Why Would a Zoo Throw “After Hours” Parties That Hurt Animals?

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.

zoo late partygoers

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.
London Zoo tigers

Tigers at the London Zoo

“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


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Vanessa S.
Vanessa S2 years ago

Totally agree with Milla B.

Christine Jones
Christine J2 years ago

I understand the zoo's position, and sympathize with their financial requirements. And, it's great that there have been only a few instances where people have behaved so badly that they had to be ejected.

However, this is still awful. These poor animals are captives and have no choice. Imagine if your neighbours had a noisy party every Friday night, talking loudly in a foreign language you couldn't understand, peering into your home, banging on your doors and windows, playing music you hated, and you couldn't leave the house. Talk about stress. There must be more respectful ways to make money.

Animals and alcohol don't mix.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe3 years ago

Alcohol makes people act stupid. Stupid people around innocent caged animals is NOT a good idea in any shape or form!
I realize they are trying to make money, but why can't they do a 'dinner with the animals' and only serve one glass of wine with dinner. Then, just serve Tea, soft drinks, water or lemonade for the rest of the time! And, don't let people in exhibits where a Butterfly or a bird pays the price.
I do not like the idea of the poor animals having to deal with people, when it should be their time to relax without anyone bothering them!!

Mauvette Joesephine
Catherine Fisher3 years ago

I think the Crazy humans are acting like mad animals themselves.

K H.
Kate H3 years ago

I think the alcohol is a bad idea, but with no government funding I understand they still have to do something for an income to take care of the animals and the facilities. From the sound of some of these incidents, maybe they need better on-site security measures to keep the animals safer. I don't think people who have been drinking should be able to come into physical contact with any of the animals; letting them into an area where they can hurt butterflies and birds for example is just a bad idea. Perhaps they should implement some common-sense rules- anything that a child is not allowed to do during the day should not be allowed for a drunk adult to do during the night. As for the cases above where it's stated that someone "tried" to do a certain thing, at least it does sound like they were prevented somehow, whether by alert security officials or efficiency of the structure of the enclosures.

Biby C.
Biby C3 years ago

As if it's not enough to keep them in captivity! They have to suffer the witnessing of stupid human behaviour!

Lisa Lungul
Lisa Lungul3 years ago

Wrong on every level: wrong to cage animals, wrong to have drunk people in the presence of animals, wrong to throw a party at a zoo.

john pierce
John Pierce3 years ago

Cindy F. you nailed it!
Another good reason to abolish zoos. There is already enough asshats abusing animals without inviting drunks into zoos,and charging them to abuse caged animals.

Cindy Flanders
Cindy Flanders3 years ago

Just assholes, makes my blood boil, I hate zoos with a vengeance anyway, sanctuaries are amazing. No animal is there for people just to view - they should be free. As for these stupid, inconsiderate cretins, they need to go somewhere else to have their fun, preferably as far away as possible.