Event review: Zoo Lates
IN A NUTSHELL
Nothing compares to coming face to face with the exotic all within the confines of north London.
Sticky-fingered, high pitched, hooting, whooping, running, jumping kids.
Bad enough in small numbers but hyped up on the promise of exotic animals and fuelled by lion-shaped lollies, hunting in packs for a glimpse of their quarry?
All but unbearable.
It's enough to put you off going to London Zoo at all. Fortunately, ZSL has worked out some Londoners are deterred from visiting the attraction by the prospect of having to jostle with six-year-olds for a glimpse of a llama and Zoo Lates is its solution.
The gates open at 6pm for these ticket-only Friday night events where under 18s are outlawed.
Attracting a predominantly 20-something crowd, bars, food stalls, live music and comedy all meld with the zoo's more traditional attractions to form an adult playground.
There's face painting, a silent disco and lots of dressing up but at the event I attended last week the atmosphere remained mellow.
And it was awe at being in the presence of the rare and remarkable creatures housed at the zoo that set the tone rather than the added frivolities.
Visitors politely moved aside to give each other a go.
Smiles and a shared sense of fun dominated as faces became painted, costumes were donned and areas usually reserved for smaller humans became the habitat of pint-toting young professionals.
I remembered the zoo from my childhood as a fairly formal place.
Animals tidily arranged in cages with little space, bored, dejected, unmoving.
Hopes of seeing some activity that wasn't the same repeated steps over and over again were quickly crushed.
I'm pleased to say it's no longer like that.
The biggest species have moved out to Whipsnade in Bedfordshire where there's more space and those that remain are benefitting from what appears to be a rolling programme of improvement and development.
The newer walkthrough enclosures are simply stunning.
Squirrel monkeys, exotic birds, butterflies, sloths and armadillos are all housed without barriers.
Keepers preserve the peace, reminding visitors not to get too close (the monkeys delight in peeing on the public and bite if riled), but the experience is delightful and feels much more special than simply looking through the bars.
The animals don't seem to mind in the least and carry on with whatever they're doing regardless.
Although thoroughly charmed by the event, I did have a couple of gripes. Many of the attractions closed around 9pm and without a clear guide to what shut when, many visitors were left disappointed after lengthy walks.
Given everyone was due to be evicted by 10pm this seemed a little cynical, especially with pints priced at £5 and similar mark ups for food. A no BYO policy meant the monopolies felt a little exploitative.
My other criticism is on behalf of the women. Not enough toilet cubicles resulted in long queues and, let's face it, nobody enjoys that, not when you could be face to face with an armadillo or a sloth.
■ Zoo Lates, July 6, 13, 20, 27, 6-10pm, £25, zsl.org.