London zoo scraps Zoo Late parties

London Zoo has retired its alcohol-fuelled Friday night Zoo Late parties in favour of more sedate, family-friendly events.

The move follows the Guardian revealing last year that sources at the zoo were concerned at the impact of visitors’ rowdy behaviour on animals after a series of incidents including a man pouring a beer over a tiger.

The revelations prompted a series of petitions signed by tens of thousands of people calling on the zoo to end the parties, and an investigation by Westminster council.

The new format, rebranded as Sunset Safaris, begins this Friday. Unlike the previous events, the gorilla kingdom, one of the zoo’s main attractions, will be off-limits to visitors due to the birth of a baby gorilla. The Guardian last year saw crowds at a Zoo Late event in the gorilla area shouting beneath a sign asking visitors to be quiet.

The zoo said the events manager who oversaw the Zoo Lates resigned in November last year, though the Guardian understands she was sacked. Sources at the zoo who raised the initial alarm over the evenings said they were “delighted” and the change of format “speaks volumes”.

However, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said the move was not enough. Elisa Allen, the group’s associate director, said: “The fact that animals in zoos have no way of escaping their day-to-day confinement is bad enough, but allowing visitors in the zoo outside normal business hours interrupts the animals’ usual sleep schedule and can cause them fear, distress and even physical harm.

“Whether they call them Zoo Lates or Sunset Safaris, London Zoo has made it perfectly clear that it doesn’t give a monkey’s about the individuals in its ‘care’.” The zoo denies the events impact on animal welfare.

Zoo Lates were marketed an as “after party with the animals” and attracted a young party crowd including hen parties and hundreds dressed in animal onesies. “Thought the zoo was for kids?” one article sponsored by the zoo said under the headline of “Release your wild side”, outlining the specially-chosen wines on offer.

By contrast, the Sunset Safaris are advertised as for “friends, couples, and families alike invited to experience the magic of the zoo after-hours” and invite visitors to hear “tales from the field” by the zoo’s conservationists. Alcohol will still be sold at the events.

A spokeswoman for Zoological Society of London said the changes were part of a regular review of its events to ensure it was delivering new experiences for visitors: “Zoo Lates was an incredible success, but after five years was due for review and we’re now looking forward to our new series of summer events, including Sunset Safari.”

The incidents at the former Zoo Lates parties included a man stripping off and attempting to enter the penguin pool, forcing staff to intervene, and unconfirmed reports that a drunken woman tried to enter the lion enclosure. One group on a night out cracked the glass on a snake enclosure, forcing the snakes to be moved.

The RSPCA, Peta and five other animal charities wrote to the zoo’s director last year asking him to shut down Zoo Lates as they were threatening animal welfare.

Westminster city council, which licenses the zoo, investigated the parties but later cleared them, finding “no evidence of any animal welfare implications as a result of the Zoo Lates events”.

The events are an important source of fundraising to pay for the pioneering conservation work by the world’s oldest zoo, raising £800,000 a year. The Sunset Safaris run each Friday until 17 July.

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