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Illuminasia lights up Calgary Zoo with Asian-influenced animal lantern festival

By Rachel Woodward, September 1 2016 —

The Calgary Zoo is home to many wonderful things, from baby animals to educational programs and wildlife conservation.

This month, Illuminasia — a celebration of Asian culture through bright, animal-shaped lanterns — will bring colour to the zoo as it takes place for the second year in a row from September 8 to October 16.

“The entire intention was to create something of value to our local and tourist audience that they can’t see in Western Canada anywhere else,” says Calgary Zoo advisor of special events and promotions Roz Freeman. “It’s an opportunity to create something a little more culturally sound. Zoolights isn’t about celebrating different cultures, it’s more about celebrating the holiday season, so this was an opportunity to open us up — especially to the Asian market, that’s obviously prospering here in the city.  And especially with giant pandas arriving in 2018, it was a good opportunity to engage.”

The festival will feature over 250 handmade lanterns that traveled from Zigong, China to Calgary for the event. Zigong is the lantern capital of the world, with over 30,000 lantern makers living in the city. The zoo, while bringing this tradition to a Calgarian audience, wants to ensure that its environmental impact is regulated during the festival.

“Our pieces are smaller or more easily assembled here in Calgary. Typically, a Chinese lantern festival is completely disposed of after that one year is done. We kept all of our lanterns from last year, and we’ve reused them,” Freeman says. “We maintain [the tradition] but adapt it to the way in which the Calgary Zoo and generally a lot of North America operates, which is much most sustainability conscious and more financially conscious.”

During the festival there will be activities available for both families and those looking for more adult-specific entertainment. Restaurants on-site will be open, as well as workshops for families and couples to make crafts, explore Asian culture and admire the intricate work that goes into lantern crafting.

Freeman says that while there is an admission fee for the festival, there is important reasoning to the costs.

“I think it’s important for Calgarians to understand that we’re not just doing events to make money, we are doing events to make money to filter into our conservation projects so that we can save wildlife and wild places,” she says.

The festival will run from September 8 to October 16 at the Calgary Zoo.

For more information, visit illuminasiacalgaryzoo.com

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