A not-so top-secret mission beckoned a sold-out crowd of more than 500 spy and safari theme-garbed guests at the 29th annual Zoofari Ball at the Santa Barbara Zoo on Saturday evening in a fundraiser benefiting the animals.
“It is spectacular and it is a huge fundraiser for all of the animals,” said Zoofari Ball co-chairwoman Mindy Denson, board secretary. “We really depend on everyone in Santa Barbara to help support this lovely little zoo.
“Without a doubt it is an opportunity to get wild at the Santa Barbara Zoo. That’s what it’s all about — to let loose and really support all of the animals at the zoo.”
The special theme of “Spy-Fari” brought forth a throng of fashionable Zoofarians to the ever-popular and extravagant fundraiser. Many were dressed in costumes and disguise to accomplish the dual-themed mission of the adventure and special-agent motif.
“This is just a tremendous tradition that’s been going on now at the zoo for many years,” board chairman Thomas Caleel told Noozhawk. “It’s such a great collaboration between the zoo and the community and we have such a phenomenal core of volunteers who come together to put this on every year and transform the zoo.”
Visitors gathered under a blue sky to experience the mystery and intrigue of the park as they walked toward the party destination at the crest of the hill atop a grassy embankment where the spy missions and fundraiser were staged.
Fellow special agent, aka honorary co-chairwoman Leigh Cashman, also rejoiced in the support of such a prominent Central Coast destination, noting that the “Santa Barbara Zoo is the second largest attraction between Los Angeles and San Francisco, only second to Hearst Castle, which is amazing.”
A festive crowd dressed in styles ranging from James Bond and Austin Powers to Spy vs. Spy, with women dressed in alluring trench coats and high-heeled boots. Other guests sported traditional safari wear or animal print attire.
Andrew Firestone hosted a live auction that began promptly at 7:30 p.m., as he livened up the eclectic group of masterminds, detectives and agents, who were inspired to a rash of bidding wars in their quest for supremacy.
The efforts of the guests in completing their mission were no small feat, and dinner was a universally welcomed sight within a luxurious outdoor setting designed by Behind the Scenes Event Design and coordinated by Lisa Carter and McToldridge with dramatic lighting by Bellavista Lighting Designs.
A special online donation was available to the tech-savvy group of spies and adventurers with the opportunity to help feed the animals of a donor’s choosing for five days, including elephants, giraffes, lions or penguins, by clicking on one of four buttons with a special code.
The Spy-Fari assignment not only benefited the animals on this intriguing evening, but also assisted the conservation programs that the zoo supports.
“Obviously we have the animals and we also do a lot of education work,” Caleel said. “We just opened the new Discovery Pavilion, where we hold classes. And we have the open animal kitchen where people can see the nutritional requirements and how they’re met.”
The zoo raised $7.5 million from the Santa Barbara community to design and build the Discovery Pavilion, and local support and interest not only comes in terms of support but for programs, too.
“We just launched a new program that we thought would have about 20 people sign up,” Caleel said. “It’s for home-school students to satisfy their science requirement and we had in excess of 100 families sign their children up for it, and it all took place in the new Discovery Pavilion.”
With the mission concluded a joint celebration continued into the night as guests crossed international lines and let their hair and guard down, dancing to the sounds of King Bee.
Caleel deftly summarized the mission of the night.
“The zoo’s a wonderful place to spend time with family or friends and just have a great day, but once you get a little deeper you realize it’s really dedicated to the care and preservation of the natural world and on so many different levels its wonderful,” he said.