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Joining me at the Santa Ana Zoo's 22nd Annual "Zoofari Magic" benefit are its Director, Kent Yamaguchi, and Friends of Santa Ana Zoo's Executive Director Cathi Decker

Joining me at the Santa Ana Zoo’s 22nd Annual “Zoofari Magic” benefit are its Director, Kent Yamaguchi, and Friends of Santa Ana Zoo’s Executive Director Cathi Decker

Did you know that the Santa Ana Zoo is required to keep at least 50 monkeys on site at the 62-year-old zoo? That was the requirement of J.E. Prentice, the man who gave 12 acres of his citrus ranch for a park and a zoo. He was a lover of monkeys, and that’s why to this day no less than 50 monkeys are always at the zoo. Actually, the number is 62 at the moment, so everyone is happy!

The two people in charge at the zoo are its Director, Kent Yamaguchi, and Friends of Santa Ana Zoo’s (the zoo’s nonprofit arm) Executive Director Cathi Decker. Both of them are passionate about their work. Kent was initially hired as the summer zoo instructor 27 years ago and worked his way up to director five years ago. Cathi began her zoo experience as a volunteer in 1996, was hired as special events coordinator in 2000 and executive director in 2005. “It’s my passion,” she said at the zoo’s recent annual fundraiser. “It’s all about the animals for me.”

As a matter of fact, it was all about the monkeys at the zoo’s 22nd annual “Zoofari” this year. The event, always held at the zoo, was themed “Monkey Magic,” and there was a “50 Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” signature cocktail to prove it! And, there were also four baby monkeys, recently born, for guests to view. Many of the 320 guests took the train, the Zoofari Express Railroad, to see the animals during cocktail time. There were also volunteers with zoo animals greeting guests as they arrived with a Derby goat, an armadillo named “Bonito” and a special rooster from France with five toes on each foot named “Liberace.”

I always love this event because the zoo supporters love to dress up – either black tie or safari, and it’s great fun. Former two-term board president and current board member Curtis Farrell wore black tie with top hat and animal print bow tie, while carrying a box of Monkey Mints for his table guests (see photo). And, longtime supporter Debbie Newmeyer, in keeping with the magic theme, was dressed as “Madame Mystique” and was reading fortunes with her black orb (see her photo with her family). And speaking of magic, an honest-to-goodness magician named Frank Thurston was performing some awesome card tricks!

Dinner on the back lawn was magical, especially when the sun dropped from the sky and the stars and moon shimmered down. Bobby and Lori Babcock of R.W.B. Party Props donated a slew of great props to coincide with the monkey and magic themes, and Parties by Panache, the event’s longtime caterer, served a delicious dinner, with cute names for the different courses like the “Three Wise Monkeys Honey and Port Braised Short Ribs.”

Board President David Exline welcomed everyone, and retired television news and sports anchor Ed Arnold was the consummate host. Decker introduced the honorees, who included Thanh and Ginger Nguyen and their two daughters Tana Everhart and Ginna Nguyen. It was thanks to the Nguyen family, owners of the Knowlwood chain of restaurants, that a Knowlwood Cafe was opened at the Santa Ana Zoo in 2010. Decker also recognized Scott Weldy, DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), the zoo’s veterinarian and renowned animal specialist since 2002, for his expertise and vast experience in caring for the zoo’s animals. Decker also lauded Jon “Rip” Ribble for his 22 years of service to the zoo. Not only as a past board president and current board member, but also for serving as a volunteer engineer (driver) every Tuesday on the Zoofari Express. He looked quite dapper in black tie with matching leopard tie and cummerbund!

Glen Fladeboe, owner of and auctioneer for Fladeboe Auctions, one of the largest benefit auction companies in the Midwest, was right on point in urging and conjoling guests to bid on the live auction items. The “hot” one was the GoPro HER03+ Black Edition Camera and Phantom 2 Quadcopter – in other words, a state-of-the-art camera and drone. Donated by board member Howard Hall, he demonstrated how the camera attaches to the drone and flies around taking photos (see photo), and guests were mesmerized! Advisory Board members Allen and Jennifer Goh, longtime Zoo supporters, were the lucky winners. Another lucky couple, Diana and Larry Grummett, longtime zoo supporters who were married at the zoo, won the opportunity prize and the chance to name the zoo’s new male squirrel monkey. They decided to name him “Henry” after Diana’s father, who recently passed away.

The Groove Factory band brought everyone to the dance floor – and this group likes to dance! Decker later said the fundraiser had netted nearly $80,000, which will in part purchase a $20,000 digital x-ray machine, with $10,000 raised in the auction towards that goal.

PssstZoo Director Kent Yamaguchi announced that the zoo was bringing in two endangered and rare Brazilian baby ocelots in late October  – a male and female from two different zoos –  to breed them. He also said the zoo had begun construction on its ocelot exhibit, just in time for the little ones! And, by the way, the zoo has on average 250,000 visitors annually. Pretty impressive, isn’t it?!

Hamilton Hall photo, courtesy of Hayden Hall