Sunday, August 26th 2018
London Zoo, or to give it its official name, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), is a well known institution and a favourite place to visit for Londoners and tourists alike. Did you know, though, that you can spend the night there? I didn’t but Tigger found out and secretly arranged a stay for us as a surprise for me ahead of my birthday.
We arrived in the late afternoon and made our way to the Gir Lion Lodge, a group of chalets, one of which would be ours for the night. Here we met the staff who would be looking after us and were given information about the event. After the general public leaves and the zoo gates are closed for the night, we and our fellow group members were taken on tours of parts of the zoo, some of which the general public never sees. The guides explained the characteristics of some of the animals and gave us insights into the complex care that goes into looking after them. I learned quite a lot from this. A highlight of the evening was a buffet dinner during which we were entertained with anecdotes from some of the more knowledgeable members of the zoo team.
On the morrow, a buffet breakfast was provided in the zoo’s cafe-restaurant and we were taken on another long tour which included visits to some of the more interesting animals and a glimpse behind the scenes at how feeding and general care are organized. All in all,it was a worthwhile experience and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in animals and zoos. You will find more details of these events on the Gir Lion Lodge Web page.
We arrived in good time and needed to occupy ourselves until they were ready to show us to our quarters. We deposited our bags which were later transferred to our chalet and went for our own tour of the zoo. Below are some of the photos I took during the course of the evening.
The penguins have a splendid enclosure with a rocky area surrounding a huge pool in which they evidently enjoy swimming. The fence is quite low, affording the public unobstructed views of the penguins and the pool has a glass front so that you can watch the activities of the penguins under water. These are Humboldt penguins and the enclosure mimics a South American beach landscape that is their natural habitat.
The enclosure is of course in the open air which means that at feeing time, in addition to the penguins, numerous self-invited guests turn up hoping to share in the banquet. If you look at the above photo you will see a heron and several herring gulls. No attempt is made to stop these freeloaders but care is taken to make sure that the penguins get their rations, the more timid individuals being fed individually.
Herons are usually quite shy but at the zoo they feel safe, especially within the penguin enclosure where the public cannot go. I was able to take this photo of a heron standing quite near the barrier.
The zoo’s inmates have, unfortunately but of necessity, to be confined to prevent them absconding. Confinement is designed to provide, as far as possible, an environment natural to the species concerned while, at the same time ensuring a reasonable degree of visibility to visitors. ZSL does not force animals to appear and if they wish to hide away in their dens they are allowed to do so.
Another aspect is the safety of visitors. There must be impenetrable barriers between the public and any animals likely to be dangerous. Where the animals are completely harmless, a more relaxed regime may be allowed. The zoo provides several environments where visitors enter the space occupied by the animals. Such environments can offer a rewarding experience of coming very close to the inhabitants. One such is the butterfly house. The entrance is closed only by two layers of heavy curtaining which humans can push their way through but which the butterflies cannot pass. On a previous visit to the butterfly house, a large creature, possibly an Atlas Moth, perched on my handbag and refused to budge, much to my, and others’, amusement. Today’s passage through the realm of the butterflies produced no such close encounters, leaving me thereby slightly disappointed!
The dim three-dimensional world of the oceans seems to me as alien and mysterious as any fantasy environment dreamed up by a sci-fi writer. These jellyfish move sedately as though performing a slow-motion ballet.
If you are an arachnophobe then the sight of any spider is likely to make you shudder and the above silhouette will seem threatening. Golden Silk Orb Weavers are quite large and can make webs up to a metre and a half wide. The have been known to catch even small birds. Happily for you arachnophobes, they do not occur in Britain, though with global warming that might change…
This giraffe seems to be trying to decide whether to go out or stay indoors. Giraffes are not the only animals to have unusually long necks but they are the unchallenged champions in the field and have extra long legs for bonus points.
Their uniqueness has made them favourites as zoo animals and has intrigued generations of travellers and artists. Anciently, they were given the name camelopard, a word cobbled together from ‘camel’ and ‘leopard’, but the British eventually took over the French name, girafe, the origin of which is uncertain, probably deriving from Arabic zirafa.
Another colourful animal is the zebra whose name has been borrowed in the UK for pedestrian crossings marked out in black and white stripes. The pattern of stripes on a zebra is different for each individual allowing any one animal to be identified from a photo. (The same is true of my namesake the tiger.) The horse-like character of the zebra has suggested its use as an exotic beast of burden but they have proved difficult to coerce into this role. (Good for them!) In the wild they breed true but in captivity they have been known to cross-breed with related species as witness this report of the birth of a ‘zonkey’ (a zebra-donkey cross).
This pygmy hippopotamus was soundly asleep on a comfortable bed of what appears to be damp mud. He’d probably had a busy day so we tiptoed past and let him rest.
Later, we saw this pygmy hippopotamus awake though whether it was the same one I cannot say. The name comes from two Greek words hippos (‘horse’) and potamos (‘river). The name has been Latinized to ‘hippopotamus’ which has misled some amateur pedants into insisting that the plural should be *hippopotami but unless you want to be sniggered at in company it’s best to stick with ‘hippopotamuses’. Ungainly on land, the hippo, whether pygmy or full size, becomes a fast and easy mover in water.
Ring-tailed lemurs, easily identified by the tail after which they are named, are gregarious and very intelligent. Their large, noticeable yes are, I think, one of the factors accounting for their popularity. Though tree dwellers, they may spend a third of their time on the ground. In zoos, they are popular with visitors and often allowed to interact with them. Sadly, the species is endangered in the wild.
The aye-aye is also a member of the lemur family and comes, like the ring-tailed, from Madagascar. Mainly nocturnal, they eat fruit and insect larvae which they dig out from their holes in tree branches with their long claws. I think the red lighting was intended to make the aye-aye feel it was night time while providing enough light for us to see him.
Many of the zoo’s animals are so quick moving that my photos of them are just blurs so photographing a green iguana made a pleasant change! As happy in water as in land, green iguanas come from the Americas and are real tough guys: to escape unwelcome attention, they can allow themselves to fall up to 50 feet without getting hurt. This one was obviously not concerned about enemies and was probably asleep, though it’s hard to tell, really…
The camel is one of those animals that seem odd at first sight but when studied more closely turn out to be remarkably well adapted to their native environment. Camels are reputed to be bad tempered but having been to Egypt and seen how the camel drivers treat them I am not surprised. These, though, are Bactrian camels from Mongolia and the east (they are the ones with two humps) so perhaps they are more even tempered. We stood beside this group for some time while the zoo guide talked about them and throughout, the camels stood politely listening though they must have heard it all before.
Although we reached the zoo in the late afternoon, both on our own and on guided tours we did a lot of walking and standing listening, so I was quite glad when bedtime came around at last. We returned to the Gir Lion Lodge area and were assigned to our chalet where are bags were waiting for us. Did the nocturnal animals make much noise? I really couldn’t say because I slept like the proverbial log.