Sunset on the Savanna

Another week, another gala...sometimes it's miserably tough to be community-minded and to have an affinity for dressing up, am I right? 

Kidding! Last Thursday, I was invited to join a group of colleagues to attend the Como Zoo's Sunset Affair, the annual fundraiser and gala event that provides a major source of funding for Como's educational programs. This year's theme was "Sundown on the Savanna," which a: sounds a bit like a cheesy romance novel, and b: was so perfectly branded and advertised...see below. Needless to say, when I got my official invite in the mail, I was all like "Yes, and can I get a glass of champagne up in here, and also when do I get to pet a giraffe?" 

With the heat index expected to soar above 115 degrees, however, I was not exactly feeling my gala-sparkliest that week, and there was of course nothing in my closet that fit the bill for "Africa-casual-chic." Solution? Anthropologie, duh, where I picked up this breezy high-low dress on Monday. I'm completely in love with it and am going to wear it all the time, pretty much. 

With my hair all pulled up off my neck, a giant pair of gold earrings and sunglasses in tow, I headed out...still feeling a bit attitudinal, per Snapchat. 

Upon arrival, we were chauffeured from the parking lots to the event in golf carts...such a fun way to start the evening! After checking in, our group immediately found the bar, and with a G&T in tow, I spent way too much time perusing the auction items and pretending I could afford an 11-night safari. As soon as I had been properly reality-checked, we headed out to make our own safari! 

The zoo was closed to the public for the event, which meant the animals were extra-active and we could get up close and personal like never before. I spent no less than 20 minutes freaking out over the giraffes...even the baby was 10 feet tall, and they were so striking and fun to watch!

The ostriches were unafraid to get up close and personal with us...I think they thought we had food? Either way, they were incredibly entertaining. Such odd-looking creatures! This one kept popping his head above, then below, the fence in the weirdest little undulations...I couldn't NOT laugh at him, and so he'd do it again and again. Probably trying to figure out what the hell was so funny about his normal everyday neck stretching routine or something. 

The Como Zoo has undergone a bit of a baby boom in recent months. In addition to the aforementioned baby giraffe, they have a 10-lb baby gorilla and a brand-new, 18-day old baby girl zebra...and the zebra above, Thelma, is due any day with another! The evening's auction included the naming rights to the new baby, and while I was definitely tempted to bid, we couldn't settle on a name. Adam voted for "Charlie," I pushed for "Daisy" as her mother's name is Minnie, and AJ was all about "Abigail," as in "Abigail the Zebra," or "A-Z." 

Whatever her name ends up being, witnessing this was enough to completely make my night. The heat and the setting sun truly did make it feel like we were enjoying a sunset on the savanna! 

Of course the zoo was dressed to the nines...cocktail tables with gorgeous floral arrangements were scattered all over the outdoor spaces, and each bar was covered in the prettiest batik-print linens. 

Our table for the night's dinner was IN the gorilla enclosure, with glass on all sides looking out into the gorillas' outdoor play space and one giant window facing into their indoor jungle-gym type area. We watched a video featuring one of my colleagues, Sheila, who sits on the board of Como, and learned a bit about the gorillas while we took our seats and savored the night's first air-conditioning. 

While we dined on coconut-curried chicken with tomato coulis and a fantastic apple-and-plantain salad, one of the zoo's gorilla trainers did a series of demonstrations with Virgil, a 400-lb 14-year old gorilla. Watching him respond to the tiniest movements of her hands and head blew my mind. At Como, animals are taught to participate in their own care by responding to visual cues with their own body movements, enabling keepers and trainers to perform medical examinations and checkups without traumatic anesthetization. Seeing it in action amazed all of us...especially as it highlighted just how HUGE the gorillas were. 

We also learned that the animals at the zoo receive a "daily enrichment" designed to make sure they stay happy and healthy. Our trainer for the evening explained that the gorillas get a harp performance twice a week. I, needless to say, did not believe this...until I Googled it and found photo proof along with this article. For some reason, I find that completely makes me wonder what else people will dream up. (Image above via the Star Tribune!)

As soon as we finished dinner, we headed back outside into the twilight to take advantage of an obscenely awesome dessert buffet and admire the animals one last time before heading home. The baby zebra was cuddling her mom under a tree, the giraffes were settling in for the night, and the heat had abated just enough to be comfortable. Before we went our separate ways, we snapped a photo with a few members of our group...dessert not included. Perfect way to end a fantastic evening!