Loud partying, drunken silliness and throngs of revelers — sounds like a typical weekend night at a college fraternity house, right? Surprisingly, according to some, this is also an accurate description of a typical summertime Friday night at the London Zoo. Yes, you read that correctly.
What the devil is going on?
These evening after hours parties are called “Zoo Lates.” For few years now, the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) world-renowned zoo has hosted Zoo Lates every Friday night in June and July. They advertise these evenings as an “after party with the animals” and the zoo’s “wildest event.”
For about $60 (£35) per ticket, visitors looking for an evening’s fun show up at the zoo after it has closed to the public. Many arrive wearing animal costumes, masks or face paint. A bit of free wine comes as part of the ticket price. More alcohol is available for sale on site, as is a selection of international foods.
From 6-10 p.m., festivities include zookeeper presentations about the animals, animal feeds, acoustic music, comedy improvisation performances and a silent disco. The night typically concludes after a sometimes raucous cabaret event called “The Lates Show,” which is held near the primate enclosures.
Each Friday night event draws about 6,000 attendees and usually sells out. Most attendees are on their best behavior. A few are not. Those few are the bad apples causing concern.
What’s worrying animal lovers — both inside and outside the zoo — is that attendee misbehavior may be getting out of hand. Some charge that Zoo Lates is just a bad idea all around. The careless, abusive incidents coupled with the overall noise and hubbub caused by these weekly events are doing a disservice to the animals the zoo is responsible for protecting, many believe.
“During the day, welfare and conservation is of the utmost priority,” a zoo insider told The Guardian. “In the evening, that seems to go out of the window, and the animals become a commodity. That’s not what zoos are about, but there’s a lot of money in it.”
Inebriated Partygoers and Wild Animals Do Not Mix
The problems occur all over the zoo. Reportedly, overzealous Zoo Lates attendees have done or attempted to do the following:
- Penguins: A man leaning over the glass barrier above the penguin pool in July 2014 asked a zookeeper, “Which penguin can I fight?” Another zookeeper reported over the radio that some of the partygoers were getting “a bit touchy-feely” with the baby penguins.
- More Penguins: A man reportedly took off his clothes and tried to get into the penguin pool.
- Tiger: A man poured beer on a tiger.
- Gorillas: Groups of partiers reportedly shouted at the gorilla enclosure, despite the signs there that say, “Respect our home, be thoughtful, be quiet, be kind.” Others reportedly keep tapping on the enclosure window and taking flash photographs.
- Butterflies: Partygoers heedlessly crushed butterflies underfoot inside the butterfly exhibit.
- Birds: Witnesses saw a drunk woman punch a bird.
- Lions: A woman reportedly tried to get into the lion enclosure in June 2014.
- Snakes: Two years ago, revelers managed to break the glass at the snake enclosure, requiring the zoo to relocate the snakes to prevent their escape.
“This girl – I don’t know how drunk she was, but clearly she had been drinking for a while – she stumbled, and grabbing a branch, she inadvertently punched the side of the bird, and the bird took off, and she said, ‘Oh, sorry.’ I could not believe it,” Zoo Lates attendee Samantha McConnell told The Guardian earlier this month.
“I saw animals being taunted, and saw people banging on the glass,” she added. “One man was rubbing himself on the glass in the snake enclosure. In the butterfly exhibit, people were so careless, crushing butterflies on the ground. I don’t think partying, alcohol and animals are a good combination.”
Samantha, many would agree with you — including some of the animals. Here, for example, is a brief video of a silverback gorilla who did not appreciate the attentions of the crowd one evening in 2013:
“Zoo Lates“ Events are a Cash Bonanza for the London Zoo
As it turns out, the London Zoo rakes in gobs of money every summer by throwing these after hours bashes. The zoo, which is the oldest scientific zoo in the world, gets no funding from the government, relying only on supporters and entrance fees to keep the place running.
Zoo Lates events are said to bring in a tidy $1.3 million (£800,000) every year. Therein lies the motivation and need for the annual events. In a time when money’s tight and getting tighter, the zoo badly needs to keep its cash flow healthy. According to the zoo’s web site, it needs a staggering $40 million (£23 million) to operate the animal collections and another $8.5 million (£5 million) for its conservation program.
“We would ban alcohol if we thought it was necessary, but at the moment we see no need to do so,” a zoo spokesperson told The Guardian. She noted that during 2013 and 2014, the zoo has had to eject only three people for misbehavior.
Really, though — perhaps the London Zoo could tone down the alcohol sales and the noise levels?
If you’d like to encourage the London Zoo to rethink its “Zoo Lates” events, please sign this petition. Surely there’s some other way to raise money that doesn’t involve booze and animal stress.
Photo credit (all images): ZSL London Zoo Facebook Page