Blank Park Zoo’s Wild Lights opens in Des Moines with lanterns


Freezing temperatures couldn’t stop more than 100 visitors from heading to Blank Park Zoo to light up their nights.

For the second year, Des Moines’ Blank Park Zoo, 7401 SW Ninth St., is hosting its Wild Lights Festival, a multicolored display of various creatures created in the style of traditional Chinese lanterns.

“Lantern festivals stem from traditional Chinese New Year celebrations. Modern festivals have evolved to include electricity to light the lanterns while using the same traditional lantern-making skills,” said Anne Shimerdla, President and CEO of the zoo management, to those gathered at the zoo event. center Thursday evening. “(They’re) inspired by nature, new custom designs include plants and animals to celebrate the world around us.”

The Blank Park Zoo Wild Lights Festival opened to VIPs on Thursday, March 31, 2022.

The crowd joined Shimerdla in a countdown to the lighting ceremony that brought the lanterns to life for the night.

Those who decide to venture out for the event this year will find lanterns almost completely different from 2021 – although a few fan favorites have returned. This time Tianyu Arts and Culturethe Chicago-based organization responsible for the lanterns, provided more than 40 displays created using hundreds of individual lanterns.

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When can we see the Wild Lights Festival?

The experience officially opened on Friday evening and will remain in place at Blank Park Zoo until May 30. The lanterns will be lit from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Sundayas well as Memorial Day, the last day of the festival.

Elena Toribio, 3, and her brother Vinny Toribio, 1, attend the opening of Blank Park Zoo's Wild Lights Festival, Thursday March 31, 2022.

What can you expect to see at Blank Park Zoo’s Wild Lights Festival?

The three main themes of this year’s festival are dinosaurs, creatures from Asian mythology and endangered/threatened species, chosen to inspire conservation efforts.

Strolling through the park, visitors will see a family of artificial pandas wandering among bamboo shoots and a set of koala lanterns climbing through lighted branches.

Walking near the park’s event center leads to an encounter with an animated T-Rex and a photo op in front of a pair of pterodactyl wings before strolling down a path that leads through the open mouth of a carnivorous dinosaur.

East Asian mythology is on display as visitors walk past a nine-tailed azure fox, a creature that appears in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folklore. A standard red lantern path and the lighted head of a Chinese dragon also add to this theme.

How to Get Wild Lights Festival Tickets

Tickets for the event are on sale now and can be found via for $24.95 for general admission or $19.95 for members. Day tickets are also an option, priced at $30 for general admission or $25 for members.

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Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture at the Des Moines Register. Join it at or 319-600-2124, or follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet.


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