Dinosaurs in the Dark at Ouwehands Zoo

Attraction Review

That time again: Another zoo in the Netherlands has been dinosaurified! Previously I showed you the dinosaurs that came to ZooParc Overloon, Dierenrijk and GaiaZoo. This time, it’s Ouwehands Dierenpark in the town of Rhenen that has been visited by creatures from millions of years ago. There’s a twist, though; whereas the previous attractions centered around the usual models and animatronics, this attraction is a dinosaur-themed edition of Ouwehands’ yearly Light Nights winter event. That means these dinosaurs are light sculptures that light up in the dark and turn the zoo into a surreal, psychedelic nocturnal wonderland.

I’ve been to a number of previous editions of Light Nights here, themed to general animals and to the underwater world. This one being themed to dinosaurs, of course I have to share it with you. Incidentally, Ouwehands Zoo will soon be, more or less, my employer. That means that this article is not, strictly, a review; you shouldn’t review the place where you work. I’m just showing you the pictures and telling you what they are from a visitor’s perspective, and I’m going to try not to be pedantic. Even though being pedantic is like 60% of my entire personality. Night falls!

The zoo entrance has been turned into this tunnel of time. I couldn’t find any information on who created these light sculptures apart from a note that they’re “hand-crafted by Chinese artists”.

The entrance square has a ceratopsian and of course a volcano, take a shot! There’s also a fire juggling show here. The sculptures seem to be made of some sort of tarp over a metal frame. with lights inside. They seem to be quite durable; they can stand up to some harsh weather. There was snow on our day out.

Inside the heart of the zoo can be found some of the big centerpieces. Here’s a big blue T. rex mouth that you can walk into. The spider web structure flaring out from behind its head is quite curious and gives it a dragon-like vibe. The “raptor” seems to be mostly based on the quilled one from JP3.

This blue and yellow ceratopsian is part of the same tableau. It features on many of the posters.

Next to the big Rexy head is another cluster of dinosaurs and plants.

Cryolophosaurus here is probably the deepest cut at this attraction. How it looks is still mostly informed by Jurassic Park; it looks like it would fit right in among that bestiary.

Dilophosaurus benefits from being not based on its JP-counterpart. It appears full-sized, its jawline is visibly based on the real thing and it doesn’t have the frill.

Here’s our full-bodied T. rex. You can see the sculptors have gone wild with the colours on this one; it looks like it wants to be Spider-Man.

Speaking of colour: the sauropods at the dinosaur disco are all green. Since Sibbick made his Brachiosaurus green, that’s what sauropods are in the minds of us 90s kids. This sauropod has a brachiosaur’s body, but a diplodocid’s head. I think the theropod here might be meant to be Monolophosaurus? The hatchling is another inevitable trope, though the sculptors have again let their fantasies run free where the colour is concerned.

Of course, there’s also a couple of animatronics, also likely of Chinese manufacture. They are a hit with the kids (of course, they roar with the JP sound effect) but I find these a lot less interesting than the light sculptures.

Feed me, Seymour. The flamboyant carnivorous plant has little to do with dinosaurs, and yet it seems to fit in here. The hallucinogenic world conjured up by these psychedelic sculptures is once again not a real reflection of the mesozoic, but more of a fantasy dinosaur world.

There’s also room for a number of extant animals. Elephants, apes, pandas and reptiles, all of which have their living, breathing counterparts here at this zoo. These large iguanas in particular caught my eye because, well, they remind me of the Crystal Palace Iguanodons.

Another very distinct ceratopsid. All ceratopsids here are named “Triceratops” on the signs but this is clearly meant to be something like Styracosaurus. The pink pterosaur seems to be vaguely Ornitocheirus-like.

The largest single sculpture here is not of a dinosaur, but of a massive spider you can walk underneath. Arachnophobes beware! Believe it or not, there are spiders out there who are actually this bright blue and yellow.

Here’s a big ornithopod, possibly meant to be Camptosaurus as it has fingered hands with no thumb claw. Honestly what really makes the whole thing work is not just the dinosaurs, but all the fantastical plants that give the dinosaurs some context, some environment. Whole exhibits are just things like giant lillies or psychedelic gardens in all colours.

I wouldn’t care much for this raptor, for instance, if it wasn’t surrounded by all this dreamlike foliage.

This was my favourite sculpture, a mosasaur eating a smaller mosasaur, with a splash made of light and surrounded by magical water plants and corals. I don’t so much love it for the depiction of extinct life, but for the nods to both vintage palaeoart (which was all about sea monsters) and vintage Asian art.

Oh no, it’s Spinosaurus! Move along, nothing to see here.

The Ice Age animals get a nod too. They aren’t surrounded by plants, but by blocks of ice. The blue and pink ice crystals do make it all feel a bit magical.

