Models strut their stuff and help raise money for Point Defiance Zoo Society

It was an afternoon of formal dress and delightfully informal entertainment April 26 for the Point Defiance Zoo Society's annual fashion tea fundraiser. By all accounts the event was a complete success. While the final tally of money raised was still being calculated at press time, Meleena Russell, events manager for the society, said it looks like this year's event raised even more than last year, which will help the society's ongoing support of the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium's (PDZA) programs and mission.

The highlight of the event was the fashion show featuring the latest in formal and active wear by South Sound clothiers Adam and Eve Clothing, Bloom, Brides by Demetrios, Cake Apparel, Dame Lola, Grassis, Hush Baby, Julia Ellen, Red Line, Rocky and Coco's, Ruth Ellen Designs, Sonja Clothing, The Wedding Bell, Tiki Lounge, Tux Shop, Vanity, Viva, Top Hat Formal Wear, Destination Harley, Nordstrom, Envy, My Petit Pea and Biella by Ruth Michelle. Set among the lush decor of tropical plants, ferns and palm trees that transformed the Emerald Queen Casino's (EQC) grand showroom into a very well-done jungle landscape, the volunteer male and female models walked the runway like pros, eliciting much applause.

A sort of predecessor to the Zoo Society's signature formal event, Zoobilee (this year on July 18), the fashion tea gives local boutiques a chance to showcase their clothing that attendees may wish to wear to Zoobilee. The tea, now in its 10th year, has evolved into more of  an all-around fashion show, but still provides a great preview of what's on the racks in the local shops. Hair and make-up was provided by Brassfields Salon and Day Spa.

Russell said the event was made even more fabulous thanks to in-kind donations from the EQC: the impressive decorations, the sound system, lighting, audio-visual components including a big screen monitor, and trained personnel to run all the equipment.

The audience literally howled in appreciation for the Puyallup Tribe when Caryl Zenker, the zoo society's deputy director, announced the tribe's recent commitment to the society's capital campaign - $685,000 over the next five years, the largest in the zoo's history according to Zenker. The zoo will have to reapply to receive $137,000 each year.  Zenker led the crowd in a wolf howl to show its thanks.

The majority of the funds will serve as the naming gift for the zoo's new red wolf exhibit now being constructed (see full story on page A3) and the rest is earmarked for the presenting sponsorship of Zoobilee for the next five years.

Point Defiance Zoo is heading up the effort nationally to bring back the endangered red wolf. Thanks to the zoo's leadership, the red wolf population has increased from a meager 14 to a more robust 275. The tribe's critical financial gift toward the program "is an absolutely historic occasion and a terrific partnership," Zenker said.

The theme of this year's fashion tea was "It's Not Easy Being Green," and Point Defiance Zoo Deputy Director John Houck welcomed a very special guest who unfortunately couldn't be there, the Oregon Spotted Frog. Houck said that in Washington and Oregon 90 percent of this species has died off completely, and the remaining 10 percent remains at great risk. In fact, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association has named 2008 "Year of the Frog" because everywhere wetlands are being drained, habitat is being lost, and the thinning ozone layer is proving detrimental to frogs' eggs across all species.

Add to this yet another problem facing all amphibians not just here at home but worldwide - a deadly fungus that was brought over by the African Clawed Frog; a fungus that native frogs have no protection against. Houck said years ago, starting in the early 1930s, the African Clawed Frog was used in pregnancy tests for women. Injecting the frog with a woman's urine would cause the frog to begin laying its eggs immediately if the woman was pregnant, and proved to be pretty much foolproof.

As more advanced pregnancy testing methods were developed, the African Clawed Frogs shipped throughout the world were let loose into the environment. They died out in Europe and American, leaving the fungus behind. "This problem is an extremely serious one," Houck said, noting that PDZA is contributing to efforts by an Oregon Spotted Frog Working Group to restore the species. "There's a large party of people working on this," he said, including Northwest Trek, Woodland Park Zoo, Oregon Zoo in Portland, fish and wildlife departments in both states, Washington State Department of Transportation, and McChord Air Force Base, among others.

Russell credited a big part of the fundraiser's success to all the volunteers that pitched in. "We owe a lot to our individual volunteers and the event committee for all the hours they put in," she said. "This event, and Zoobilee, we can do because of community involvement."


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