After Dark - How zoos and aquariums are shining a light on conservation
Light events are a great
way for zoos and aquariums to connect with their local community, increase
visitor engagement, and communicate conservation messaging in an immersive
after dark experience. We explore how zoos and aquariums engage their community
through after dark events and how they manage issues of accessibility and
Dreamtime Skink at Adelaide Zoo
Light Creatures returns to
Adelaide Zoo this winter after a sold out 2021 season. The immersive after dark
experience celebrates conservation through an array of larger-than-life
lanterns and interactive performances. The light event, held in partnership
with Illuminate Adelaide, targets a different demographic than usual
(20-to-35-year old’s without children) and helps increase visitor engagement
during what is typically one of the quietest times of the year.
The event has been created
in collaboration with Anangu woman Elizabeth Close, and Kaurna and Narungga man
Jack Buckskin to help amplify Aboriginal voices, promote reconciliation, and
share the Kaurna story of Tarutharu, the skink. Signage and site interpretation
around the site helps connect the large-scale lanterns and light installations
to conservation messaging, projects, and actions that visitors can take beyond
the gates. Ticket sales for the event also help to fund Zoos SA's conservation
Adelaide Zoo has focused on
making the event as accessible as possible. This includes making all
installations wheelchair accessible, having an adult change facility with a
hoist, and providing access to the inclusive Variety Children’s Zoo Nature’s
Playground. The large-scale lanterns also remain inflated during the daytime at
the zoo allowing visitors who might not be able or may not feel comfortable
travelling to the zoo at night to still enjoy a large part of the experience.
To help engage and include the deaf and hard of hearing community, Adelaide Zoo
has partnered with ‘Deaf: Can Do all’ to translate signage into Auslan via QR
codes. This year, following positive feedback, Adelaide Zoo is looking to
further increase Auslan translation on site and offer sessions of Audio
Description (AD) during both daytime and nighttime sessions.
When it comes to hosting an
event, the Adelaide Zoo team always consider animal welfare. Months before the
event opened, a core team of events and life sciences staff worked together to
strategically plan the route, the positioning of animals and the monitoring of
the soundscapes to make sure there was little impact on the animals,
particularly those that could be overstimulated. Technical elements such as
haze, lighting and soundscapes were tested and animals’ behaviour was monitored
both before, during and after the event.
The Pelicans in particular
were gradually introduced to black light, with consistent monitoring by staff.
They found that the Pelicans seemed to find the presence of the lights
enriching and chose to sleep next to them. The staff also considered the usual
noise levels at the zoo compared to the levels that Light Creatures audiences
would produce. This led to the discovery that Adelaide Zoo is loud and lively
at night even when there is no event, due to it being a city-based zoo.
Findings from the first year of Light Creatures in terms of animal welfare will
be used to help with the planning and set-up of the 2022 event.
Pelican under black light at Adelaide Zoo Giant panda at Adelaide Zoo ‘Affinity by Night’ Dolphin presentation at Sea World
Sea World on the Gold Coast
has also been engaging their community through after dark events. Sea World’s
‘Carnivale’ is a festival of culture and colour and ran earlier this year
during January and February on selected nights from 5pm - 9pm. After the normal
opening hours, the park transformed into a spectacle of colour, sights, sounds
and tastes. Guests experienced the animals in the park at night, an exclusive
‘Affinity by Night’ Dolphin presentation and an Aqua Lightshow held on the
iconic Sea World Lake. Shark Bay and
Polar Bear Shores exhibits were also open with keeper talks to continue to
spread Sea World’s ongoing education, awareness, and conservation efforts. The welfare and wellbeing
of the animals remained a priority for the team throughout the event. Marine
mammal trainers were present at all exhibits communicating with guests and
monitoring the animal’s behaviour and environment.
Sydney Zoo’s new GLOW
festival has also been a recent success, being the biggest and brightest light
festival in Western Sydney. The festival is currently being held every night
from 5:30pm to 9:30pm Friday 13 May to Sunday 5 June. The festival includes
over 50 light sculptures, a tunnel of twinkling lights, interactive
installations, a Secret UV Safari, an Ice Rink and more. The festival also
includes a pledge wall, where Kids can pledge to ‘Choose, Change and
Contribute’ to wildlife and explore other secret messages written in UV ink.
Sydney Zoo has ensured that
the GLOW event is as accessible and inclusive as possible by designing it to
have no hills or steps for varying levels of mobility. They have also
prioritised the safety and welfare of its animals to ensure the event footprint
and activations have not affected the animals in any way. So far, the light
festival has been so popular that Sydney Zoo has announced a two-week
extension, meaning more of the community can now enjoy GLOW.
Vivid Sydney back in full swing, Wild Lights at Taronga is also once again
enchanting visitors from across Australia and the globe with 70 stunning animal
lanterns and projections representing 15 iconic species. Running over 18 nights,
Wild Lights at Taronga has come together under the theme “where nature shines”
connecting guests with animals of the land, of the land and of the sky. This
year has also placed a strong emphasis on accessibility and inclusion, with an
accessibility tool kit, dedicated volunteers and inclusive installations
ensuring this iconic experience could be enjoyed by all.
Lantern at Sydney Zoo Underwater world lanterns at Adelaide Zoo