NAPLES — Naples resident Mae S. Wood didn’t stick her neck out when she conveyed her love of zoos and especially a certain animal.
“Every zoo should have a giraffe,” said Wood, 100, a one-time board member with the Cincinnati Zoo.
Wood joined about 450 others Monday night at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club for a Naples Zoo fundraiser to help build a new giraffe habitat.
Television personality and animal lover Jack Hanna shared his passion for the wild side with those attending, adding how excited he is about the planned giraffe exhibit, which he said is one of his favorite animals.
“The kids are going to blow their mind,” Hanna said, referring to when they are able to get up close and personal with the giraffes on a planned observation deck. “They’re going to have the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to feed a giraffe from a feeding station... That long eight- to 10-inch tongue going in there and taking food out of their hands. I have more fun doing that than anything in the world.”
Naples Zoo will acquire its first ever three male giraffes this spring, and they will be kept behind the scenes until their $1 million and roughly 30,000-square-foot habitat is completed in 2011. Tickets to the Monday fundraiser cost $150 and $250 for those who had the opportunity to meet and mingle with Hanna before the dinner and auction.
Mary Ann Costello, 63, of Naples said it was a thrill for her to meet Hanna on Monday.
“It was pretty amazing,” she said. “You can tell the love in his heart for the animals. And you can tell the love in his heart for the program and the sponsorship that he’s involved in.”
Hanna, the director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, is the current host of a “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild” — an Emmy award-winning nationally syndicated animal TV program — and has also appeared with his crew of critters on “Good Morning America,” “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “Larry King Live.” He was especially known for his appearances on “The Tonight Show” when Johnny Carson was the host.
Before dinner, the event’s guests had the opportunity to bid on four seats at Hanna and his wife, Suzi’s dinner table during the event.
After the auction and dinner, Hanna had planned to introduce the audience to some of his animal friends, including a cheetah and a penguin. And those attending had the opportunity to bid on more than 100 items, such as an East African safari trip.
“They’re just a fantastic animal,” said Tim Tetzlaff, director of conservation and communications at the Naples Zoo, said of the giraffe. “People love seeing them, and it’s a great experience for families to have to be able to get up close to giraffes.”
The exhibit’s elevated observation deck will allow zoo guests to feed the “skyscrapers of the savannah” out of their hands. The giraffes will come from other Association of Zoos and Aquarium accredited zoos.
The Naples Zoo has been increasing in popularity the past couple of years, Tetzlaff said, adding that a giraffe exhibit is just one of many expansion projects that the zoo has planned for the future.
“We’ve doubled our attendance (at the zoo) in the past 10 years,” said Tetzlaff, who declined to comment on the zoo’s other expansion projects.
In 2009, the zoo’s attendance increased by 13 percent from the previous year to a total of 293,971 visitors.
Tetzlaff, who hopes to raise about $100,000 at the giraffe fundraiser, attributes the zoo’s increasing popularity to all of the different exhibits and events that have been added in the past couple of years since Collier County officially bought the land for the zoo in 2005.
“There has been more invested in the past year or so than at any other time since my parents founded the zoo back in (1969),” Tetzlaff said. “We have the largest black bear exhibit at an accredited zoo in the eastern U.S., so that’s been a very popular draw.”
Hanna, who has helped the Naples Zoo in the past, explained why he likes it so much and keeps coming back.
“What I love about your zoo is it’s a fun zoo,” he said. “It’s when you go in there to have fun with your family, and you’re there learning something. That’s the key to the best zoo there is. That’s what they’ve accomplished here.”
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E-mail Sarah Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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