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Zoo in the Dark - Night programs

White lions and a fake zebra in a night feeding show (photo: elajos, Szeged Zoo)Like any other attraction, zoos need to maintain their attractiveness from season to season. Opening new exhibits, presenting new species or newborn animals, or at least rearranging the placement of animals – these are the most traditional methods of increasing or maintaining the attractiveness of zoos. However, another effective method to increase income could be to make zoo programmes more varied. The professional zoo staff should respond dynamically to the trends, and apply and integrate them to the programme. Halloween, for example, is a strange, foreign feast in several countries of the World. It has spread through the media, but now is celebrated in zoos as well – except where it has been banned...

 White lioness and watching visitors in Szeged Zoo (photo: elajos)Most visitors know the daytime atmosphere of zoos well. But we, employees, also experience the “dark face” of zoo life: the exciting nocturnal life of the animals. Although the idea of showing this side of the zoo to the visitors seems quite obvious, relatively few zoos do it regularly. It is not as risky as one may think, and provides many advantages besides increasing attractiveness.

The main concern is usually the supposed safety problem. Some zoos are very afraid to let in a large number of people in the evening. According to them, visitors cannot see the warning signs and barriers and get lost in the dark zoo. There are zoos where all lights are switched on during the evening programme, and some paths are closed as well. First of all, it is not the warning sings but common sense that prevents visitors doing something stupid and dangerous. Moreover, according to my experience, visitors are much more cautious under unusual conditions like limited visibility. They are more afraid to leave the pathways than to start risky discoveries. Visitors usually also prefer to move together at night, which may lead to crowded situations, especially near Some animals return to house in the evening program too (photo: elajos, Szeged Zoo)special locations (like feeding shows, interactive programmes, etc.). These situations should be prepared for and solved in advance. It should be kept in mind that the crowd in itself may cause disappointment. It is a difficult question, because a lot of visitors means high income, but too many of them (related to the capacity) may reduce attractiveness. According to my personal opinion, zoos should limit the number of visitors to maintain the amusement – but, I know that it can be a very hard decision for managers. However, I am sure it provides more revenue on the long run. So, back to the requirements, we should choose suitable locations for feeding shows, where a lot of visitors can see the animals well during the show. The appropriate sound system is also essential.

Spotted hyena at night (photo: elajos, Szeged Zoo)We have to consider animal welfare and safety as well. Never leave animals which could be frightened by the crowd at this strange time outside. For example, we always close the giraffes into their house for the night; visitors can see them inside through the windows. In addition, we have to take into consideration that some big carnivores may not want to return to their houses after a feeding show. If there is any risk of a dangerous storm until the morning, postponing their programmes is advisable.

The next question is about lighting conditions. I think a night zoo with reduced lighting provides a unique feeling, as do the animals in the dark, especially during the feeding shows. Strong lighting can spoil the experience, so we usually switch on the lights along the pathways at the end of the programme only to make leaving the zoo easier. As I can see, the regular torches of visitors don’t bother the animals, but the use of strong flashlights should not be allowed, let alone lasers (it may be hard to believe such nonsense, but last time I had to warn visitors because of using a laser…).

Black in Black (photo: elajos, jaguar in Szeged Zoo)Finally, as I experienced, this programme may have a side effect on zoo workers too. Special conditions and the necessary high level of cooperation can build team spirit. Since there is a high chance of positive feedback from the visitors, the contributors – both employees and volunteers – can feel the “reward” of their efforts immediately. Naturally, to achieve this feeling, the management should provide some relaxation and supporting environment for the workers.

If you haven’t tried it yet, I recommend organising night programmes at your zoo. If you do it right, you and your visitors will certainly like the unique atmosphere of other side of the zoo.

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