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Entrance into the Southeastern Wildlife Preview Gala on Thursday night looked like a receiving line for Hogwarts thanks to the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary staffers who had owls tethered to their arms. Meanwhile, the Charleston Place ballroom resembled a sprawling wildlife portrait gallery with row after row of canvases depicting practically every animal under the sun. The requisite bird dogs shared the spotlight with flamingoes and frogs, while the largest paintings showed scenes of the Serengeti. Some of the guests looked to be straight Out of Africa themselves (think leather safari hats), others were straight up sequins and lace—this is the one event where anything goes (and it usually does)!

Most of the exhibiting artists remained with their respective booths throughout the evening, so the interactivity between collectors and painters was lively. As was the live auction, although you had to be in direct proximity of the stage to follow the progressions of lots. But perhaps the most energetic aspect of the night was special guest Jack Hanna, whose affable patience during photo after photo with adoring fans never waned. Incidentally, his subsequent appearances at the Gaillard—where he brought out a real live cougar—played to near capacity houses.