Stegosaurus is also here.

In terms of decent depictions of dinosaurs, this Oviraptor is probably as good as things get here. It’s feathered, and it’s even got those back feathers that Saurian’s Anzu has. Plus it’s nesting, which is a nice thing for Oviraptor to do. The arms and hands are a bit suspect. Oops. No reviewing! Just neutral discription.

I appreciate how birdlike the eyes of Pachychephalosaurus look. Here, you can see well the approach to foliage, plants, flowers, all kinds of vivid, vibrant and magical looking flora. It makes these dinosaurs inhabit a fantasy world, which means they can kind of get away with being less than perfectly scientifically accurate.

There’s just a magical atmosphere to this entire event. Being here at a zoo in the dark with all these surreal technicolor scenes really does feel like being transported to another world. The snow helps too, the cold not so much. Here’s another mosasaur.

Scratch what I said about Cryolophosaurus being the deepest cut. Who’d expect to see Hallucigenia reproduced in light sculpture form? This weird critter from the Burgess shale is not even the most hallucinogenic thing around here…

…not when there’s a tree full of ammonites nearby!

Another green Brachiosaurus! This one doesn’t have as much flora surrounding it, just two palms. That means this one, which appears kind of isolated, doesn’t hit the same high note as some of the others.

This is probably the weirdest sculpture of the bunch. It’s an entirely fabricated version of an anglerfish. It has tusks outside of its mouth, and four eyes. Because this one is on an island only reachable by stepping stones and I didn’t want to risk getting myself wet in the freezing cold, this is the best picture I could get.

Another surreal scene: It’s a lit up tree full of planets. That’s how you get planets, they grow on trees. Does this have anything to do with dinosaurs, or broader concepts of deep time and the place of humanity in a vast universe? I don’t really mind, it looks cool.

And that’s it for our non-review of this surreal dive into deep time. It’s not just the dinosaurs that make this event so cool. It’s the atmosphere, the feeling of stepping into a magical dream, the loving attention to detail, not just on the sculptures themselves but in the broader way the scenes are set up and integrated with this zoo. There’s a reason I’ve been going to the Light Nights event at Ouwehands for three years straight now. The event was due to run until the end of January but it has now been extended into February and can be visited every Saturday until then. Next year, it will probably be back. There likely will be no dinosaurs, but there’s a good chance I’ll go again.

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  • Reply
    Marc Vincent
    January 23, 2024 at 12:41 pm

    That first raptor and the Spinosaurus really remind me of Papo toys, but then the 2 specific models I’m thinking of are JP knock-offs as well. Hallucigenia was certainly an unexpected sight among all the 1990s-style dinosaurs.

  • Reply
    Thomas Diehl
    January 25, 2024 at 5:51 am

    Great, now I looked up Spider-Rex (yes, thereis one) and that is one wild story – apparently his name is Pter Ptarker and he is a Pteranodon that got his body swapped with a villaneous Tyrannosaur and given spider powers when both got hit by a meteorite containing alien spiders.

    • Reply
      Gemma Hazeborg
      January 26, 2024 at 12:08 pm

      But I don’t want to cure cancer. I want to write deranged comic books.

  • Reply
    Ed Blackadder
    January 30, 2024 at 6:40 pm

    Fantastic pictures! This looks great. The models look very similar to the winter light show we had here at Dublin Zoo, although there were no dinosaurs in Dublin (we had a mix of life-sized extant animals, but in psychedelic colours, and mermaids, gnomes, fairy toadstools etc.) What a shame you couldn’t see any information about where the models come from – I had the same thought looking at the models here, it would have been good to know a little bit about the models as they’re quite impressive. They look almost identical in style so they must come from the same place.
    I particularly like the mosasaur models you’ve pictured here. As you say, walking around in the dark and the cold really does make for quite a surreal atmosphere, seeing huge glowing models like these. It’s hard not to be immersed in it. Would recommend visiting if there’s a similar sort of thing nearby.

  • Reply
    Grant Harding
    January 31, 2024 at 11:21 am

    How great is that tree full of ammonites? Taking a cue from Dixon’s THE NEW DINOSAURS, perhaps?

  • Reply
    Dino Dad Reviews
    February 6, 2024 at 2:55 pm

    This is a very pretty exhibit! My local zoo has done an exhibit like this occasionally, though entirely representing modern animals. I think the sea creatures are my favorites, though that Ice Age scene is quite evocative as well.
    I love that the mosasaur vs. mosasaur display has what appears to be some some sea lilies in the foreground!
    Whatever the label says, I think the other “mosasaur” you showed (the one just before that phantasmagoric Hallucigenia) is meant to be some sort of metriorhynchid, AKA the sea crocs. The hind paddles being significantly longer than the fore paddles are a dead giveaway there.

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