Heart of the Congo Captured at Happy Hollow Zoo

HHZ_Congo Tent_low

Happy Hollow Zoo (HHZ) in San Jose, California recently held its eighth annual Heart of the Congo fundraiser for Virunga National Park, and once again, it was a huge success. As you can see from the images in this post, the folks at HHZ are passionate about Virunga and put on a spectacular event. Months in advance, the HHZ team visits local businesses and asks them to donate products or services that can then be auctioned off on the night of the event. There was both a silent and live auction — the smaller items going in the silent auction and the bigger items, like the “Jungle Love” weekend getaway, going in the live auction. The live auction was quite entertaining with Vanessa doing her best auctioneer impersonation and HHZ board member Mike Borkenhagen often jumping in just before, “going once, going twice, sold!” to increase the bid. It was a risky role to play, and on three occasions, Mike ended up with the highest bid. Rather than wince, though, Mike always sported a huge grin, something that symbolized the entire evening.


(L-R) Long-time HHZ supporter, Tony Abadia, HHZ’s Vanessa Rogier, Conservation Manager and co-founder of the event, and David Jackson, Director of Conservation Ambassadors (R)


Willie Martinez, the technical genius behind the Heart of Congo event, meets a naughty member of the Rugendo family in Bukima (likely just back from raiding a local villager’s crops) during HHZ’s March trip to Virunga.


Caterer “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme”, a big proponent of wildlife conservation, gave their all for the event.


(L-R) Dahalia and Vanessa Onsurez and Senior Zoo Keeper, Kelley Walsh keep the crowd in the mood with smiles and libation.


Conservation Ambassadors, a close partner of HHZ, brought a number of animals to the event to reinforce the wildlife conservation theme. Here, ambassador Scott Ellis gently handles a cute — but potent — African porcupine.


At the checkout table: HHZ Zoo Curator, Heather Vrzal with Joey the accountant and HHZ Education Manager, Denise Soden


Long-time supporter Ben Holdaway considers taking a pledge card for Ranger Support.

HHZ9_Taylor and Steve_Honey

Champions for Virunga: 13-year old Taylor Wiley and HHZ resident beekeeper Steve Demkowski raise thousands each year by selling “Gorilla” honey. Bees, like mountain gorillas, face huge environmental challenges, so their efforts have an added resonance.

Virunga National Park is fortunate to have such a dedicated group of people working on its behalf. Hopes are high that other zoos will join in the effort to save Africa’s oldest park — like Happy Hollow Zoo in the USA and Wilhelma Zoo in Germany.


  1. María José gonzalez October 30, 2014 Reply

    happy to see people working to help
    Our wonderfull animals far away from Congo
    Wish from Spain i were able to help not only with donations
    All the best
    María José

  2. Douglas July 9, 2015 Reply

    Wow I am so impressed by Happy Hollow’s efforts. They are an inspiration. And thank you Virunga people for all that you do.

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