On August 27, Santa Barbara Zoo supporters gathered for a wild and very fun Zoofari Ball. With an Enchanted Forest theme, the 710 guests got creative with wizard, princess, and other costumes. The event committee began planning the event the week after last year’s and the event sold out in June, before the invitations were mailed out. Behind the Scenes Event Design was back for the 25th year to create this extravaganza.
Upon arrival, guests strolled up the path by the new Australian Walkabout exhibit, where they got a peak at an emu, western grey kangaroos, and Bennett’s wallabies. At the two-hour reception on the scenic hilltop, there was an array of gourmet food and beverage offerings and a vast display of silent auction items, but most guests were more into checking out all the wild costumes and decorations and enjoying lively conversation.
Guests dined under open-air tents with lush green draperies at tables with colorful mushroom-inspired centerpieces and napkin rings. After a tasty buffet dinner and a brief program, guests danced away to music by The Replicas.
Last month, the Zoo became the site of the first licensed outdoor preschool in California, though it had been operating provisionally for the past two years. The Early Explorer Preschool has been hugely popular, according to Board Chair Amy Pryor, providing hands-on learning experiences for children ages 3 to 5. There’s a waitlist to get in and while the Zoo is seeking to expand, there are staffing and space constraints. The Zoo also offers Outdoor Ed and Zoo Camp for youth.
The new Australian Walkabout has been a big hit, with guests enjoying the barrier-free design, allowing them to get close to the animals with no bars in between. Seeing Joey, the baby wallaby, come out of his pouch to explore has been great fun. Controlled entry to the area, which is filled with native Australian flora, ensures a pleasant experience for humans and animals.
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Since COVID shuttered the extensive volunteer program, the Zoo slowly has been bringing back longtime docents. It is continuing to phase in the use of youth and adult volunteers for various positions and welcomes new volunteers.
Fundraising is critical for the nonprofit Zoo’s operations. Last year, grants, donations, and fundraising events made up 19 percent of the Zoo’s revenue.
The Zoo also must undertake capital campaigns for projects. The current priority is renovating the EEEWW! exhibit, which houses reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates, to transform the dark, cavernous atmosphere into a more open, light-filled one.
The big project, according to Pryor, is the Hearts of Asia exhibit, which is currently in the design stage and will be built within the next five years. Mammals, birds, and reptiles native to Asia will reside here, on the south side of the Zoo.
Coming in November is Zoo Lights, where the Zoo will welcome guests in the evening to experience a very light-filled Zoo, with festive, animal-themed holiday lighting exhibits.
Last year, nearly 450,000 guests visited the Zoo, which is up from a pre-pandemic 2019 count of nearly 433,000 guests. The Zoo is home to more than 500 animals representing 146 species on its 30-acre ocean-view estate. Reservations are required. Very reasonably priced memberships offer lots of benefits.
For more info about the Santa Barbara Zoo, go to sbzoo.org.