Have you ever wondered what happens at the Audubon Zoo once the sun sets? Well, two local authors pondered the fantastical possibilities in their children’s book, “What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo.” And now, with its new Nature at Night series, Audubon is offering kids a firsthand glimpse of the animals’ twilight activities.
The series happens on Friday and Saturday evenings, and each session accommodates a little more than a dozen participants, ages 6 through 11. While following COVID safety guidelines, children play games, enjoy up-close animal encounters, create arts and crafts, take a flashlight tour of the zoo and eat pizza.
The series was launched in October and runs through November and December. Although the fall session is currently sold out, Nature at Night will return in spring 2022 with increased capacity. Audubon will post dates and registration information on AudubonNatureInstitute.org/education-programs.
“It’s fun to visit the zoo at night so that kids can come and explore the area, and see animals doing their natural behaviors in the evening,” said Jack Gaines, the adult volunteer coordinator for Audubon Nature Institute. “The things that you see when you’re visiting at night are not the things that you see when you’re here during the day.”
Gaines explained that nocturnal animals, including the big cats, are especially active at dusk. Lions in particular are known for their excellent night vision and ability to hunt through darkness. When the sun is high in the sky — and guests stroll down the shady lanes of the zoo — the creatures tend to rest and conserve energy.
“It’s just a different kind of experience,” Gaines said. “You can see the animals out and about, doing what they do.”
Each nightly session focuses on a certain theme — from birds and bugs, to primates and predators on the prowl. During a recent event, children, divided into groups of three, learned about various types of reptiles, including a python named June.
As a zookeeper cradled the slithering snake, about five curious kids peppered her with questions: “Can I hold her?” “Will she swallow us?” The zookeeper explained that this particular type of python dines on pre-frozen mice, which prompted a discussion on icky foods: “I eat crickets in chocolate chip cookies.” “I ate a scorpion!”
Gaines then asked the group: “Do you know why they don’t blink?”
They shook their heads and gasped when he supplied the answer: “They don’t have eyelids.”
That same night, each group also visited with a leopard gecko and a gopher tortoise.
After eating a snack, the children embarked on their flashlight tour of the zoo. The zookeepers led the group with subtle red lights, which are less harsh on animals’ eyes.
They first stopped by the orangutan exhibit and spied a mother orangutan resting with her daughter. And from there, they walked past the elephant sculpture pond, toward the African Savana and into the Louisiana Swamp.
The aforementioned children’s book claims the animals party at night. To be specific, the “hippos hip hop,” “the rhinos rock out,” and the white alligator wins the limbo. Whether or not this is true, one thing is certain: Your little ones will enjoy finding out.
“They seem to have a whole lot of fun,” Gaines said, noting that kids, like the animals, show a different side after dark. “We’ve noticed that kids’ energy level at night is a little different from at (daytime) zoo camps. They get a little bit punchier.”
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