Tonight, David and I went to London Zoo Lates. For those of you who don’t know what this is, London Zoo has a late night opening every Friday night during the month of August with food and drink options and a silent disco so as not to scare the animals. The whole idea is for people to experience the zoo in a whole different way. I like the concept but having been to one, I can honestly say that I would never do it again.
My reasons are two-fold. Having seen wildlife on safari and endangered cats in sanctuaries where they live in huge, quiet enclosures, seeing animals in the zoo was, in a word, horrific. The enclosures at London Zoo are tiny. If that wasn’t bad enough, the constant chatter of people and small children (the Tower of Babel had nothing on the noise emanating from the zoo), combined with camera flashes constantly going off must be hell for the poor animals.
For me, the most distressing sight of the evening was the Sumatran tigress. The lions and tigers were clearly a big draw and the crowds surrounding their enclosures were enormous. We got to the tiger area as the light was beginning to fade but we could see the tigers clearly. The big male was lying on its side under the platform and the female was pacing. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert but it was painfully obvious that the tigress was extremely stressed and why wouldn’t she be? The enclosure was far too small for two cats of their size and whenever she walked close to the glass viewing area, children screamed at the top of their lungs whilst shoving their mobile phones in her face to take photos. From where I was standing, even I was blinded by the multitude of xenon flash, LED lights and whatever other type of flash was available. Why were there no signs requesting visitors to be quiet? Why on earth were there no rules forbidding flash photography? These poor cats literally had nowhere to go to seek respite. When the tigress started to pant, I had to leave. I just couldn’t bear to see her suffer anymore.
I get why London Zoo have these late nights and I understand now why they are restricted to just 4 Fridays a year, but surely there has to be a better way to raise awareness of their plight without putting the animals’ welfare at risk? The establishment are aware that the animals need quiet – why else would they say in their blurb “a silent discos so as to not scare the animals”. The silence or at least quiet needs to be enforced throughout the zoo as does a rule governing the use of flash photography.
I felt so strongly about this that I sent an email to London Zoo with my thoughts shortly after my visit. I’ve yet to receive a reply. One thing’s for sure though – I will certainly not be going there in a hurry ever again.