Supporting the Animals: Reid Park Zoo hosts its ZOOcson gala

By Laura Latzko

For the Reid Park Zoo to cover operational costs, provide educational programming, offer new enrichment activities for animals and take part in global conservation efforts, it needs to raise money each year. The zoo’s annual gala helps it to fund these endeavors.

This year, the zoo’s annual gala is themed African Wild Dogs, a new species at the zoo this year.

“ZOOcson” is Friday, October 8, at the zoo and will include a food from 25 local and national restaurants, live music, animal ambassador presentations, chances to explore the zoo at night, and live and silent auctions. General admission tickets come with the restaurant tastings and two drink tickets.

The restaurants will offer a variety cuisine, including vegetarian and vegan options, entrees, desserts and appetizers.

This year, steel drum group Jovert and the Adam Townsend Band, a soul, folk and rock group, will perform throughout the night.

With VIP tickets, attendees receive access to a special area in the South America Loop, hear music from the Ronstadt Duo, and early entry into the event at 5 p.m.

Development officer and zoo personality Jed Dodds says the gala provides a chance to experience the zoo at night while also giving back.

“When you purchase a ticket to come into ZOOcson, you get a really fun evening,” Dodds says. “You get to come in at nighttime, when the zoo is typically closed, and get to hang out with our amazing animals but also get to taste some fabulous food, get an opportunity to bring home a gift or a basket, and get a once-in-a-lifetime zoo experience. People come to enjoy the event, but they leave with a feeling that they did something meaningful.”

Money raised during the gala goes to the Reid Park Zoological Society, the nonprofit corporation that manages the zoo, for educational, enrichment, operational and conservational efforts.

The fundraising effort includes live and silent auctions.

Dodds and board member Edmund Marquez will emcee the live auction, where guests can bid on experiences themed around the zoo’s animals and conservation efforts.

“It’s an opportunity where people get to bid back and forth and create some fun energy, all in raising money for a great cause,” Dodds says.

One of the experiences is themed around African Wild Dogs and includes a themed painting by local artist Diana Madaras (see related story about Madaras), a dinner catered by Craft Culinary Concepts, and behind-the-scenes training and enrichment activities with the animals.

A “Crocodile Rock”-themed experience comes with two tickets to see Elton John at Chase Field in Phoenix, a hotel stay and an American alligator behind-the-scenes tour.

As part of a “Safari Sleepover” experience, the winners can sleep in tents at the zoo and take part in themed activities and a flashlight safari and scavenger hunt.

Dodds, who helps to create the experiences, says it is important that the experiences relate to the zoo’s work so winners can feel more connected to it.

“I’m looking for something that is out of the box, fun and exciting but also really speaks to our mission,” Dodds says. “We don’t just want to send people to an Elton John concert. We also want to tie that back to what we have going at the zoo.

“You get an opportunity to meet our North American alligator, learn about him, learn about the conservation behind the alligators. That’s where we can connect people in an immersive way with our animals. That creates a passion for not only wanting to learn more about them but also wanting to do something good for them. A lot of the time doing good is taking small steps to change the way that we interact with our environment and our habitat that benefits protecting wild habitats.”

The silent auction features more than 400 items, including artwork, jewelry, power tools, outdoor baskets, tickets to the theater, and gift certificates to local restaurants.

The silent auction will be online so those who can’t make it to the event or live outside of Tucson can participate. The auction will end October 10. Zoo board members, staff and volunteers are integral to making the gala happen.

“Everyone in the zoo pulls together. All different departments pull together,” Dodds says. “This is one of those events where everyone helps out, even if it isn’t part of their job description, per se. They are here supporting and really pulling together.”

More info

What: ZOOcson gala

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, October 8

Where: Reid Park Zoo, 3400 Zoo Court

Cost: $130 for adults, $110 for members, $200 for VIP tickets

Info: 791-3204,