The Como Park Zoo and Conservatory was happy to host a gathering of party animals at its annual summer gala -- Travelers Sunset Affair.

The event helped Como beef up its educational programs, which serve more than 600,000 children and adults.

"Since the recession, we've seen an increase in the number of visitors and a decrease in the number of registrants in fee-based programs," said Jackie Sticha, president of Como Friends. So, the zoo has enhanced its free offerings and "layered [education] into the daily programming, so people don't know they're participating in an education program."

For example, the Sparky the Sea Lion show now includes a conservation message.

Though a zoo mainstay, Sparky wasn't the event's main attraction. Instead, the crowd pleaser was a kinkajou, one of nine recently born Arctic fox kits. There also was a release of monarch butterflies. They fluttered around and landed on attendees, many of whom were wearing Hawaiian shirts. "It's not black-tie," Sticha said of the gala. "We are a zoo."

Sara Glassman • 612-673-7177