Party Animals at The Zoo


To describe the past year at the San Francisco Zoo as Annus horribilis, would be an understatement. But last week, some 500 Zoological Society members were out in force at the annual ZooFest fundraiser.

“Tonight we are celebrating our 80th year of the San Francisco Zoo. Yes, it’s been a helluva year,” said Zoo Board Chairman Nick Podell. “But we’re doing OK now; we’re looking forward.”

Party animals (dressed in their Safari and leopard print finest) were greeted by Zoo staffers cradling Zoo denizens (including egrets, owls, alligators and armadillos) before heading into the Robert Fountain designed tent which echoed the invite’s theme, Planting the Seeds for the Future.

Fountain set each table with a bell jar centerpiece which contained a Save-the-Redwoods donated sapling, all of which were later planted on the grounds of Hearst Grizzly Gulch at the Zoo. And McCall Associates dished up a deliciously organic dinner.

But the greatest praise of the evening was heaped onto the elegant shoulders of Zoo Executive Director Tanya Peterson (also a longtime Zoo Board member), who resigned her gig as Corporate Counsel at Hewlitt Packard to step-in and take the reins during the Zoo’s darkest days.

“Tanya is amazing,” enthused event co-chairwoman Jacqueline Erdman. “She is so warm and wonderful with the Staff. I hope she stays forever!”

Peterson admits that both jobs have had their challenges. But, she said, the switch brings her greater personal satisfaction as the Zoo is important to her children and her community.

Though her appointment is almost a year-old, Peterson greeted guests from the stage by introducing herself as, “Acting Director of the Zoo.”

SF Zoo Board Chairman Nick Podell, Jennifer Elsbernd and her husband, Dist. 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd

But Nick Podell shouted encouragement from his table, “You’re not ‘Acting’! You’re our Executive Director!”

“Well, he’s the boss,” demurred Peterson, laughing. “A few years ago, I stood before you with animal striped face-paint. Tonight it’s more like I have egg on my face because I’m asking of you a far greater task in supporting the Zoo.”

But there was no need for face-paint or egg this year, as party animals ponied up more than $600K in support of the Zoo’s education, conservation and curatorial programs.

“In supporting our non-profit Zoo Society,” continued Peterson, “You are recognizing the need for animal welfare and sewing the seeds of a new era of conservation.”

The gala honored longtime Zoo supporters Bob and Connie Lurie, whom Peterson praised: “Their committment to our education and youth programs is because they recognize the spark in a child who is experiencing the animal world for the first time.”

Peterson also paid tribute to the Zoo’s founding which was conceived by former SF Parks Commission President Herbert Fleishhacker, a successful banker and civic leader who also created the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool. With support from his brother, Mortimer Fleishhacker, they built the Zoo right next door to the now-defunct pool.

And Mortimer’s great-grandson, William Fleishhacker, his wife, Helen Fleishhacker, were among the gleeful gala guests cheering on the Zoo.

“I’ve been coming to the Zoo since I was little. And now, our children love coming here, too,” said William Fleishhacker. “Tonight before we left, the kids asked us ‘to find that building with our name on it’!”

Fleishhacker was referring to the Mother’s Building named for the Zoo founders’ mother, Delia Fleishhacker. Unfortunately the gorgeous Renaissance-style building is currently closed until funds for refurbishment are found.

But both William and his father, David Fleishhacker, are thrilled about a piece of Zoo history that has come back to life: the Little Puffer Steam Engine (one of only three remaining 22-inch gauge engines in the world) which returns to full steam ahead on May 1.

A lively live auction added to gala’s success, as bidders were advised by Chairman Podell to grab a hold of a Morgan Stanley luxury golf package: “It might be the only stimulus package we’ll see from the Federal Government!”

The most fun “get” of the night? Zoo Board member Mark Roberts won naming rights for the Zoo’s baby Howler Monkey. His choice for this furry little fella? Lincecum.

Check out the photos below.

SF Zoo Executive Director-Board President Tanya Peterson with Keith Costello and his wife, SF Zoo Board member Marcelle Costello

ZooFest event co-chairs and SF Zoo Board members Rosemary Baker and Jacqueline Erdman

Betty Steidel, ZooFest honoree Connie Lurie and Daru Kawalkowski

Ellen and William Fleishhacker with Louise and Paul Renne

Tad Taube and his wife, SF Zoo Board member Dianne Taube

SF Zoo Board member Lisa Lenzo and her husband, Chris Lenzo

Christian and Tracy Huebner

Patsy and Jim Ludwig

Cathy Podell, Brenda Jewett and Leslie Podell

Meg Bertero, JaMel Perkins, Nonie Greene and Tom Perkins

Martin Muller and Sandy Hill

Jennifer Biederbeck, George Bolton and Lucy Hume Koukopoulos

Sarah Woodbury and her husband, Dr. Kenneth Trauner

SF Zoo Board member Mindy Henderson and Susan Dunleavy

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