Bringing a whole new meaning to the term ‘wild party’, ZSL London Zoo has opened its doors after hours again after the success of last year’s zoo lates. On every Friday throughout June and July, adults will now have the chance to wind down after work at London zoo, with a drink in hand and wild creatures from all over the world.
Despite being in the middle of London, this compact zoo has an impressive variety of creatures, of all sizes and rarity, in enclosures of a decent size. Tigers, camels, pygmy hippos, birds of prey, monkeys, otters and meerkats are all there among many others. In fact you really need longer than the few hours the zoo late is open for to appreciate every species in the zoo, but of course the animals need to have some rest from visitors gawping at them at some point and really do you want to mess with a sleepy camel? I suspect the keepers don’t.
So what makes a zoo late different from a usual day trip to the London Zoo? Well, for a start, on the picnic lawn and the square outside the Oasis cafe and shop, various marquees and stalls set up shop, selling champagne, pimms, hog roast and ‘Hardcore Prawn’. Over in the Africa section, a giant BBQ with some music is also set up. So there is a wider variety of food and beverages on offer for you to enjoy as you appreciate the animals. If you get bored of just animal gazing, a silent disco is also on offer. As you may have guessed from the presence of alcohol stands, this is also a child free event.
The gorgeous lighting natures provides on a summer evening, combined with the sight of many exotic animals created a special ambience that I truly enjoyed. Being able to sip champagne as well added a nice bit of sophistication to the evening. An added bonus of the zoo late is that some of the creatures are somewhat more awake in the evening and instead of huddling/snoozing in the far corner of the exhibit they were up and about. For once, actually spotting creatures in the ‘Nightlife’ exhibit didn’t involve a lot squinting into the gloom. One of my favourite moments had to be walking past the leafy end of the tiger exhibit, bucks fizz in hand, intending to head to the other side where you can normally see the tigers just sleeping in massive manger throughout the whole day, and suddenly seeing a flash of orange and black stripes prowl by before disappearing amongst the foliage again.
It was definitely nice to be able to wander around London zoo without their being hordes of screaming children. However the zoo seemed busier than normal, although I’m not sure whether it was because they let in more people than usual or that they had the same number of people but because they were all adult size I couldn’t just peer over their heads at the enclosures, making the zoo seem busier. There were no high levels of drunkenness as far as I could tell, so the adults didn’t become a bunch of children.
My only problem with the evening was that the giraffes were clearly spooked by something. They were galloping around the enclosure, in what many presumed to be a happy manner, until a keeper implored us all to turn the flash off on our cameras as ‘something is spooking the giraffes’. Although I couldn’t hear any music from the BBQ in the Africa area, I imagine giraffes have better hearing than me, and that may have been what caused it. On the other hand, ZSL have run these events before and I presume they wouldn’t have put music so near the giraffe enclosure if it normally disturbed them that much and it probably was the flash on people’s cameras. The crowds of people also meant that the usually wonderful rainforest enclosure, where you are not separated from the animals, was unusually empty as the monkeys clearly decided they wanted some peace and quiet and hid. (The sloths weren’t bothered; they just hung around in their usual charming sloth-like manner.) Perhaps ZSL should stream smaller numbers through that exhibit for future evenings.
Those gripes aside (and I hope and believe those were one off occasions that ZSL is sorting out) I would really recommend zoo lates at London Zoo. The special atmosphere the staff and animals at London Zoo have created makes this a unique way to end the working week.
Animals to look out for:
Okapi – These sweet looking giants with their gorgeous stripy legs look like evolution got drunk one night and fudged the instructions for making a horse with a zebra. They are however, more closely related to the giraffe family, which makes sense when you see how long their tongues are.
Servals – As well as being ridiculously cute, servals can also jump very high. To be expected perhaps as they have the longest legs of any cat in relation to their body size.
Emperor Tamarins – I think the picture says it all! If you like animals with silly hair, google bearded pigs.
Komodo Dragon – There is something rather hypnotically evil about these reptiles who have saliva laced with deadly bacteria. Might be the way they seem uninterested in the food put out by the keepers and just eye up the toddlers leaning against the glass.
Other zoos I can recommend:
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo – The sister zoo to London, it covers a huge area and so has all the large animals that London has and much more. Elephants, brown bears, rhinos, wolves, this zoo just doesn’t do small! It is a brilliant getaway from bustling London, it almost felt like wandering around a safari park and there is one section that you have to drive around by car.
Africa Alive – small but perfectly formed, this zoo on the Suffolk coast has a nice range of big and small animals and even opportunities to go into the Africa enclosure and feed the giraffes.
Banham Zoo – has a very good bird of prey display.
Cotswold Wildlife Park – has a good variety of animals within a beautiful setting.