Boo at the Zoo once again a big treat for area children


Evelyn Nong, 5 and her sister Joyce, 4, hug while waiting in line during Boo at the Zoo at Santa Fe College.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 8:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 8:46 p.m.

As many monkeys ran free through the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo as the ones who stayed put behind their enclosures on Halloween.

But the zookeepers — dressed as dinosaurs and Disney characters — weren’t worried. The free-roaming monkeys were just trick-or-treaters.

After two years of holding the annual event on the lawn, Boo at the Zoo was back inside the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo this year. As usual, families came out in droves.

The line to get in formed well before the 3 p.m. opening time.

Zoo Director Jonathan Miot said the trick-or-treating event, now in its 19th year, sees 4,000 to 6,000 people a year — “A sixth of our yearly attendance in one night,” he said.

Miot said the birth of two gibbons kept the festivities outside of the zoo for the past two years. All that activity isn’t good for the babies, he said.

But with no births in the weeks leading up to Halloween, student zookeepers were free to transform the zoo into a spooky wonderland.

“It’s a huge deal,” said Mandy Dancer, a senior zookeeping student. “We basically talk about it all year long.”

Dancer, 31, who was dressed as a T-rex, said zoo students and staff, alumni and volunteer SF College students spend weeks building the sets for Boo at the Zoo, which is set up like a trail that winds through a dozen themed areas.

On Halloween, the zoo stays closed in the morning so students can set the whole thing up.

Families walking into the zoo on Thursday found themselves in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

At the next station, Sally from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare before Christmas” led costumed children to a witch and a skeleton, who dropped Dubble Bubble gum into tiny waiting hands.

“This is gonna be the scariest part,” a young Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz” said to her mother, dressed as the Tin Man, as the pair approached the “Star Wars” area.

The Tin Man, also known as Tanya Lopez, said it was her and her daughter Kindred’s first time to Boo at the Zoo.

“It was really fun,” Lopez said, as her 5-year-old daughter toddled around in her ruby slippers.

By 4 p.m., the line to get into the zoo was at least 200 people long.

To keep busy, several cowboys and princesses rolled down a hill, and a light saber fight between a petite Darth Vader and a pint-sized storm trooper played out on the lawn.

Admission to the event is one canned food item per person, so student zookeepers will collect 4,000 to 6,000 cans each year.

The cans go to Santa Fe Harvest, which benefits students and college staff in need, and Catholic Charities, Miot said.

“That’s enough to fill those food banks through the holidays,” he said.

Charitable as it is, it’s the spectacle that keeps families coming back. Crystal Motes brought her children Andrew, 2, and his sister Emily, 15 months, to the event last year, although they probably don’t remember it.

This year, dressed as a firefighter and a Dalmatian puppy, they seemed to enjoy the Halloween activities.

“It’s good for the little ones,” Motes said.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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