Wild Lights starts at $20 for adults (13 and up) and $15 for children (ages 2-12). Children younger than 2 get in free. (Photos by Jack Wolfe/Carolina News and Reporter)

Familiar Christmas music and Charlie Brown’s theme song hang in the air during the holiday season at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden.

And this year, 60-plus new lanterns depicting animals and plants are scattered around the zoo landscape.

The addition to the 35-year-old light tradition has guests such as Sharon and George Benko happy to pay the price of admission.

“This is our seventh time being here for Christmas,” Sharon Benko said. “We always like the zoo.”

The lanterns have been up since Nov. 17 and will continue on select nights from 5 p.m.to 9 p.m. until Jan. 14.

The idea for these “Wild Lights” lanterns started one year ago when the zoo rented six sets of lanterns from Tianyu Arts and Culture, according to Riverbanks Zoo Events Manager Mike Collins. Local companies sponsor the event.

“We received a lot of positive feedback from guests, we felt like it aligned more with our mission of highlighting animals … endangered animals,” Collins said.

Tom and Anita Demott enjoy reading some of the fun facts about the animals the giant lanterns represent.

“We like going to see zoo lights,” Anita Demott said. “We’ve done a couple of different ones around the country, and so we enjoy doing it.”

There are “a million places” to go see Christmas lights in Columbia, but having the lights depicting endangered or even extinct animals falls more in line with the zoo’s focus on nature, said the public relations manager for Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Matt Perron.

“We still have Santa Claus until Dec. 23, but we have more animal claws than we do Santa Claus,” Perron said, smiling.

Profits from the entry fees will go towards the feeding and care of animals and plants at Riverbanks Zoo and around the world, Perron said.

Nick and Patty Legg came to the zoo with their two boys to have some fun and even got the chance to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas.

The boys’ favorite animals were the hyenas and the lizard.

“It’s great,” Nick Legg said. “I think it’s really cool that so many different organizations and companies have donated to sponsor the lights.”

Dawn Martin, who also brought children to enjoy the zoo, thinks the experience might be a little pricey. But she said she doesn’t mind the cost, since the money is going towards the care of animals.

“I came to the preview night and wanted to bring the children,” Martin said. “He’s all about the dinosaurs, and she’s all about the butterflies. … It’s beautiful.”

Collins’ goal for next year is to add more unique lanterns.

“We still wanted to incorporate the holiday, still have Santa, still have holiday music, but also have some of these larger-than-life animal lanterns to really make a ‘wow’ factor,” Collins said.

A 40-foot-tall Lingzhi fungus blows bubbles

The Cunningham family admires the extinct Ichthyovenator dinosaur.

Nick and Patty Legg’s two boys get the chance to sit with Santa.

Tom Demott enjoys the fun fact that a Tarsier primate can turn its head 180 degrees.

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