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Suddenly, ballgowns are out. Garden party couture is in.

The Minnesota Zoo has refashioned its annual black tie fundraising gala into a more casual outdoor cocktail party — part of a larger plan to entice younger donors and increase profits. This year, it is inviting guests to pair Bermuda shorts with tuxedo jackets.

“I think you’ll see a lot of animal prints,” said zoo Director John Frawley, whose suggested attire is “wildly chic.”

What was previously a formal sit-down dinner called the Beastly Ball has morphed into the Beastly Bash — an evening touting more room to roam, more animal encounters and live musical entertainment.

Yet, the zoo’s overall strategy remains the same: connecting benefactors to the real-life animals they support with their donations.

The bash on Saturday, June 9, themed “A Wild Summer Night,” summons philanthropists to a party under the stars. Attendees can meander the zoo grounds, visit popular exhibits and eat portable food and enjoy signature cocktails on their way to a program at the amphitheater.

KARE 11 TV’s Belinda Jensen will emcee the charity event, which asks guests to open their pocketbooks for zoo-related causes, such as conservation work abroad and a community outreach program that waives admission for low-income families.

Kat Perkins, a Minneapolis-based singer from NBC’s “The Voice,” is slated to provide the entertainment.

Over time, the party has become the zoo’s single-biggest annual fundraising event.

The organization raises roughly 10 percent of the Minnesota Zoo Foundation’s fundraising budget in this one evening. Last year, the Australian Outback-themed party raked in more than $600,000.

Zoo leaders sought to revamp the ball after interviewing 30 donors and sponsors, who recommended that the early springtime event would be more enjoyable during the summer.

“We heard a lot of feedback about the weather … a lot of people wished they could see more animals and be outside,” Frawley said.

The shift to an outdoor event allowed organizers to more than double the guest list. Attendance at the zoo’s formal ball was capped at 600 participants, while the informal bash can host as many as 1,400.

Should it storm, zoo officials have a contingency plan to move inside.

The outdoor festivities also fit the Apple Valley zoo’s shifting strategic plan, which emphasizes connecting visitors with nature.

Frawley envisions one day adding campgrounds, hiking trails and an adventure course to the nearly 500-acre property.

Tickets for the bash run $200, while a $500 VIP option grants donors access to a special lounge with additional food and drinks. Tickets are available online until midnight Tuesday at

Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648