The Garden City Telegram

ZOO TO YOU: Chocolate flowers are in bloom

Chocolate flowers are sprouting at the grocery store, which can only mean one thing. Valentine's Day is approaching. In the Friends' department at the zoo, that means it is time to start planning for Animal Adoption Valentines, yet I'm still trying to finish off Christmas cookies.

I've spent my week unplugging lights and thinning out the artificial forest that took over the Finnup Center in December. While our most recent Christmas event finds itself being shelved in the garage for next winter, I can't keep my mind off the fact that the 2014 zoo event season is already starting. The Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo's annual banquet is less than two weeks away, on Jan. 30.

The banquet offers the opportunity for the public to join Friends for a wrap-up on last year, while also dishing out a sneak peek of what can be expected in 2014. Smokehoss BBQ will be catering the event this year, and we've invited Dale Leeds, curator of the Denver Zoo's Toyota Elephant Passage, as our guest speaker to help spark excitement for the zoo's elephant yard expansion, which will occur later this year. Dinner guests also may view this year's Animal Adoption flower package for Valentine's Day. Porter's Flowers is teaming up with Friends of the Zoo again to deliver a lush bouquet of "high and yellow roses" tied up with cheetah print ribbon for that special someone. And, of course, this package also includes an animal adoption. Nothing says "I love you" quite like a Madagascar hissing cockroach, unless you would rather opt for a Trumpeter swan. Regardless, we won't judge.

Before those Valentine flowers begin to wilt, Friends will be making preparations for the fourth annual "Blues At The Zoo" set for May 10. The famous blues and roots rock band, "The Nighthawks," are returning to one of their favorite venues here at Lee Richardson Zoo. Oh — and I should mention, we've finally been able to book the band on a Saturday night!

As we roll into summer, tents go up for the second annual "Global Bazaar and Ten Thousand Villages Festival." Come down to the zoo on June 21 and shop until you drop, while also supporting free trade of Third World countries. Vendors last year offered handcrafts, homemade jellies and jams, custom jewelry and more. Friends' members interested in vending even receive a discount on their booth.

On the topic of membership benefits, there will be three members-only tours on the first Saturday of June, July and August. Members meet at the Safari Shoppe for breakfast and then venture out into the zoo on a guided tour of an animal exhibit. Tours this year will include a close-up on primates, meet-and-greet with the new takins and a behind-the-scenes tour of the elephant exhibit. Not a member? Find Friends on the Web to learn about joining the pack.

Zoo events will only gain steam as summer turns into fall. Friends' largest fundraiser, "A Wild Affair," is set for Sept. 6. After that, "Boo! At The Zoo" will make its annual appearance on Oct. 18, followed by "Tails In Tinseltown" on Dec. 13. That brings the event season back to January. The "Tinseltown" trees will find their way to the garage again, and the entire process starts over.

While zoo events offer an additional recreational activity at the zoo, please remember that their primary purpose is to raise funds for zoo improvements, which in turn support the local economy and drive tourism to our community. Exhibits like Cat Canyon can quickly reach a price tag of $1 million but prove very worthwhile for both animals and guests. Imagine taking our three black jaguars out of the Cat Canyon and placing them back in the old cat exhibit near the African lions. Not so appealing — especially since much of the fencing has been removed from that exhibit now.

Back to the point, we have one of the last free zoos in the country. When you attend a zoo event, your admission is reinvested back into the zoo. A growth in attendance spirals into the next ribbon cutting.

For more information about memberships, adoptions and upcoming events, contact the Friends office at 276-6243 or find Friends on the Web at Reservations for the annual banquet are available online, but seating is limited. Animal Adoption Valentine packages are delivered by Porter's Flowers, but only can be purchased through the Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo office.

Brian Nelson is the Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo executive director. Email him at Visit to become a Friend of Lee Richardson Zoo.