The Knoxville Zoo was transformed earlier this month into an exotic Himalayan village, the home of the elusive red panda, an animal that has put Knoxville on the zoological map.
It is there, in Nepal, where certain villagers have been named “guardians of the forest” for their work in protecting the endangered red pandas, of which fewer than 10,000 are left in the wild. And that was the theme of this year’s Zoofari, the number one fundraiser for the Knoxville Zoo. On this balmy evening at least, in the hills of Tennessee, we all were guardians of the forest.
Even though the Knoxville Zoo is famous for its work on behalf of the cute little red pandas, zoo folks often are asked why the zoo doesn’t have “real pandas.” If fact, the red panda is the original panda, discovered in the early 1800s. For over 50 years, they were the only pandas known to the world.
OK, OK. Here’s what a real red panda looks like. They max out at about 11 pounds. The Knoxville Zoo has six. (Photo courtesy of Knoxville Zoo)
In the 1870s, Western explorers found the giant panda, named that because it is so much larger than the original panda. Recently, scientists re-classified the giant panda as a bear, leaving the red panda as the only member of the panda family, Ailuridae.
The Boyd Family Red Panda Village at the zoo opened in 2007 and is the largest red panda habitat in the country. A total of 108 cubs have been born there. In fact, 134 of the 140 red pandas in North America (97%) trace their ancestry to the Knoxville Zoo.
But we saw a lot of other animals at Zoofari. Including a fair number of party animals!
Eric and Lisa New. She’s executive director of the Knoxville Zoo.
This is Moseby, a screech owl, making the rounds during cocktail hour.
The pants were perfect, don’t you think?
Spice is an adorable Nubian goat.
Nazzy Hashemian feels as strongly about the importance of name tags as I do!
The signature cocktail? Red panda punch, of course.
From left, Holly Watkins, Michael and Judith Foltz, and Russ Watkins.
Aww. Hogy is an African pygmy hedgehog.
Anne LeZotte, left, of Pilot Flying J, and Natalie Lester of Moxley Carmichael headed over to see the elephants. (Photo by Chase Bailey)
Natalie’s fiance, Chase Bailey, took this selfie of them with a giraffe. Cute. When they put this picture on Facebook, one of their friends quipped, “I never realized you all were quite that tall!” Ha.
On the other end of the spectrum . . .
This beautiful Hyacinth macaw is named Spencer.
When we weren’t looking at animals, some aerialists attracted our attention.
This sculpture by Preston Farabow was one of the live auction items. It’s called “Endangered Species.”
Soon, it was time to move the crowd into the dinner tent.
Hahaha! Craziness at the Moxley Carmichael table. Rock and Debby Saraceni.
Tom Coulter, left, visits with Ellen Robinson and Peter Acly from our table.
More from our table: from left, City Councilman Duane Grieve, Rock Saraceni, Alan Carmichael and Debby Saraceni.
From left, Debby again, Natalie Lester and Marsha Grieve.
The scene inside the tent was very exotic and festive.
These were interesting.
Duane was keeping us in good spirits.
This bucket was just for our table! Maybe I overdid it when I pre-ordered the three bottles of Veuve Clicquot? Nah.
(OK. Maybe I should get off my rump and take some pictures of the other tables!)
Here’s Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and wife, Kelly.
Jenny and Randy Boyd.
Courtney Kohlhepp and her mother, state Sen. Becky Massey.
Eddie Mannis, chair of the zoo’s board, with Sherry Jenkins, left, and Renee Repka.
Kevin and Chelly Clayton. She’s on the board, too.
Anne and Jake LeZotte.
Cammie and Art Cate. (Hey, you lovebirds, get a room!)
The Rays. From left, Andie, Rich and Jane.
At the Frantz McConnell & Seymour table were, from left, Emily Bell, Daniel Smith Jared Smith, Taylor Forrester, Whitney Smith, Libby Orr and Wade Orr.
At the Pinnacle Financial Partners table, from left in front row: Mike and Judy DiStefano, David and Kathy Dooley and Kathy and Jeff Francis and Blanche Vester. In the back row, from left: Keely Ritchie, Sherry McHaffie and Tom Vester.
Jason and Whitney Brown.
From left, Suzanne and Tom Scott with Maureen and Don Bosch.
Mike Strickland and Allison Burchett.
Sid and Jo Blalock.
Kirby Bell and David Collins.
John and Meg Owings.
Benny Smith and Megan Venable.
David Rechter and Suzanne Schriver.
Melissa and Mike Charland.
Kathryn and Chef Joseph Lenn. (When are you going to open that darn restaurant, Chef?)
Joey and Janet Testerman Creswell.
Heather Overton and Daryl Johnson.
Scott and Christie Branscom.
Sculptor Preston Farabow and his wife, Shannon.
Regina and Terry Turner.
Amy and Bob Cross.
From left, Angie Wilson, Sharon Moore and Erin Donovan.
Sam Furrow did a great job bringing in the big bucks during the live auction.
And, after that, the Journey tribute band, Departure, played until after midnight. My friend Chase Bailey took this short video, to give you some idea: