Image: Boo at the Zoo
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo  /  AP file
Members participate in the Creepy Crawly Critter Show at a Boo at the Zoo event at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
updated 9/29/2008 4:50:17 PM ET 2008-09-29T20:50:17

Ghosts and ghouls — friendly ones at that — are about to take over America's zoos.

Hay mazes, pumpkin paths and haunted train rides too.

And there will be lots of candy, of course.

Zoos big and small are finding that Halloween events are among their most popular draws, because many parents see the parties as a safer alternative to knocking on the doors of strangers. And there aren't a lot of other Halloween activities for the stroller crowd.

"For some, our event has replaced the traditional trick-or-treating around the neighborhood," said Sarah Burnette, spokeswoman for the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

There's Spooky Seas on Halloween night at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Night of the Living Zoo at Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kan., and Creep in the Deep at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, N.J.

Most offer more fun and less fright.

There are hayrides at the Bronx Zoo in New York, a candy forest in Atlanta and magic shows in Cleveland.

"There's no blood and guts," said Cleveland MetroParks Zoo spokeswoman Sue Allen. "Nothing that's meant to be intentionally scary."

Just to be sure, the zoo brought in a child psychologist a few years ago to make certain its displays were kid-friendly.

Cleveland's Boo at the Zoo has become so popular that most of its eight nights sell out.

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The National Zoo in Washington added two more nights this year for Boo at the Zoo, which will be Oct. 23-26. The event is one of the zoo's top three fundraisers, with the profits going to education programs.

Skeletons and spiders projected onto the buildings and dark, woodsy paths add to the atmosphere.

The Little Rock Zoo bills its Boo at the Zoo as Arkansas' largest Halloween festival, drawing about 30,000 people over eight days. It's also the zoo's biggest fundraiser.

Visitors can ride the haunted train and take part in a costume contest. Little girls can get their nails done at the Beauty Shop of Horrors. Volunteers hand out candy throughout the zoo.

"There's some added assurance there for the parents," zoo spokeswoman Susan Altrui.

Volunteers sculpt pumpkins into animals at Zoo Boo in Detroit. A foggy trail and scary sounds line a path that leads to the Reptile House. It's more merry than scary, said spokeswoman Patricia Janeway.

Slideshow: Autumn’s awesome rainbow Some zoos use Halloween to show off their wolves, bats, centipedes and tarantulas. Others with nighttime events keep the animals away from the crowds and on their normal schedules.

Elephants and orangutans get into the act at the Toledo Zoo.

Keepers take pumpkins that decorate the zoo and stash them in the enclosures, giving the animals something to play with and stomp on. The elephants get the super-sized pumpkins.

"It doesn't look like much work when they smash them," said zoo spokeswoman Andi Norman.

Denver Zoo's "Boo at the Zoo" (not to be confused with its Brew at the Zoo beer festival in September) takes on a green theme this year.

Children are encouraged to dress up as a superhero for the planet and learn about how they can help the environment. They'll get up close with vampire bats, reptiles, spiders and other creepy creatures.

The Louisville Zoo in Kentucky is decorated by themes for its 14-day long event that brings in 90,000 people. Candyland Way is filled with lollipops, candy canes and sweets; Pumpkinville, USA is home to a hill of glowing jack-o-lanterns; Land of Oz is where children can follow a yellow brick road to meet Dorothy, the cowardly lion and the tin man.

Riders on the carousel will notice that it spins in the wrong direction while passengers on the train should watch out for the headless horseman.

"It's been 26 years and he's never caught the train," zoo spokeswoman Kara Bussabarger said.

Some zoos have been celebrating Halloween for more than two decades while others, including the San Diego Zoo, are just adding events this year.

The San Diego Zoo's Boo at the Zoo in its children's area on Oct. 31 will include candy and a chance to meet some not-so-spooky animals.

For the adventurous, the zoo will have three Spooky Sleepovers while the San Diego Wild Animal Park will put on Pumpkins at the Park, complete with a scavenger hunt and the extinct animal graveyard.

SeaWorld parks in San Diego, San Antonio, and Orlando, Fla., also all will have Halloween events this year, with various attractions and shows.

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