Malibu Seen / By Kim Devore


They gathered at twilight in their zebra skirts, leopard-print shirts, cargo pants and bush jackets-party animals out to explore the lush grounds of the Los Angeles Zoo under the cool shade of jacaranda and eucalyptus trees. In addition to lions and tigers and bears, explorers were just as keen to sneak up on another natural wonder-Betty White. The spry 88-year-old quick wit and longtime zoo supporter was the guest of honor at this year’s Beastly Ball.

Sure the “Hot in Cleveland” star has had a slew of TV shows, which date back to the 1950s and earned rave reviews for her recent turn as the host of “Saturday Night Live,” but above all, this golden girl is crazy for critters. She’s been an avid Los Angeles Zoo fan for 46 years and even has the official title of “Ambassador to the Animals.”

Los Angeles Zoo President Connie Morgan praised Betty for her tireless commitment to animal welfare. As for her sparkling personality, she was called one of a kind. “I am often asked who else is like Betty White,” she mused. “My answer is always the same: There are no other Betty Whites; she is an original. And thank heavens for that!”

In addition to cuddly creatures, Betty had plenty of two legged BFFs on the prowl. Her friends and fans roamed the zoo grounds for an evening of wining, dining, music and merriment. After a glass of champagne, we were shuttled up by special tram and greeted by the sounds of a soothing African beat. Free-ranging animal friends gobbled up delicacies from some of the city’s top eateries. It was a taste of the world with everything from Italian wild mushroom risotto, tasty sushi rolls, Spanish tapas, hot tamales and even chili cheese dogs from Pink’s. Zoo residents were well fed as well.

At the Komodo dragon enclosure, zookeepers were happy to share the suppertime 4-1-1. “Komodo teeth resemble a shark’s,” said zookeeper Marlow. “They can take on animals larger than themselves, even a water buffalo.”

Although it’s hard not to marvel at these exotic creatures, we soon made our way to the other side where cute koalas like Georgie were busy munching on a sunset snack. “He’s feisty but wonderful,” said zoo pal Barbara, “and he loves to play chase.”

Since this is L.A. after all, even reptiles find themselves splashing in the Hollywood limelight. Take Reggie, all 7 feet, 6 inches and 118 pounds of him. The celebrity gator eluded authorities for two years until he was finally rescued. On this night, Reggie seemed unfazed by all the attention and simply flipped his tail to the sound of Billy Preston’s pop hits. No telling if the music will get him in the mood for romance with his new gal pal Cajun Kate. “We hope so,” said one keeper. “He’s in his teens and she’s in her 30s. Let’s see if he’ll go for an older woman.”

After plunking down bids on the silent auction, animal lovers made their way to their dinner tables, which were dressed in sea blue with arrangements of orchids and anthirium topped with adorable plush white tiger and pink flamingo toys.

Veteran weathercaster Fritz Coleman took on the role of auctioneer taking bids on specialty items like an exclusive tour of the zoo’s new Pachyderm Forest. After video tributes from Craig Ferguson and Jane Goodall there was massive round applause for the guest of honor, Betty White who was called “one of the zoo’s greatest fans.” The roaring good time raised more than $1.9 million dollars for the zoo and its education and conservation efforts.

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