A new sculpture of a young humpback whale breaching out of the water debuted during last year’s Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo.

A new sculpture of a young humpback whale breaching out of the water debuted during last year’s Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo.

Photo provided by Christina Ross


Wild Lights returns to illuminate Detroit Zoo

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published October 27, 2020

 Colorful, glowing orbs and cones create a holiday ambience at Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo last year.

Colorful, glowing orbs and cones create a holiday ambience at Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo last year.

Photo provided by Christina Ross

 A bright reindeer sculpture stands outside the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery during Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo last year.

A bright reindeer sculpture stands outside the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery during Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo last year.

Photo provided by Christina Ross

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ROYAL OAK — Next month, the Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo will return for its eighth year and longest run yet.

The expansive holiday lights display will illuminate the front half of the zoo for 32 days, from Nov. 20 through Jan. 3, rain, snow or shine.

The Detroit Zoological Society will impose capacity restrictions to maintain social distancing and public health guidelines, and masks are required for guests ages 5 and older. The nightly capacity will be limited to 2,100 per evening, with no more than 1,050 in the zoo at one time during the event.

Tickets are on sale now to see the more than 5 million LED lights covering trees, buildings and more than 280 sculptures. Wild Lights will be open select weeknights; Sundays from 5 to 9 p.m.; and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 10:30 p.m.

Reservations for half-hour time slots can be made at www.detroitzoo.org. Tickets sold in advance range from $15 to $20, and a limited number of tickets will be sold at the gate for all nights and time slots for $20 per person. Guests ages 2 and younger will be admitted for free. Parking for all vehicles costs $8.

Food and beverages will be available, although dining will be limited to outdoor-only seating.

The outdoor event does not include access to most animal habitats; however, guests will have full access to the Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat and the Jane and Frank Warhol Beaver Habitat during Wild Lights.

“We try to keep it fresh,” said Randi Hamilton, assistant director of guest relations for the Detroit Zoological Society. “We are doing some new things with technologies to try to give the landscape a different feel.”

Each year, Hamilton said, a team — including 12 lighting specialists — works to provide new sculptures, new features and new ways to showcase the zoo’s landscaping using lighting technology.

“This has been a show that’s become a tradition for so many. We just couldn’t imagine not being able to still bring that tradition, though with limited capacities,” she said. “There are people who really want to still experience the event, and we really love to be able to provide that joy for them.”

Gerry VanAcker, chief operating officer for the Detroit Zoological Society, said preparations for Wild Lights essentially take place year round.

“It’s a ton of work,” VanAcker said. “We actually start planning pretty much as soon as we finish the show because a lot of our products come from overseas, so we have to get our orders in by the first of April.”

The zoo works with audio-visual vendor Bluewater to create a sensory experience and begins stringing lights in August, he said.

“We try to switch it up every year so there’s something for everyone,” he said. “(This year), ticket sales are up about 20% over what they were a year ago. People are getting their tickets early and making sure they have the time slots they want.”

The Detroit Zoo is located at 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, west of Woodward Avenue.

For more information, call (248) 541-5717 or visit detroitzoo.org.

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