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Bright Lights Hit the National Zoo

Pepco Illuminates the Skies During the Holidays

Sam P.K. Collins | 12/25/2013, 1:27 a.m.
Thousands turned out for the annual ZooLights festivities on Saturday, Dec. 21. The light show attracts more than 100,000 visitors to the National Zoo each year. Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah

Every winter, families from across the D.C. metropolitan region visit the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Northwest to take part in ZooLights, a Pepco-sponsored festival that provides an array of fun-filled activities for families and raises awareness about the plight of endangered animals around the world.

More than 4,000 people posed for photos with Santa Claus, competed in gingerbread house building competitions, learned about innovative methods of energy conservation, danced and listened to live bands after regular daytime hours on the zoo grounds on the evening of Dec. 7.

"ZooLights is an annual D.C. tradition and we're thrilled to have our public to celebrate the season and the animals that we work to save," said Annalisa Meyer, communications manager at the National Zoo. "It gives our visitors an opportunity to visit the zoo after dark which is so special and to experience these animals in a whole new light."

ZooLights kicked off at the end of November and runs through New Year’s Day. As thousands strolled through the zoo grounds after daytime hours, various hues of red, blue, green and yellow lights illuminate the premises. Exhibit buildings feature nocturnal animals including bats and owls. Children can also ride on a solar-powered carousel and a train that travels throughout the zoo.

Zoo officials also solicit donations of old cellphones in an effort to recycle the devices and protect primates’ natural habitats around the world from the excavation of coltan, a metallic ore that’s commonly used in the production of the mobile phones. This year, Friends of the National Zoo, an umbrella organization, used ZooLights as a platform to promote its upcoming bison exhibit that tells the story of the endangered species and recounts the zoo’s role in protecting the animals.

Daisy Carlos, who said that primates count among her favorite animals, strolled throughout the zoo with her boyfriend, Daniel Smith, for much of the evening on Saturday. She appreciated the manner in which the zoo presented thought-provoking information about the primate species.

“ZooLights is the best of [both] worlds. You get to be a big kid and I get to learn about new innovative ways to save endangered species,” said Carlos, 25, who lives in Springdale, Md.

Pepco hosted a panel discussion that focused on methods of energy conservation and sustainability before an audience of more than 50. The panel proved useful to residents who learned quick, easy tips to cut back energy costs, including Eric Sielvdo, who listened attentively during the discussion with his wife by his side.

“I had to attend this panel [because] I am one of those people who decorate every inch of my house [during the holiday season]," said Sielvdo, 44, a government contractor from Annapolis. “Every year I decorate every inch of my house. My father passed it [on] to me and I want to continue it but I am also wary of the costs. Decorating my house is an essential part of the season because it brings joy to my neighborhood. My four [children] also love helping. It’s a family tradition.”

Other attractions included a land of Lego playhouse. Holiday-themed music filled the air as children played with Legos, enjoyed rides on the carousel and stared at nocturnal creatures through a glass panel.

Donna Douglas, of Frederick, Md., watched in awe as her children put the finishing touches on what she called a Lego masterpiece. She enjoyed the festivities because it provided her a chance to spend time with her sons in a safe environment.

“I liked getting to see my boys’ faces as they competed in building a Lego castle,” Douglas, 57, said. “We come every year and they are always drawn to the Legos. It’s their favorite activity."

Sasha Vernon strolled through the zoo gazing at the magnificent light displays with her fiancé.

“It’s definitely an event worth braving the cold for. It’s like a winter fair in the capital,” said Vernon, 56, of Rockville, Md. “Most certainly, I’ll be back before the end of the year.”

WI intern Kelsey Nelson contributed to this report.