Skip to main content

Zoofari ‘Year of the Monkey’ fundraiser benefits Santa Ana Zoo

Written By | Oct 2, 2016

LOS ANGELES, October 2, 2016—The Santa Ana Zoo hosted its “Zoofari” fundraiser black-tie gala on August 27, capping off a summer of events that began with “Sunsets at the Zoo” concert events in June and July.

The event raised over $160,000, which included $29,000 from a live auction. In its 24th year, this annual fundraiser is an integral part of helping the Santa Ana Zoo fulfill its mission of recreation, education, and conservation. The monies will spearhead necessary maintenance and improvements, special projects, and new habitats within the Zoo.


The Santa Ana Zoo is often referred to as a “hidden gem” in the midst of the City of Santa Ana. It is one of the few surviving green spaces, and the only zoo in the entirety of Orange County, California. The Zoo is home to more than 150 animals, including 50 monkeys, and several endangered species, including the golden lion tamarins.

The Zoo first opened in March of 1952 with land donated to the City of Santa Ana by Joseph Prentice. Prentice stipulated that the city keep 50 monkeys at the Zoo at all times, and that a park be named after him. Hence, “The Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park” was birthed. The Zoo maintains an extensive primate collection with over a dozen species from around the world, many endangered.

“The Zoo is not only about teaching, but we’re also working to save endangered species,” said Zoo director Kent Yamaguchi. “So we have quite a few conservation programs. We are extremely successful in our breeding of monkeys, and known across the United States and around the world for how good we are at keeping our monkeys healthy, happy, and reproducing.

“And tonight is a fun way to get people passionate about the Zoo and what we do.”


The “Year of the Monkey” gala launched with cocktails and appetizers for the nearly 300 guests—some of which included the “Who’s Who” list of Orange County, as well as animal encounters and photo opportunities for the attendees. Animals on display included an armadillo, a blue-tongued skink, a spectacled owl, and a French rooster.


Guests were also privy to tour the Zoo grounds and see the area where a new Giant River Otter exhibit will be erected. Guest were then seated, and enjoyed a first-class dining experience, along with a silent and then live auction.

The Friends of the Santa Ana Zoo (FOSAZ) is a non-profit organization which has helped support and improve the Zoo for over 46 years. For the past 16 years, the Zoofari event has been is given life and shape through the vision of an executive committee, and FOSAZ’s executive director Cathi Decker.

“We have a full committee who contribute ideas and we try and track everything to improve on each year,” Ms. Decker said. “For more than 20 years, Zoofari has played an integral role in raising the funds needed for all the special projects and improvements going on here at our favorite community Zoo, including educational programs, breaking ground on new animal habitats, tackling important conservation initiatives, introducing new rides and upgrading service facilities for our guests to use and enjoy.”salamander

Some of those big plans include the Giant River Otter exhibit, a new “50-Monkey” Ferris wheel, and the completion of last year’s fundraising focus, the Ocelot exhibit.

FOSAZ board president David Exline expressed his excitement over this exhibit. “We have South American ocelots, and the exhibit was designed for a breeding pair. We opened the exhibit in April, and come December, right after Zoofari (2015), we had our first kitten! So we have a male baby ocelot that we’re thrilled about. It is an endangered species, so we’re very excited about this new birth.”

The Zoo is also bringing in a “Frog Pod”, to protect the yellow-legged mountain frog, an Orange County indigenous species.

“There’s like 400 left,” Mr. Exline explained. “So we’re really on the brink of pulling them away from extinction. So the Frog Pod is a unit, it’s an enclosed, portable building that we’re bringing, and it will be dedicated solely to trying to build that frog back, and then we’ll release them back into the wild.”

While the City of Santa Ana assists the Zoo in its daily run and maintenance, it is organizations like FOSAZ that supply the necessary life blood to keep the Zoo relevant, interactive, and community-focused.

“We really couldn’t survive, “ Director Yamaguchi confirmed. “We depend a lot upon this partnership with the Friends of the Santa Ana Zoo. The city provides us with the things that we need to be able to operate the zoo and keep it going forward, and they’ve made the commitment for that. But for a lot of the special things, a lot of the little things that really draw people in—or draw families together: the signs, the interactive exhibits that we have, the different experiences that people can have, those really come from funds from the Friends of Santa Ana Zoo.”


Mr. Exline also highlighted the importance of FOSAZ’s work.

“We are a completely volunteer, non-profit organization. But we do a tremendous amount, raising over a million dollars a year annually in support, in both dollars, and in trade-in-kind of volunteer hours.

“Zoofari is our premiere fundraising event. It’s been very, very successful, and we rely on it every year. So we’re always so appreciate of our friends who come every year to Zoofari and help.”

The Santa Ana Zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. every day, except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. The Zoo is available for birthdays, intimate gatherings, and other gala events.

“Boo at the Zoo” is happening October 22-23, and 28-30 and gives families an opportunity to explore the Santa Ana Zoo and discover or re-discover its environs. Visit the Santa Ana Zoo website for more details and information.

Jennifer Oliver OConnell

Jennifer Oliver OConnell offers witty, insightful, and direct opinion, analysis and musings on local and national politics and popular culture, with occasional detours into reinvention, food, and Yoga. Jennifer also teaches Yoga, and coaches clients on careers and reinvention. You can keep up with what's in Jennifer's orbit through her As the Girl Turns website.