News Column

Charities urge London zoo to end late parties: Letter says rowdy visitors cause stress to animals Drunken partygoers seen pouring beer over tiger

September 4, 2014

Adam Vaughan



London zoo should shut down its late-night parties for the public because they are threatening animal welfare, say the RSPCA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and five other animal charities.

The Guardian revealed in July that drunken visitors poured beer over a tiger at the zoo, stripped off at the penguin pool and broke the glass on a snake enclosure. Sources at the zoo raised concerns over the impact on animals' sleep and stress levels during Zoo Lates events, which draw about 6,000 partygoers regularly on Friday nights in the summer and raise pounds 800,000 annually for the zoo.

In a letter sent to David Field, zoological director at the Zoological Society of London, the animal charities warn: "Scientific research shows that during normal opening hours, the presence of zoo visitors can have a detrimental impact on animal welfare. Zoo Lates, which take place outside normal opening hours, while animals would normally be resting, are likely to have an even greater welfare impact, particularly if the visitors behave in a manner that stresses the animals."

The zoo should immediately cease holding the events, say signatories to the letter, who include Mimi Bekhechi, director of Peta UK, and campaigners at Animal Aid, Viva!, the RSPCA, Born Free Foundation, Captive Animals Protection Society, and OneKind.

"Zoos should be responsible for the safety of the animals in their care," they write. "Allowing these late-night events to continue when members of the public have claimed to see butterflies being crushed on the ground and birds in the aviary being 'accidentally' punched does not demonstrate adequate consideration for animal welfare."

The Guardian saw crowds shouting in the gorilla enclosure, below signs saying "Respect our home, be thoughtful, be quiet, be kind", and overheard a man asking a zookeeper, "which penguin can I fight?" The nights finish with a loud cabaret metres from the enclosures of apes and other primates.

Bekhechi said that if the zoo really cared about animals it would not host another season of Zoo Lates. "Plying thousands of people with alcohol on what is actively promoted by the zoo as a 'wild night out' might be a good fundraiser for the London zoo, but it doesn't put the animals' needs first," she said in a statement.

Field said: "We can only reiterate that animal welfare is our top priority at all times. We go to great lengths to ensure the normal routines and behaviour of our animals are not compromised by Zoo Lates, and visitor behaviour is monitored and managed carefully."

The welfare of animals and visitor safety at Zoo Lates is being investigated by Westminster council, which issues the zoo's licences. A petition for ending the events got nearly 75,000 signatures.



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Source: Guardian (UK)


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