Louisville Zoo celebrates Chinese culture in Wild Lights Festival


Lantern display depicting China’s Jiangnan district. Photo by Gabi Celani.

Gabi Celani

The Louisville Zoo is holding Wild Lights from March 10 to June 4, 2023, as “something new to experience as we launch our season in March,” media and public relations manager Kyle Shepherd said.

Wild Lights is a lantern festival held in collaboration with Tianyu Arts and Culture. It’s held from 6:30-11:30 p.m. on Thursdays through Sundays and includes Chinese cultural performances such as Sichuan Opera and Diabolo, also called the Kongzhu.

Many lanterns were scattered throughout the zoo grounds, “including 40 lanterns that are making their U.S. debut,” according to Shepherd. They range from a miniature version of the Jiangnan district to a large colorful tarantula. Guests can activate movement for a few select attractions, such as the color-changing chameleon. 

“It took the artisans from Tianyu and our staff about 30 days to install all of the beautiful elements of Wild Lights!” Shepherd said.

However, animals will not be on display, with the exception of animals that are active during the night time. Animals like the white rhinoceros and bongos were sighted during the festival.

The event is a 1.4-mile one-way route that ends with an interactive section geared towards children but can be enjoyed by all. Children can activate a small cannon that belts out smoke or swing on illuminated swings.

The event draws in a variety of participants, including a middle-aged daughter and her elderly mother, who were visiting for Mother’s Day. The duo talked and smiled as they strolled through the exhibits. A Virginian family of four thought the event seemed like a “fun family activity.” The children bounced from one interactive light display to another as their parents followed.

Visitors enjoy the festival for a variety of reasons, some of which are the colors, the lights and the movement, as well as the interactive sections.

“We have received positive feedback year after year,” Shepherd said.

However, several guests suggest numerous improvements to the festival.

One visitor proposed the addition of a map depicting the event’s route that noted important attractions. It just so happens that they had accidentally walked the opposite way than they were supposed to.

Another recommended more interactive attractions, as they believed them to be sparse until the end.

Visitors are able to purchase items around Glacier Run in front of the snowy owl enclosure. Merchandise includes statues made with wire and various panda-themed items.

Throughout the walk, food and beverages are available, which are a blend of zoo favorites and specialties inspired by East Asian cuisine. Visitors can indulge in a variety of treats from wonton crisps to cotton candy.

“[Wild Lights] is a beautiful illuminated feast for the eyes and an immersion into [East] Asian arts and culture,” Shepherd said.

A general admission ticket costs $22 for non-members and $19 for those with a zoo membership. Children aged two and under may enter for free.