Friday, August 17 , 2018, 7:02 pm | Fair 74º


Spirit of the Bayou Parades Through Santa Barbara Zoo During 30th Zoofari Ball

Louisiana theme inspires a glittering array of costumes in annual benefit for zoo’s animals and facilities

Lara Urbany, Heather Hodina, Kelly Jensen, Melissa Franzen, Mike Franzen and Rebecca Carroll at the Santa Barbara Zoo’s Zoofari Ball XXX. Click to view larger
Lara Urbany, Heather Hodina, Kelly Jensen, Melissa Franzen, Mike Franzen and Rebecca Carroll at the Santa Barbara Zoo’s Zoofari Ball XXX. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Flashes of purple, green and gold adorned a sold-out crowd of more than 600 revelers at the “Big Easy,” Louisiana-themed 30th anniversary Zoofari Ball, where the festive Santa Barbara Zoo anniversary fundraiser benefited the animals, showcased on 30 acres of botanic gardens in open, naturalistic habitats.

“This party is as grand as the Mississippi River and as charming as the French Quarter,” said Carol Kallman, a long-time zoo supporter and former board member who is honorary chair of this year’s Zoofari along with her husband, Don Barthelmess. “Zoofari Ball is not just the Zoo’s biggest fundraiser of the year, it is a celebration of a local treasure and its animal residents.”

The special theme of “Zoo Orleans” brought forth a second line-style parade of fashionable zoofarian's dressed in traditional safari attire to the ever-popular and extravagant fundraiser.

Many were also dressed in costumes befitting the theme, including Southern belles, pirates, voodoo practitioners, and most others wore Cajun-inspired, Mardi Gras and jazz-influenced garb enhanced with colorful beads, feathers and masks.

New Orleans was established in 1718, and Mardi Gras began to be openly celebrated in the 1730s, until Louisiana's governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, established the elegant society balls in the early 1740s that became the model for the New Orleans Mardi Gras balls of today.

The zoo’s ongoing tradition of the fundraiser has been widely considered the party of the summer going on three decades now, and it is an important collaboration between the zoo and the community.

“Fortunately, the Zoo is very popular, in part because people learn about it through events like Zoofari Ball. Last year, 493,000 people visited,” board member Dennis Power, PhD, told Noozhawk. “This is the highest number for any nonprofit educational or cultural organization in town.”

A dedicated core of volunteers comes together every year to help transform the zoo for the throng of guests and supporters.

This year’s event coordinators, Lisa Carter and zoo director Nancy McToldridge, worked with Behind the Scenes Event Design to create another highly successful event.

“The idea of this annual gathering, with its change in theme each year and top notch production, is to bring people together in a festive setting to celebrate and support the Zoo,” Power said. “Long-time supporters come back year after year, but the real treat, and in many ways the focus, is to attract a new audience — people who may not have visited before.” 

Visitors gathered under a warm, blue sky to experience the beauty of the park as they paraded to the crest of a grassy embankment toward the party destination, where silent auction items, a dance floor and Creole- and Cajun-inspired fare were staged.

Andrew Firestone returned to host the live auction in front of an eclectic group of southern and safari, who were inspired to bring the noise in bidding wars that let the good times roll. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

A raffle for a two-year lease on a Lexus GS F-Sport, courtesy of DCH Lexus of Santa Barbara was new to the event this year with only 250  $100 tickets sold. 

Part of Firestone’s New Orleans-themed pitch included a 9-day expedition into the Peruvian Amazon aboard International Expedition’s 31-passenger riverboat La Estrella Amazonica, courtesy of Robertson International Travel Consultants.

The Mardi Gras style not only benefited the animals but also assisted the conservation and education programs that the zoo supports, such as the Discovery Pavilion, with an open animal kitchen where people can see the animal’s nutritional requirements and how they’re met.

“The event is a way for people to enjoy themselves while helping ensure that the Zoo continues to operate in the black each year,” Power shared. “I'm sure you can imagine that care of building and grounds, the health and welfare of the animals in the Zoo’s care and the wonderful education programs for children, youth and families all cost a bundle. The 2015 budget, for example, is $10.4 million, which must be made up from admissions revenue, shop and cafe sales and membership and general donations.”

The zoo raised $7.5 million from the Santa Barbara community to design and build the Discovery Pavilion, and local support and interest benefits zoo programs, too.

“It’s our pleasure to, again, be the presenting sponsor of Zoofari,” said George Leis, executive vice president of Union Bank. “We love the zoo!”

The Santa Barbara Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to represent the highest level of animal care, and it participates in AZA endangered species programs for the Asian elephant, California condor, Channel Island fox and Western lowland gorilla, among other species.

Power neatly summarized the needs of the organization and the allure of the facility.

“The support of any nonprofit enterprise starts with letting people know it exists, and what better way than to offer them a fantastic party at the unique, hilltop, Santa Barbara setting?”

The evening of revelry continued into the night as guests stomped and danced to the sounds of King Bee under the stars of a warm, Santa Barbara summer sky.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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