Picture this… It’s a hot summer’s day in July, and you’re on your way to meet your friends at a festival for drinks in the sun. What a lovely way to spend a Friday evening, right? But what if that same night out came at a huge cost? And caused stress and suffering to countless individuals held behind glass and metal cages. Would you say it was a “fun” experience? Or a selfish, unnecessary experience that has no place in a so-called civilised society? 

As I wandered up to Regent’s Park in London, I could see a stream of people dressed up to the nines, queuing outside the gates of a very well-known location; and one that a festival should most definitely not have any place in… ZSL London Zoo. 

Every Friday night in June and July, ZSL London Zoo hold their now notorious “Late Zoo Nights’ event - which sees food vendors, drinks vans, musicians, and party revellers descend upon the grounds after-hours - to boost ticket sales and make more money. And all in spite of the fact that the hundreds of innocent animals held captive against their will would typically be using that time to rest after a full day of visitors already forced upon them.

As an investigator for Freedom for Animals, I am tasked with exposing the truth behind the expensive marketing packages zoos and other animal entertainment industries advertise to the general public. My aim is always to uncover the reality animals held captive must endure in the name of entertainment, and shine a light on their individual stories. 

When I first heard about the late night festival at the zoo I was shocked, and couldn’t understand how, in 2023, it would be deemed acceptable to hold that type of event so close to vulnerable animals, and take away the only precious time they would normally get to be away from the glaring eyes and noise of the public. So, when I arrived at the zoo and was faced with the unbelievable number of people queuing to get inside at 6pm, I was, again, taken aback.

Drinks cans and bottles were already filling the bins outside the zoo, unintentionally highlighting the real reasons many were there - to party with friends… not to learn about the zoo's animals or of its so-called 'conservation' programmes.

Once inside, I was immediately struck by the amount of drinks vans and food vendors bang in the centre of the zoo, surrounded by the cages of numerous individuals including primates, parrots, and penguins. I felt as if I was wandering around VFestival, whose focus would solely be on entertaining the consumer, not a location whose focus is supposedly on animal welfare and conservation. Visitors were mainly heading straight to pick up gin and tonic and Pimms on entry, before venturing to animal enclosures housing countless confused and anxious individuals who had been expectantly waiting for rest, not crowds.

A penguin talk was about to start as soon as I arrived, so I quickly headed in that direction to see how people were interacting with the birds. A sea of visitors were waiting there already, with some even sticking their hands over the low glass barriers to try and grab the penguins’ attention.  

Once the talk was over, many people discovered the baby Humboldt penguins behind the main penguin pool enclosure, which led to crowds gathering around the innocent birds who were no more than 2-3 months old, and being held in an incredibly cramped “learning pool” area. Many huddled together for comfort as cameras were held up to the glass and screams of excitement escaped the ever rowdier group of people watching them.

Next stop was the meerkat talk, which again saw hundreds of people squeezing up as close as possible to the walls of the enclosure to sneak a peek at the little mammals coming out for food.

During the talk the keeper explained how meerkats are abundant in their wild habitats and ranges, and are deemed as a species of least concern. So why are they so prevalent in zoos across the UK and beyond? Their answer was concerning...

Because they are popular so bring in the crowds.

London Zoo is very quick to brag that they are part of the Zoological Society London (ZSL), “an international science-driven conservation charity”, and class themselves as a “conservation zoo”, so why are they insisting on holding non-threatened or endangered species prisoner? And why are they allowing festivals full of drunk revellers to disturb animals in a home they have no choice but to call their own? 

The reason is profit. One thing that stood out to me as I walked around the zoo, was the sheer amount of money being spent by visitors - on drinks, on food, in the gift shop - clearly, the alcohol was not only leading to excitable behaviour but also excitable spending. This is important to add, as many people forget that zoos are not sanctuaries - protecting animals from harm and putting their needs before all else - but businesses, built and designed to make money for profit. The conservation excuse is a con, and events like this only go further in proving how the zoo industry will put money before the wellbeing of their animal prisoners.  

Sadly, the impact of that choice was evident throughout the evening. Asim, a male Sumatran tiger held captive at the zoo, was visibly disturbed and paced relentlessly across his small enclosure, growling at his cubs in frustration as he wandered past them. He has sadly had a traumatic past at the zoo; and was paired with his current mate, Gaysha, after killing another tiger - a female called Melati who was already living at the zoo - in a fight during a forced interaction as part of the European breeding programme. Of course, in the wild male tigers would not naturally live with their breeding partner and cubs, but instead lead a solitary life until the time comes to mate and the female is in oestrus. Yet zoos take away animals natural right to choice every single day, and tragedy often occurs as a result.    

I also witnessed giraffes unnaturally hunching over, and primates staring open-mouthed and wide-eyed in disbelief at the streams of people wandering past their cage at eight o’clock in the evening.

Throughout the evening there was notable lack of keepers at an event that was hosting thousands of visitors. There were out-sourced security guards present, but they appeared to have no inclination on animal welfare. This was evident when they seemed unfazed by the overcrowding and noise levels around animals, or people banging on the glass cruelly trying to get reactions from the animals. 

By 9pm animal enclosures were finally starting to be cleared of people, yet the penguins were forced to have camera flashes and drunks surrounding them until nearly 10pm. Even when parts of the zoo had been closed off the main festival area was in full swing, with music, karaoke and party games taking place right next to many of the primate enclosures.

It is obvious that alcohol, loud music, and animals do not mix, therefore it is completely unacceptable to force such an experience on individuals who cannot remove themselves from an environment where that is happening because they have nowhere to escape from it.

Drunken behaviour can often characteristically be loud, clumsy, uninhibited, and even aggressive, and it is disgraceful to subject any animal to it. 

We know that no animal should be held in captivity for entertainment, and that they should be free-living in their natural homes. The zoo system is already incredibly stressful and cruel to thousands of animals trapped in it, so to exploit their already inexcusable captivity further by holding rowdy after-hours events is unacceptable. They MUST become a thing of the past.

Freedom for Animals is fighting to end animal captivity for entertainment.

You can help by becoming a Freedom Champion and helping to fuel the fight by funding investigations and exposing the truth behind the con-servation lie.