'Wildlights and Animal Sights' returns to zoo Friday

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier<br>
The Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary’s Bengal tiger Cassie looks on during a preview of “Wildlights and Animal Sights” Tuesday. The event is open to the public 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings through Dec. 29.

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier<br> The Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary’s Bengal tiger Cassie looks on during a preview of “Wildlights and Animal Sights” Tuesday. The event is open to the public 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings through Dec. 29.

PRESCOTT - The Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary invites the public to see all its Christmas lights and displays every Friday and Saturday today through Dec. 29.

The "Wildlights and Animal Sights" event is back by popular demand after taking a hiatus last year.

"We got a lot of calls," zoo spokesperson Heather Brown said.

More than 100 trees are covered in Christmas lights, and displays are located throughout the zoo campus. The giant 28-foot-tall praying mantis sculpture is even covered with lights.

Flamingos, elephants, seals, hippos, deer and other animal-themed displays are included.

Zoo Maintenance Technician Jake Byrd figures he's strung up more than 100,000 lights since early October, the most ever.

"We have lights on pretty much every tree," Brown said.

It's hard to know what the wild animals think of the lights, but when Byrd tested the lights near the enclosure for Cassie the Bengal tiger Tuesday night, Cassie clearly was intrigued.

The huge striped tiger paced back and forth repeatedly near the lights and visitors, then plopped down in a big cozy pile of leaves by a lighted tree and bushes. Zoo employees purposely piled the leaves in animals' cages.

"The cats just love it," Brown said. "I think it's because they have all these different smells."

The sanctuary normally closes to the public at 4 p.m. November through April, so the Wildlights event offers a rare opportunity for people to see the animals at night, especially the nocturnal hunters such as Cassie and Jade the mountain lion.

"They don't seem to be really stressed about it, because we don't do it all the time," Animal Care Manager Wayne Fischer said.

Hours are 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the Wildlights event. The special admission fee is $3 for members and $5 for non-members. Flashlights are welcome, but please don't shine the lights in the eyes of the animals.

The City of Prescott and Costco are sponsoring Wildlights.

The sanctuary also has another holiday event called "Santa with the Animals" from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9.

Santa will bring presents to the animal residents at the sanctuary.

The zoo is located on the north side of Prescott by Willow Lake at 1403 Heritage Park Road. For more information, call 778-4242 or go online to heritageparkzoo.org.