Zoo fundraiser raises money for primate exhibit





Saturday night, the Lee Richardson Zoo was for grown-ups only.

More than 370 people attended the Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo's annual fundraiser, "A Wild Affair." The event, with this year's theme of "Jammin' wit da Jaguars," featured adult beverages, food from 12 local vendors, music from the Smokin' No-Nos, stand-up comedy and both live and silent auctions.

"It's a lot of work, but it's kind of a signature event that really you can't get anywhere else," Kathy Sexson, executive director of the zoo, said Saturday night while standing next to the primate exhibit as people walked toward the festivities in Wild Asia.

"The animals, the surroundings of the zoo, items that are donated are just really unique to our facility. Hopefully people understand that," Sexson said. "When they come, have fun, purchase a ticket, purchase auction items, or do whatever they might do, they are supporting the zoo and the improvements of the zoo."

Sexson went on to explain that the money raised Saturday night will go toward a new primate exhibit that will house the spider monkeys and red ruffed lemurs. As if on cue, the zoo's three new lemurs started bouncing around their habitat.

"The plans for that exhibit are on the drawing board right now. We will be meeting with the architect next week again to kind of get that a little further along so we can finalize the conceptual drawings, but we have a pretty good start," Sexson said. "The new facility will have better yards, better indoor holding facilities for both the animals and the keepers, and better viewing for the public. What we have now is not attractive, and it's not great for the animals, and we would like to improve upon it."

The evening at the zoo started as guests entered at the Finnup Center and were greeted by zoo docents and animal ambassadors.

"This is the zoo, so of course our priority is animal education. As you come through, you have that reminder," said Brian Nelson, executive director of FOLRZ. "You can see some of our education animals. It's kind of a meet-and-greet. We have the barn owl, the snake and some animal skins. It's just a chance for people to interact with the animals."

Garden City resident Esther Johnston and her husband were in charge of Saturday's live auction.

"We are kind of the workers here," she said with a laugh, browsing the silent auction items before she had to get to work for the live auction. "It's just a good cause. We love the zoo. It's such a good part of Garden City. We've got one of the nicest zoos of any place around as far as we're concerned. I've got grandkids that love to come here. It means a lot to everybody in Garden; it really does."

FOLRZ member Wen Wurst enjoyed the evening with his family as he listened to the sounds of Smokin' No-Nos.

"What a beautiful, beautiful setup," he said. "We are so glad to see so many people out here supporting the zoo. It's a Garden City treasure, and we love it."

Last year, the FOLRZ raised a record $34,000 at the annual event. This year, the organization brought in an estimated $30,000.

"The friends really help us maintain quality exhibits and enable us to keep our accreditation with our Associations of Zoos and Aquariums, which enable us to work with quality professional facilities around the country, and that's why we have the great animals we do," Sexson said.

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