Animal ambassadors and their human handlers greeted guests Saturday evening as they entered the southeast entrance of the Lee Richardson Zoo during the 14th annual A Wild Affair fundraising event.
"This is Fiona,” said education specialist Catie Policastro. “She is a pygmy hedgehog. Right now she’s ready to explore and follow her natural instincts to look for bugs.”
Zoo docent Kathy Cheatum was showing off a desert tortoise.
“These guys live in the desert,” she said. “They get their water from plants and that’s how they survive, but here, (we) give him dandelions and he’s happy.”
Docent Pat Geier was able to show people one of his favorite animals: the snake.
“This is a ball python,” he said. “They are called ball pythons because their natural defense mechanism is to roll up in a ball and tuck their head into their coils and that’s how they protect themselves.”
Fifteen local businesses hosted food and beverage booths and donated the food for the evening.
“I like all the people and the animals and the food, people and drinks on top,” said Noel Perez, 50, of Lakin. “They did good when you walk in with all the animals. They made you remember it’s for the zoo.”
Diane Garvey, of Lakin, attended the event because the company she works for was one of the sponsors.
“I enjoy learning about the zoo and contributing to different projects the zoo supports,” she said, mentioning she enjoyed the music, food and drinks.
Skip Mancini and her husband, Vincent, of Haskell County, enjoyed checking out the silent auction, which featured such items as animal photographs, luxury blankets and gifts baskets with books.
“We’ve always supported the zoo,” she said. “Just looking right now. Just started. This is my first time around, but it looks like they have a lot of nice things like usual.”
Jay Main, 41, of Garden City, enjoyed trying many different foods, as well as the fun atmosphere of the evening. He also liked the opportunity to raise money for the zoo.
“I have four kids and they like it,” he said. “It’s a very nice zoo for the size of Garden City.”
The evening was put on by the Friends of the Lee Richardson Zoo. The organization's director, Jessica Norton, was encouraged by the turnout, especially as the weather looked stormy earlier in the evening.
“We are so happy that everyone showed up because it was looking a little scary for a little while,” she said. “We’re very thankful and grateful people showed up. The band showed up. The food people showed up.”
Norton said she hoped the event would raise nearly $40,000, which will go toward the zoo’s plan to construct a building to house the conservation carousel.
Mike Benish and the Buckner Creek Band provided live music for the evening. A live auction was also a highlight of the event. The highest bid during the live auction was $5,000 and that came with the opportunity to name an animal on the conservation carousel. Other items in the live auction were a retreat in Red River, N.M., that went for $1,300, a six-person behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo that went for $350 and yoga on the zoo’s giraffe deck that went for $150.
Max Lakes, the zoo’s deputy director, said this is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the FOLRZ.
“Fundraising is hard and they are often spread thin,” he said. “This is why this event is so important to us.”
Lakes said that FOLRZ also fundraises for animal enrichment and in the past provided fundraisers for the Cat Canyon and Wild Asia exhibits at the zoo.
“This is an amazing zoo in an amazing community,” Lakes said. “Even with all the rain tonight we still had a lot of people come out, and that shows how the community is supportive of the zoo because we couldn’t do any of this without the community.”