Houston Zoo's newest residents — a troupe of seven western lowland gorillas — were so nonchalant as the focal point of the Zoo Ball Saturday night that the black-tie crowd might have felt rather ignored. That would have been, except for the fact that the 375 guests were completely mesmerized by the muscular celebrities as they romped through their new "jungle" home.
The $28 million Gorillas of the African Forest exhibition opens to the public on May 22. This sneak peek for zoo patrons was something of an audience warm-up for the massive mammals, which weigh as much as 450 pounds.
Scott McClelland and Jim Postl chaired the gala, a black-tie rarity on zoo grounds, that brought in a cool $1 million and change. "What a spectacular way to show off the gorillas," Postl said. "They're running and playing and chasing each other. They are obviously very happy here."
It was spectacular indeed with ladies in long gowns and the gents in their own monkey suits traversing the observation platforms that provided expansive views of the leafy yet rocky terrain. From the Nau Board Room, guests could see the silverback gorilla as he climbed the ropes and rocks to come face-to-face with surprised admirers. He looked and turned away, unconcerned by the enthusiastic gorilla fans.
(The second floor Nau Family Gorilla Treehouse is an intriguing element of the gorilla habitat, available for special event rentals. Bobbie and John Nau and their family will celebrate Bobbie's upcoming birthday in the swell African-themed room. And the zoo board, led by Houston Zoo CEO and president Deborah Cannon, will hold its meetings there.)
Dinner chimes sounded at about the time the gorillas were heading indoors to their individual sleeping quarters, where straw is changed out each day to keep their beds fresh.
The zoo's special events team created the sleek party tent sheered in white and lighted with crystal chandeliers. Adjoining was a separate tent where Cuvée out of Dallas performed after dinner.
Among those fascinated by the gorillas were ball honorees Annie and Bob Graham, Soraya McClelland, Beverly Postl, Cathy Brock, Randa and K.C. Weiner, Ileana and Michael Trevino, Susie and Joe Dilg, Cathy and Joe Cleary, Amanda and Robert Brock, Laura Bellows and Jack Pendergrast, Ann and Karl Stern and Mike Mahlstedt.