San Francisco Zoo in holidy spirit with light exhibit

Courtesy PhotoFor the last days of 2012

The San Francisco Zoo is putting on a big holiday show for the first time, and it’s lighting up the evening.

Zoo Lights, running from 4 to 8 p.m. today through Sunday, offers special exhibits, neon animals, animal topiary sculptures, garlanded trees, a spectacular 30-foot Christmas tree and nightly main-stage entertainment.

A decorated path leads from the entrance, which looks like a “Nutcracker” set flanked by animal sculptures in lights, to an Entry Village and the ornamented, historic Dentzel Carousel, where visitors may ride for free.

Four female reindeer (males are too disruptive, say zoo officials), all with antlers, also are on view.

Typically closed after 4 p.m. in winter, the zoo’s new seasonal nighttime activity area also features Wally the Penguin, a costumed character, in the Lemur Cafe.

But 48 real birds, seemingly lip-syncing “Jingle Bells,” are at Penguin Island, the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in captivity. (A recording made by Skywalker Sounds plays penguin sounds that have been edited into the tune of the popular Christmas carol.)

“Masters of the Night: The True Story of Bats,” a touring museum show about bat myths and facts, provides hands-on activities including crafts and interactive lessons. No live bats are in the show, which also explains that bats are gentle and beneficial little animals, not blood-sucking, squeaky creatures.

Zoo Lights

  • Where: San Francisco Zoo, ?1 Zoo Road at Sloat Boulevard, S.F.
  • When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; 4 to 8 p.m. today through Sunday for Zoo Lights
  • Tickets: $8 to $15 for regular hours; $5 for Zoo Lights (or free with regular admission)
  • Contact: (415) 753-7080, www.sfzoo.org
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