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PTR: Columbus Zoo Wildlights 2010


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This weekend, my wife, my, daughter and I took a trip to one of our favorite winter destinations, Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

For those of you that don't know, the zoo complex is actually made up of three separate parts: Zoombezi Bay waterpark, Jungle Jack's Landing / Animal Encounters Village, and the Zoo itself. For the holiday, more than 3 million LED lights cover the entire zoo. The Animal Encounters Village is also transformed into Holiday Encounters Village, where guests can visit Reindeer, get up close and personal with some of the zoo's animals, visit Mrs. Claus' house, and meet Santa.

If this awesome PTR proves too enticing and you decide to make a trip, here are some tips:

-Get there early. The zoo opens at 10am every day, and by 5pm there will be miles of traffic trying to get in. Fridays and Saturdays during Wildlights are typically the busiest days of the year, with several 25,000+ attendance records being set. The park complex is so huge that the crowds aren't such an issue once you're through the gate, but getting into the parking lot can be a hassle. We arrived at 4:15 and were just ahead of the rush.

-Head into the zoo first. Once you're through the main entrance, the zoo is straight ahead and Holiday Encounters Village (and the dry and waterpark) are to your right. Most guests head to the Village first and the lines to meet Santa and see the animals get pretty long. Head to the Gorillas first (in the African Forest section) when you get there. That exhibit closes at 5pm, as not to mess with the gorillas schedule. The gorilla and Bonobo exhibits are incredible and shouldn't be missed.

-Feel free to bring your own food and drink. The zoo allows outside food and drink, so long as nothing is in glass, and no alcohol is allowed. Their prices are reasonable, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to bring your own thermos of coffee or hot chocolate.

-Check out the Animals on Safari show at the Education Pavilion. It plates twice a night on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and shouldn't be missed.

One last thing before my narrative; I apologize for the photo quality. We were having major issues with both cameras. That DSLR can't come soon enough (Christmas). I'll borrow just this one photo from the Zoo's Facebook page to show you what the zoo's central lake looks like. This area is home to the Rhythms Around the Watering Hole show that plays every :30 minutes.


We arrived shortly after 4:00, got a decent parking spot, and headed into the zoo. We went straight to the north side of the zoo, and entered the African Forest region. This biome is home to African Parrots, Leopards, Red River Hogs, Colobus Monkeys, Duikers, Mandrills, Bonobos, and Western Lowland Gorillas. Most of the animals can be seen in their indoor areas. We wanted to make sure Avery (our 9 month old daughter) got to see the Gorillas. We went this Fall and she ended up having a great face-to-face encounter with one of the older (30-ish) female gorillas. The ape was just as interested in Avery as Avery was in the ape. We didn't get any photos this trip, but here are some photos from their first meeting back in late September.




After checking out the Bonobos (Columbus is one of just a few zoos to house them), we made a B-line to the south end of the zoo to the new Polar Frontier exhibit, an addition new this year to the zoo's already wonderful North America region. The area is home to Polar Bears, Kodiak (Brown) Bears, and Arctic Fox. We couldn't get the camera to boot at this point (and hadn't yet resorted to the backup), so I'll show a photo or two from our last trip. The area is incredibly designed and well themed. The animal habitats are also world class.






The Polar Bear's pool has a unique section of underwater viewing, where the bears can swim next to and over you. Here's a picture we snapped while doing a Jack Hanna spot on the CBS Early Show (I work for WBNS TV, the CBS affiliate in Columbus).


We watched the bears until dark, then continued around North America to make our way back to the central lake. For Wildlights, the entire North America biome is dressed in blue and white LEDs. It's quite breathtaking.



This cougar was very active, rolling around in the leaves.

After we left the North America area, we headed towards the zoo's AsiaQuest region. This area starts in a building themed to an abandoned south Asian train station, which leads to indoor viewing of Sun Bears, Flying Fox, Reticulated Python, Water Monitor and Silver Lutung. The outdoor section of AsiaQuest also displays Red Pandas, Tufted Deer, and Amur Tigers. This area is lit in Red, Orange, and Purple LEDs. It's quite stunning. The AsiaQuest biome is also home to the Pachyderm building, which is the largest in the world. This building houses Asian Elephants and Rhinos. For the time being, the African Lion exhibit is also in this area (though out of place), the lions will move into the new, 70 acre African Savannah area in 2012 or 1213.




Reticulated Python; This is the yet-to-be-named daughter of the Columbus Zoo's recently deceased Fluffy, who was the largest snake in captivity.

More about Fluffy, RIP


Amur tigers can be viewed through both large plate glass windows from an indoor, heated viewing area and across a wide moat, showing the gigantic enclosure.

Avery thought this tiger was pretty interesting (or maybe she was terrified), she wouldn't take her eyes off of him!


After AsiaQuest, we headed to the zoo's Shores biome, home to the reptile house, flamingos, penguins, alligators, manatees, and the Discovery Reef, one of the largest coral reef aquariums in the world at 88,000 gallons.



West Indian Manatees in Manatee Coast.


Ray, living in the Manatee tank

The Discovery Reef was particularly interesting to Avery, every trip she has just stared into the tank and watched the fish.





After the Shores we headed to Voyage to the Islands of Southeast Asia and Australia regions. By nightfall, most of The Islands is closed, but it is usually is home to Gibbons, Orangutans, Komodo Dragons, and Siamangs. In the Austrailia region, you can take a "night hike" though the Roadhouse, an awesome nocturnal house which is home to Brown Kiwi, Palm Civets, Fishing Cats, Fruit Bats, Tree Kangaroos, Tiger Quolls, and Crested Porcupines. In warmer months, you can do the Kangaroo Walkabout, and open Kangaroo exhibit where you walk right along with the animals, no barriers between you. The last exhibit in Australia is the Koala exhibit. They have very nice indoor and outdoor areas.


We finished our night with a spin on the classic 1918 Mangels-Illions Grand Carousel, which was completely restored and moved to the zoo in 2000. The carousel was first built for the Scioto Ranch park, which later became Zoo Amusements and later still Wyandot Lake. This was Avery's first carousel, but she knew just what to do! She loved it.


All in all, it was a great night, and you could easily spend 4, 5, or 6 hours here without seeing it all. I'll leave you with some random shots from around the park.









Thanks for reading!


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One last thing before my narrative; I apologize for the photo quality.

I can't believe that you saw a need to apologize...those are some very nice photos...the first photo of the lights especially! :)

Also, thanks for all the tips.

I wish I could take credit for the first one! But read a little closer.. B)

I'll borrow just this one photo from the Zoo's Facebook page to show you what the zoo's central lake looks like.

The pics from Saturday night weren't bad, but not as good as I usually like mine to look. Thanks for reading! :)

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GREAT PTR! I haven't been to Wildlights for a few years, but your trip report made me want to make sure I work it into the schedule this year!

I love the picture of your daughter's expression as she's watching the tiger! It's like she's thinking "that glass is really strong--right???" ;)

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Thanks so much for posting the photos. I haven't done Wildlights yet. At this point it'll have to wait until next year.. with a little more planning! :D

I just went last night for the second time this year and the snow makes it 1,000 better

I agree. Our chopper flew over the zoo the other night after the snowfall and it looked incredible. For those of you who haven't gone yet, it goes thru Januray 1st, so there's still some time!

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