What it’s like to sleep with the lions at London Zoo

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“How a lot would you pay for an art work manufactured from animal poo?”

It’s not a query I’ve ever thought of earlier than, to be completely trustworthy.

“Um… Nothing?”

I’m within the minority, because it seems.

“These guys’ newest piece went for £30,000 at public sale.”

The “guys” in query are ZSL London Zoo’s pygmy hippos, whose skills contain whipping their tails round to spray their excrement with homosexual abandon. Enterprising zookeepers – doubtless determined to claw again some cash after Covid pressured the zoo’s extended closure and minimize off its most important income stream – determined to utilise this distinctive ability, organising canvases with stencils on to provide the one-of-a-kind items.

(Kieran Guilbert)

It’s certainly one of innumerable attention-grabbing details woven into our unique after-hours tour of London Zoo, a part of its new Twilight in a single day providing. It’s an animal fanatic’s dream: for a reasonably good-looking sum, visitors get to mattress down subsequent to the lion enclosure for the evening. Alternatives to warble “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” on repeat apart, the bundle contains some really bucket-list experiences, together with two guided excursions with consultants in any case different guests have left for day.

And it’s solely when the zoo closes its doorways that a lot of its inhabitants actually come to life.

Upon arrival, we drop baggage in our pad, a cute cabin-type affair with en-suite bathe a stone’s throw from the place the zoo’s two lions, Arya and Bhanu, are respectively chilling out or relentlessly pacing.

We begin our Night time-At-The-Museum-esque tour right here, met with a glass of glowing wine (which pleasantly ups the luxe issue) and two enthusiastic guides. Initially we’re handled to a geographical overview – apparently one of many most-asked questions is why the Land of Lions’ design is impressed by western India’s Sasan Gir nationwide park, reasonably than the Lion King aesthetic we’ve all come to affiliate with the king of the jungle. It’s as a result of these are Asiatic reasonably than African lions: the principle distinction being, for the males, a shorter, sparser mane, plus a distinguishing fold of pores and skin that runs the size of its stomach.


Within the hush of a zoo cleared of punters, each noise from the residents – who’re a reasonably noisy bunch – turns into enhanced

Within the hush of a zoo cleared of punters, each noise from the residents – who’re a reasonably noisy bunch – turns into enhanced. That is notably true of Bhanu’s roar on the day we go to, although we’re informed it’s nothing in comparison with when he actually will get going.

“He’s solely pacing and roaring as a result of we’re right here,” says our information. “He’s making it plain that that is his territory – and that Arya is his feminine.” The feminine in query seems nonplussed; there’s one thing reasonably candy about his chivalrous strutting when she’s apparently not bothered within the slightest.

Transferring on, we hit up the camels, who’re cajoled into making an look with some appetising-looking branches of eucalyptus (the odor actually does it for them, we’re informed). As summer time’s approaching, certainly one of them seems just a little raggedy – he’s dropping his hair in preparation for the warmer months, and who can blame him? We’re quizzed on the final word pink herring: “What’s in a camel’s hump?” The reply we had been all misssold in our youth will get predictably trotted out – “Water?” – earlier than that fable is formally busted by a fellow visitor who’s one thing of a wildlife aficionado.

Camels lose their coats in hotter months

(Kieran Guilbert)

“They’re manufactured from fatty tissue!”

Mmm. I feel I most popular the “faux information” reply.

Then it’s onto the aforementioned pygmy hippos, who’re worlds aside from the non-pygmy selection -around a tenth of their weight, and inclined to dwell alone as an alternative of in 30-strong teams – earlier than swinging by the warthogs to chuck plain popcorn at them as a night snack. Barely peckish myself by this level, I’m delighted to listen to that dinner – the type designed for people – is subsequent on the agenda. We’re taken to a personal room off the zoo’s most important restaurant and served up hearty plates of blackened salmon with lime and coriander mayo, alongside sautéed thyme and garlic new potatoes, adopted by chocolate brownie with raspberry purée and cream.

By the point we’re completed, the solar’s dipped beneath the horizon – however our work has solely simply begun. A giant a part of the keepers’ job is named “enrichment” – creating actions to make sure the animals are engaged, typically mimicking situations they’d expertise within the wild. Typically this entails them having to work for his or her meals (the lions typically must catch their dinner because it whizzes throughout the enclosure on a zipline), whereas different instances they’re given particular video games or toys to play with.

An early morning go to with a mongoose

(Kieran Guilbert)

This night, it’s our flip to assist out. We don gloves and masks and prep two enrichment actions for the mongooses we’ll go to subsequent morning: spritzing balls with a wide range of perfumes, as they go nuts for scents, and hiding dwell mealworms in layers of soil for them to seek out and munch on.

Now it’s correctly darkish, we observe shut behind our guides to see the porcupines. Utilizing pink gentle as an alternative of a torch to ensure we don’t harm their delicate eyes, the staffers level out the newest addition to the household – Hershey, a child porcupine (or porcupette), born to folks Hettie and Henning in March this 12 months.

Giving start to a ball of spikes may not sound probably the most nice of experiences, however we study that infants’ quills are tender to start with, earlier than hardening after they’ve been born. And thank goodness.


Giving start to a ball of spikes may not sound probably the most nice of experiences, however we study that infants’ quills are tender to start with

We’re not nocturnal ourselves, and so at this level we’re escorted again to our lion-adjacent digs and warned to not wander the zoo at evening. The keepers additionally alert us to the truth that we could also be awoken by that grasp of mimicry, the African gray parrot, making all method of creepy noises (together with the sound of kids laughing – not spooky in any respect).

And but sleep comes simple within the Land of the Lions. It’s laborious to consider, in reality, that we’re in Zone 1 of a capital metropolis within the pindrop quiet of the cabin, removed from London’s busy roads.

I wake refreshed the following morning, prepared for a full English adopted by our remaining tour, throughout which we get to hang around with a Komodo dragon, see the mongoose group play with our pre-prepared enrichment actions, and get a personal have a look at the zoo’s world-leading Galápagos tortoise enclosure, which makes use of groundbreaking tech to recreate the situations of their pure atmosphere within the wild.

(Helen Coffey)

I’m not prepared to go away – and, if I didn’t have the small matter of a job to get to, I wouldn’t must. The expertise contains entry to London Zoo all day on the day you check-in, and the day you check-out. However alas, it’s time to go. There’s simply time for another spherical of “aweem away, aweem away, aweem away, aweem away” earlier than it’s again out into Regent’s Park, Bhanu’s stately roar nonetheless ringing in my head.

Journey necessities

A lodge for 2 individuals prices from £192.50 per particular person per evening (primarily based on twin-share), with every further youngster from £65 every.

Contains complimentary drink upon arrival; two unique after-hours excursions of the zoo at sundown and after-dark; one unique tour within the morning after breakfast, together with a meet and greet with a keeper; in a single day keep in a personal lodge – double or twin mattress, en-suite; complimentary toiletries, tea and low making amenities; two-course dinner and buffet breakfast; entry into ZSL London Zoo for 2 days both aspect of holiday makers’ keep; free parking. Friends are additionally welcome to go to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo on the second day.

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