Art, light and animals come together for a one-of-a-kind exhibit open now through Jan. 17 at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley. 

The Minnesota Zoo's "Nature Illuminated" drive-through experience offers a chance to enjoy larger-than-life inflatable animal art installations while listening along to an audio tour. 

The Minnesota Zoo's Communication and Media Relations Specialist Zach Nugent said the idea for the event came together about three months ago when zoo leaders were looking for a way to connect with their audience and further their conservation mission during the winter months. 

"This is really a Minnesota-made event," he said. 

Each inflatable animal was created locally by Burnsville's Landmark Creations over the course of six weeks and Minneapolis-based Street Factory Media helped bring the light display the life. 

From the warmth of their vehicles, visitors see and learn about animals of the arctic, ocean, tropical forests, grasslands, temperate forest and Minnesota's own beloved critters. 

A ring-tailed lemur, a Greater Sulpher-crested Cockatoo, a red panda, a Amur Leopard and a snowy owl are just a few of the larger-than-life, illuminated creatures you'll see and learn about along the way. 

Nature Illuminated map

The Minnesota Zoo’s “Nature Illuminated” map.

A streamable soundtrack with music and narration accompanies each portion of the exhibit. Visitors play the audio tour from their phones at their own pace. 

"Nature Illuminated" offers a fun evening during a pandemic winter, but it also connects more deeply to the Zoo's mission to promote conservation by connecting humans and nature. 

The audio tour discusses how each animal is doing in the wild, the threats they face and what we as humans can do to help, Nugent said. 

Tips for visitors 

Tickets must be purchased online in advance, but there's no need to arrive more than five minutes before your ticket's assigned time and date. 

No food or drinks are offered by the Minnesota Zoo, but visitors can feel free to bring food and drinks along for the ride. 

"Nature Illuminated" can only be attended inside a vehicle, but Metro Mobility vehicles are welcome. 

The drive-through experience lasts approximately 30 minutes. Vehicles drive less than two miles per hour, and visitors are encouraged to stop to enjoy the displays and snap photos from inside the car.