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Zoos: Zoo Attendance Tops 1.5 Million for Third Consecutive Year


With popular ZooLights festival in full swing, Oregon Zoo contemplates another record

With more than 10, 000 visitors braving the cold to see ZooLights over the past weekend, the Oregon Zoo’s annual attendance shot past the 1.5 million mark for the third consecutive year. Zoo officials say the popular holiday light display is pushing the zoo close to another yearly attendance record.

"The response this year has been amazing, " said Mike Keele, interim zoo director. "If ZooLights continues to be this popular, we’ll definitely have another record by New Year’s Eve. Even if we stopped counting visitors today, 2009 would already rank as the second-highest attendance year in zoo history."

The zoo has set attendance records in each of the past three years, with an all-time high 1, 593, 907 visitors coming through the gates in calendar-year 2008.

ZooLights, which runs through Jan. 3, features nearly 1.25 million bright bulbs, with life-size animal silhouettes and moving light sculptures on display throughout the zoo.

At ZooLights, guests can expect to see their old favorites as well as some new surprises — a backyard scene near the zoo’s train station, some interactive farm animals and an animated, roaring lion in honor of the zoo’s new Predators of the Serengeti exhibit, which opened in September.

Other new displays include a lighthouse and a totem pole, along with 3-D seahorses, sharks and a crab. These are only a few of the new ZooLights features this year. Over half of this year’s lights are made of LEDs, which use about one-tenth the power of normal incandescent bulbs.

The zoo entry plaza transports guests to Bremen, Germany, with a glowing replica of that city’s statue depicting four farm animals from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale "The Bremen Town Musicians." As folks work their way from the plaza down the boardwalk, they’ll encounter classic ZooLights scenes such as leaping reindeer and tobogganing polar bears.

A right turn from the boardwalk deposits guests at the wheels of the famous Oregon steamer train, decked out in luminous finery for a holiday express jaunt around the zoo.

Visitors can continue on through Tiger Plaza to meet up with Dorothy, Toto, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the good and wicked witches from the Land of Oz.

Life-size, three-dimensional beasts linger on the zoo’s concert lawn, which has become a 180-foot-long meandering river of light. Hippos graze near the water while crocodiles lie in wait, ready to snap their jaws on unsuspecting prey. From above, an African fish eagle swoops down and scoops fish from the river.

Much-loved displays from previous years make an encore appearance, including a larger model train exhibit, trumpeting elephants and swinging siamangs. Visitors can dodge a dangling anaconda, watch playful penguins dive into arctic waters, and pass beneath a 35-foot-long Chinese dragon.

Music fanatics can enjoy the highly animated light silhouette of Mick Jaguar, who performs near the picnic area with his all-star animal band: Packy Pachyderm tickling the ivories, Richard Lion playing guitar, Gerri Giraffe on bass, Billy Bear on trumpet and Orville Orangutan on drums. The Ostrich Sisters add backing vocals.

Live music will resound throughout the zoo as well, with more than 100 schools, churches, professional groups and local dance troupes performing holiday musical selections.

Popular costumed characters and elves will greet zoo visitors and pose for pictures. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer joins Buddy Beaver, Honey Bear, Eliza Elephant, Nate the Eagle, Sandy Sea Otter and Titus Tiger as they mingle among guests. Some of the zoo’s animals will also be visible, including mountain goats, elephants, primates, and pettable sheep and goats.

For last-minute shoppers, the zoo’s gift shop is bursting with animal-related gifts. Paintings by the zoo’s talented elephant Rama are available for purchase on zoo grounds during festival hours.

The Cascade Grill will be open during ZooLights with its regular menu items and specials. AfriCafe and food carts throughout the zoo will also provide holiday treats and warm beverages every night during ZooLights.

To see a preview of the light display, visit

ZooLights runs through Jan. 3, and is presented by The Boeing Company with additional support from Fox 12, PDX TV, + 101.9, and New Country 98.7 KUPL. Hours are 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5 to 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Guests have one hour past closing time to make their way back to the front gate. During this time, lights and other activities continue until the gates close. ZooLights is closed Dec. 24-25.

See also:
Zoos: Oregon Zoo Elephant Program Prepares for $30 Million Expansion 

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