stiles and major sponsor Frank Schipper Construction Managing Director Fernando Orta | Credit: Gail Arnold
Lloyd Suzuki and Karen Lin | Credit: Gail Arnold

Major sponsor Union Bank Managing Director Vince Caballero and former Union Bank Community Relations Officer Penny Sharrett | Credit: Gail Arnold

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