The Smithsonian’s National Zoo will not hold its usual Halloween and Christmas themed events this year.
The National Zoo will not hold its traditional Boo at the Zoo event for Halloween or holiday season ZooLights event because of ongoing COVID-19 pandemic safety concerns. Boo at The Zoo is a Halloween event during which kids dress up and visit candy stations around the National Zoo, while ZooLights is a holiday event in which the National Zoo is covered in lights while visitors shop and eat treats.
The popular events are catered toward children, most of whom are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which creates a public health risk, according Pamela Baker-Masson, associate director of communications for the National Zoo.
“You can appreciate that the primary audience for Halloween events are children not able to be vaccinated at this time,” Baker-Masson wrote in a statement to the DCist. “Our priority is still to do everything we can to keep visitors, staff, and animals safe.”
Young children and their parents are not the only people who might be saddened by the cancellations, however. Georgetown students like Sam Litwin (COL ’22), who enjoys frequent trips to the National Zoo, are disappointed that the event will no longer take place.
Events like Boo at the Zoo and ZooLights provide students with an opportunity to take a break from homework and exams, according to Litwin.
“I think it would have been a good release from midterms and everything like that, so that’s a little bit unfortunate,” Litwin said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “I was crushed when they said ZooLights were canceled, because every year I’ve been trying to organize my friends to go.”
The cancellation of this year’s events marks the second year in a row in which they weren’t held in their traditional form. The National Zoo held a drive-through event for Boo at The Zoo in 2020, in which trick-or-treaters stayed in their cars as they travelled through decorated pathways and were met with a bag of candy at the end of the route. Last year’s ZooLights event consisted of a singular truck decorated with lights driving through local neighborhoods.
Currently, the National Zoo requires entry passes and face coverings for all visitors. The zoo also enforces social distancing requirements and one-way lanes in certain locations of the zoo to prevent crowding. Despite the safety requirements, the National Zoo still made the decision to cancel both Boo at the Zoo and ZooLights.
According to Litwin, the COVID-19 precautions made visiting the zoo seem safe.
“I went to the zoo last June, and it felt very safe,” Litwin said. “They were really good about keeping everyone in their time limit and you could only go if you had a ticket, so I think a similar thing could have been adopted for Boo at the Zoo or ZooLights, just because it’s outdoors.”
The decision to cancel the events also comes after the National Zoo struggled with a COVID-19 outbreak among some of its animals. Nine lions and tigers tested positive in September after displaying symptoms of the virus. Eight of the nine animals have made a full recovery, but one lion has continued to test positive. There is no evidence that animals play a significant role in the spread of COVID-19 to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is understandable that National Zoo made the decision to cancel the two holiday events given the recent COVID-19 outbreaks among the animals, but a backup plan could have been put in place instead, according to Litwin.
“I understand the public health implications,” Litwin said. “I do wish there were modifications as opposed to it being cancelled.”
While the cancellation of this year’s festivities may be disappointing to visitors, the National Zoo remains hopeful its popular events will return to normal in the future, according to Baker-Masson.
“We all feel hopeful that 2022 will bring new opportunities,” Baker-Masson wrote.