Illuminated Species: An Enchanting Ode to Biodiversity at the Jardin des Plantes

Last Updated on November 29, 2023

Woolly mammoth at the Illuminated species show, a nocturnal exhibit running at the Jardin des Plantes through January 2019.
Woolly mammoth at the Illuminated Species show, a nocturnal exhibit running at the Jardin des Plantes through early January 2019. Image credit: China Light Festival B.V.


Following the runaway success of the Klimt show at the Atelier des Lumières, the Jardin des Plantes in Paris is hosting its own light-centric exhibit this winter. Through January 15th, head to the old-world botanical garden and zoo (Ménagerie) after dusk to see Illuminated Species (Especes en Voie d’Illumination).

This is a remarkable installation that prompts visitors to reflect on earth’s fragile ecosystems and vulnerable species. Following a recent UN report warning of catastrophic biodiversity loss and extinction over the past decades, it’s a timely and important one.

Polar bears at the Especes en voie d'illumination show, Paris. Image: China Light Festival B.V,
Polar bears at the Especes en voie d’illumination show, Paris. Image: China Light Festival B.V.

Curated by the Jardin des Plantes in cooperation with the association China Light Festival, this haunting installation ushers visitors through a surreal and moving circuit of enormous lanterns, all illuminated in living color. Designed in China and measuring up to a towering 15 meters/nearly 50 feet, each lantern represents an animal that has either already gone extinct or is severely endangered.

The circuit begins with animals that disappeared off the face of the planet some 60 million years ago, including Tyrannosaurus Rex and triceratops.

Next come saber-toothed tigers, wooly mammoths and other animals that went extinct during the era of early human civilizations.

Entering the Zoo

Finally, at the entrance to the Ménagerie (zoo), an enormous shark ushers visitors to the present-day era through its mouth. Elephants, giraffes, pandas, flamingoes and other highly endangered species loom in this part of the garden, which is (somewhat ironically) the site of one of the world’s first public zoos.

The curators say the show was designed with the winter holidays in mind: it’s at this time of year, after all, that many people flock instinctively to see warm, light-filled spectacles.

Read related: 6 Cozy Ways to Enjoy Paris in the Winter

Drawn to the enchanting displays, visitors are then asked to reflect on biodiversity: one that is increasingly threatened by habitat loss, pollution and climate change. It’s an exhibit that helps us remember the preciousness, and fragility, of life on earth.

Why to Go?

In short: if you’re visiting Paris in December or January, consider spending some time roaming through the haunting illuminations at the Jardin des Plantes. In a period of mass consumption, this is an excellent moment to remember that humans are not separate from nature– and that we need to work much harder to protect flora and fauna from extinction.

Kids are almost certain to be mesmerized by the giant animals, making this an excellent “teachable moment”. By discussing what it means for a species to go extinct, younger visitors will learn more about ecology and human responsibility in a lively and stimulating environment. They can also take part in workshops, creating their own special lanterns to take home for Christmas or Hannukah.

Related: Paris in January Can be Refreshing. Here’s Why.  

Bonus: Go Visit the “Great Evolution Gallery”

One way to make the most of your visit: go see the “Grande Galerie de l’Evolution” (Great Evolution Gallery) at the adjoining National Museum of Natural History during the late afternoon, then head into the garden after dusk to see the illuminations.

La Grande Galerie de l'Evolution, National Museum of Natural History, Paris. Wikimedia Commons
La Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, National Museum of Natural History, Paris. Wikimedia Commons

Adults and kids alike will be marveled by the enormous animal skeletons, large-scale models of land mammals such as elephants and camels, and old-school displays.

While some find the collections here a bit outdated, the “curiosity cabinet”-style curation says a lot about how attitudes toward nature have changed since the museum’s opening.

Illuminated Species: Booking Tickets & Practical Information

The show at the Jardin des Plantes runs through January 15th, 2019. Entry is free for children under the age of three. For visitors over the age of 13, tickets are 15 Euros; discounts are available for families and groups. You can buy tickets online here.

Getting There & Opening Times:
Image: China Light House

Jardin des Plantes/Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle 

  • Public transportation : Get off at metro Gare d’Austerlitz (line 5),  Censier Daubenton (line 7), Jussieu or Gare d’Austerlitz (Line 10). You can also take the RER (commuter line) C to the Paris-Austerlitz station.
  • Show opening hours: Every evening from mid-November, 2018, 6:00 pm to 10:45 pm. Please note that the gardens and the exhibit will be closed on Christmas Eve (December 24th).

Plan on Visiting the Jardin des Plantes or the Natural History Museum?

If so, save time: consider buying skip-the-line tickets for the garden and ménagerie (zoo) (via

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