Pittsburgh Zoo hosts Asian Lantern Festival

Emily Fritz | Staff Writer

Sept. 8, 2022

As the end of summer approaches, the Pittsburgh Zoo has started hosting its second-annual Asian Lantern Festival during select nights between Aug. 12 and Oct. 30. This year’s theme pays homage to the prehistoric days, as dinosaurs take center stage.

“Over 50 massive silk and steel handcrafted sculptures will once again shine along the pathways of the zoo at night, with the largest lanterns soaring 30 feet high and reaching 100 feet long,” said Pittsburgh Zoo public relations and media manager Ian Hunter in a recent press release.

Hunter said that, in addition to dinosaurs being a crowd-favorite for visitors, “[the] festival is a celebration of Asian culture, and many dinosaur fossils have been discovered in Asia.”

The prehistoric species on display were not exclusive to dinosaurs. Other displays included animals such as the Macrauchenia, which was “a long-necked, long-limbed, three-toed South American mammal from 20,000 years ago,” according to the display.

There were also many aquatic creatures from similar eras, as well as some species that are still around today, such as spiders, sea turtles and early reptiles.

At the beginning of the event, visitors can pick up a map of the zoo with themed symbols to indicate the nine landmark lanterns.

Among them were the Welcome Arch, Dragon, Lystrosaurus, Stegosaurus, the massive T-Rex Tunnel, Gorilla, Sea Turtles, a Lotus Corridor and the Butterflies display. On their way, visitors can find the four food and beverage stands, four merchandise locations, the stage for live entertainment and a VR theater experience that focuses on gorillas.

Some lanterns were interactive, allowing visitors to step on pressure plates that cause motion in the display, play drums to interact with the lighting and, of course, take “Instagram-worthy” photos.

Included among the extinct animals on display were lanterns modeled after current endangered species and species native to Asia. These highlighted the conservations, themes and educational initiatives that the Pittsburgh Zoo helps to provide year-round.

Some of the additional animals and plant species represented included red pandas, golden snub-nosed monkeys, gray crowned cranes and a ginormous fairy tree lantern.

Alongside the lanterns, the Zoo also incorporated event-exclusive Asian dishes and entertainment. “The Zoo works locally with the Organization of Chinese-Americans to organize regional performance groups,” the release said.

“The lanterns [are] built and installed through the month of July in partnership with Tianyu Arts & Culture, Inc.”

The goal of these partnerships is to bring authenticity to the festival and cultural awareness to the Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.

This past Sunday, the featured entertainment group was from the Philippine American Performing Arts of Greater Pittsburgh (PAPAGP).

Kristina Pacifico, the website chair for the PAPAGP Board of Directors, said, “We’ve been performing alongside the Pittsburgh chapter for many years even before the Asian Lantern Festivals started and partnerships similar to this [are] what allow performing groups such as ourselves to stay active within our ever-growing Pittsburgh community.”

PAPAGP is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year as a nonprofit Filipino dance and performing arts group. The group was invited to perform this year as a returning group.

“We hope that our presence and performance at the Asian Lantern Festival and related shows in the Pittsburgh area are opportunities to promote Filipino folk dancing and the culture of the Philippines to the Pittsburgh community and beyond,” Pacifico said.

Other performance groups participating in the festival this year include Ruby Jain Dance Academy, Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh, Win-Win Kung Fu and Pittsburgh Taiko and Ghungroo.

Close to the entertainment stage were interactive family-friendly activities such as a walk-through kaleidoscope and a functional cannon lantern that released a ball of smoke when fired and light-up swings.

Some shopping locations were open around the zoo for general merchandise, with one Asian pop-up store available under the polar bear exhibit that sold local, handmade-wire artwork.

Specially themed cuisine was available for purchase at four different locations: Village Food, Safari Pop Up, Savannah Stop and Jambo Grill.

Festival specific food options include Chinese donuts with honey, roasted edamame, wasabi popcorn, passionfruit cotton candy, miso butter street corn and Bahn Mi burgers.

Themed alcoholic beverages are also available for of-age visitors with a valid state-issued photo ID.

Ticket prices for non-members sell for $22.95 on Fridays and Saturdays, and $19.95 on Thursdays and Sundays. There is a two-dollar discount included in member pricing. Food is an additional cost, as well as the VR theater experience that is offered during the event.

According to their website, the Pittsburgh Zoo does forewarn that “animals will not be visible in their public habitat during evening hours.” For the festival, they encourage guests who wish to see the animals to purchase a regular daytime ticket.

Profits from the Asian Lantern Festival go directly toward “the mission of global conservation and animal care,” according to Hunter.

The Pittsburgh Zoo houses more than 8,000 animals and is one of six zoo-aquarium combinations in the United States.

To learn more about the Pittsburgh Zoo, visit www.pittsburghzoo.org. To plan a visit to the Asian Lantern Festival, visit www.pittsburghzoo.org/event-asian-lantern-festival/.