I am conflicted about animals in captivity. My first visit to London Zoo I was 8 or 9 on holiday from Zimbabwe. I found it fascinating. I’d imagine it was the scale of it in comparison to anything I had seen at home. My only experience at that time of seeing animals ‘in captivity’ (excluding my dogs) was a visit to the Crocodile Farm in Victoria Falls – I remember it stank and was careful about my footing in case I fell into their pits. The barriers weren’t as high as the zoo. There were some lions there as well. In addition to it being an attraction, it was the conservation aspect I was drawn to at such a young age. I now realise this is a lucrative business.
A year later I became a volunteer campaigner for Save The Rhino and raised funds and awareness of the Rhino, participated in walks to understand where they lived, how they survived and how poachers killed them and our role to prevent them from extinction. I also got to understand how game reserves are necessary to keep animals safe. Humans we do terrible things to our planet. This was about the time I first heard about the ozone layer and it depleting and over 30 years later we have done little to mitigate the damage.
The zoo…. my area of conflict. I have visited maybe twice as an adult. Once for Zoo lates which was great on a glorious summer evening – barely saw any animals and with a friend, the Parisian (she has her own hashtag on my instagram) to see the animals.
I will visit again with my child in coming years and have already been plotting a trip for when she will remember and want to engage.
This review is about Christmas at ZSL Zoo and the above was to illustrate my bias and demonstrate I can remain objective about the Zoo.
We went last week for the opening. I was later surprised to find out that the same company that designed Christmas at Kew organised this. Not sure if it was a last minute decision, or differing budgets (most likely), or the fact that there is more open space at Kew to lay out the installations but this event lacked sparkle.
There are some good installations the lasers in the tunnels as you first enter, the giraffes and kangaroos (pictured).
The toy / elf areas … including the live show for the children and I think that was it for me.
Maybe the light projection – my child liked that and wouldn’t let us leave for at least 3 screenings then we bribed her to look for the penguins (illuminations dotted around the trail) and offered her milk. This was after the kiosk in the monkey enclosure – if you can distract the children as you walk past so they do not enter, do so as you will be forced to buy something – I used the “we have to go find the penguin” tactic to get her out the door.
For the ticket price I’d suggest you save that for a day admission where you can actually see the animals – the whole point of going to the zoo (and leave feeling sad they aren’t in their natural habitat). The animals will be ‘sleeping’ in the evening and you maybe disappointed with the offer.
Hopefully they will rethink this for next year as it could truly be magical and an alternative to Kew in Central London but needs more thought. Zoo lates were well organised (the silent disco, genius), they have experience of running events so I am intrigued to find out what the thinking was here?
The foil covered tunnel needs to go for a start, as well as the guard telling me to look after my child in the dark patronising much?!- He was lucky I kept it moving and chose to ignore him?
There are rides near the main canteen. We got to go on the carousel at the beginning and end of the trail and she wasn’t allowed on any of the others and honestly I was ready to leave as it was a school night.
If you go, wrap up warm and pack a picnic day or night. The trail is about a mile long there weren’t as many places to buy refreshments compared to Kew, these were by the main canteen area with the rides and facilities. I’d suggest you use the facilities just after the live theatre / insect area (second refreshment stalls) then you can make a quick exit without going in to the main shop to exit (there is a gate to the side of the building to leave).
You will have great memories if you visit and enjoy the space for what it is.
NB The lodges you can stay in overnight with private access to the zoo are open. We walked past these and they are right in the middle of the zoo. I don’t know how much they cost but this is something I could consider in summer for a special treat…. perhaps.