Lighting of the Animals: Inside National Zoo’s Holiday Display - NBC4 Washington

At a town square, the holidays are often launched by the lighting of a tree. At an iconic American zoo, meanwhile, the season is celebrated by lighting . . . the animals! Not the actual park residents themselves, mind you (they won't be around for the festivities), but the animals’ alter-egos, modeled with strings of LED lights.

Once again, the Smithsonian's National Zoo throws its annual holiday spectacular, ZooLights, powered by Pepco (open now through Jan. 1, 5:00 to 9:00 PM; closed Dec. 24, 25, and 31). There’s live music, holiday shopping, and, best of all, more than 500,000 LED lights. Here’s how some of the zoo’s famous tenants look aglow in LED.

Smithsonian National Zoo

The Giant Panda

Residents of the National Zoo since 1972, the giant pandas have now reached a milestone: The bear has been modeled into a large, holiday lantern–one of dozens of glowing animal lamps new to ZooLights this year.

Though solitary animals, pandas do tend to vocalize during social interactions: They sometimes chirp, honk, bleat, chomp and bark (similar to holiday party revelers).

(Photo Credit: Hanart Culture)

The Cow

Cows play a major role at holiday feasts everywhere. We speak, of course, of eggnog (cow's milk being part of the recipe). And like many holiday meal celebrants, according to the National Zoo website, cattle spend approximately six hours a day grazing and another eight hours ruminating. In other words, they're just like any Christmas dinner guest.

The Orangutan

Ever worry about leaving your dog or cat alone with the holiday tree? Think how much worse it would be if you had an orangutan.

The largest arboreal mammal, these great apes are very well adapted to life in the trees. With arms much longer than their legs, they have grasping hands and feet with long curved fingers and toes, which they use to swing, hand-over-hand, through trees. Bottom line: The star on top of your tree wouldn’t stand a chance.

The Asian Elephants

It really is true that elephants have sharp memories (and a great capacity to learn). So visiting these LED pachyderms at the Zoo can serve as a great reminder: Did you remember to buy all your holiday gifts?

The Grevy’s Zebras

What’s black and white and red all over? A bunch of zebras wearing Santa caps, of course. True, the zebra lanterns at the National Zoo are bare-headed. But then this particular breed is hard to fit: The largest of the species, the Grevy’s zebra has the largest ears of any zebra (as well as the thickest stripes). The good news: Black and white goes with everything, so they’re easy to shop for.

(Photo Credit: Hanart Culture)