Wild animals plus millions of lights makes visit to zoo merry, bright

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is making the holiday season even brighter this year with its “green” Wildlights display, running now through early January. It’s one of the best ways for central Ohio families to spend a holiday evening if it’s not raining or too frigid outside.

The two million shiny lights in this years’ display illuminate more and use less electricity than traditional bulbs because they’re LEDs (light-emitting diodes). They also last longer.

But nevermind the technical stuff. The zoo’s annual holiday display wows visitors with its fun animal shapes, musical choreography and intensity. The lights are strung among the zoo’s eight geographic regions, where more than 5,000 animals are housed.

It’s a pleasure to walk through this light show, not drive by it or through it. The grandest display is around the zoo’s pond. The lights reflect upon the water, creating a brilliant scene. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a late autumn snowfall, which no doubt would yield a magical backdrop.

The zoo also is planning special activities in conjunction with the lights display such as Santa’s Reindeer Corral, where guests can meet four of Santa’s reindeer friends that reside at the zoo, and Animals on Safari, an energetic animal show with performing dogs, cats and other creatures. Kids also can decorate a cookie in Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen and get their photos taken with Santa.

If you’re chilly, there are plenty of indoor exhibits to duck into. We enjoyed visiting the elephants.

The Columbus Zoo is a wonderful place to visit because of encounters such as these. Recently the USA Travel Guide named it the No. 1 zoo in the country. A lot of the publicity comes courtesy of Jungle Jack Hanna, the director emeritus whose many public appearances through the years have propelled the zoo into the national spotlight.

The zoo is located just north of Columbus in Powell at 4850 W. Powell Rd. Wildlights hours are 5-9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 5-9 p.m., Sunday. The zoo will be closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

For more information, visit www.colszoo.org.