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INDIANAPOLIS — The annual black-tie bash that raises millions of dollars for the Indianapolis Zoo returned following last year’s cancellation due to COVID-19.

It marked the first large-scale social event in central Indiana since the pandemic began.

Sold-out Zoobilation 2021 has a Southern theme, Bayou Bash, in recognition of the zoo’s new exhibit, Alligators & Crocodiles: The Fight to Survive.

The zoo transformed into a swanky outdoor party for the night with an arrival carpet, wild and on-theme fashion, live music on multiple stages, dancing, food from some of Indy’s most popular restaurants and 15 bars serving cocktails.

This was the 35th year for Zoobilation, which started in 1986 in a private home with just a few hundred guests. The event is now the zoo’s largest single-day fundraiser, generating $2.5 million in 2019 to support the care of 1,300 animals and animal conservation efforts.

Here’s a look at the food winners for 2021:

  • Appetizer: Yats!
  • Entrée: Auberge Restaurant and Bar
  • Dessert: Blondie’s Cookies
  • Décor: Cretia Cakes

FOX59 Morning Anchor Daniel Miller emceed the event alongside CBS4’s Debby Knox.

For those who can’t be there, FOX59 shared event highlights on-air, online and on social media:

  • Sherman Burdette was live throughout the morning with a sneak peak of what partygoers can expect, plus he’ll explain how the money raised by this event supports the zoo.
  • Daniel talked to zoo staff and takes you inside the juvenile alligator encounter in the 5 p.m. newscast, then again on Facebook Live.
  • Traffic Anchor Britt Baker was live on the green arrival carpet with CBS4’s Rachel Bogle to show off all the fashions. They broadcast live on from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
  • FOX59’s Scott Jones and Lindsey Eaton, along with CBS4’s Krista McEnany and Nick McGill, served as food judges, announcing the winning restaurants.
  • Scott took you inside the new alligator and crocodile exhibit around 6:45 p.m.
  • Lindsey chatted with the Just Peachy Cafe chef inside the Plains area around 7:15 p.m.
  • Before and during the event, meteorologists kept attendees up to date on the forecast.

Zoobilation tickets can be tough to come by any year because the event is so popular, but this year there were no sales to the public because tickets from the cancelled 2020 event were honored. The event also has reduced capacity, capping at 50% of previous years.

In addition to limited capacity, COVID-19 safety measures included extending the party into the Plains area so guests have more space to spread out, hand sanitizer and washing stations, and one-way traffic in and out of indoor exhibits. Anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms or a temperature of 100.4 or higher was asked to stay home.

Attendees who were fully vaccinated were not required to wear a mask, but masks were provided for those who were not vaccinated or those who preferred to wear them.

Gates opened at 5:30 p.m. for guests with premium tickets, then at 7 p.m. for general admission.