Let out your inner-animal at Edinburgh Zoo Nights

Jenni Ajderian investigates the intriguing set of night time events upcoming at Edinburgh Zoo

Preview by Jenni Ajderian | 04 Jun 2015
  • Zoo Nights

At some point on the road to adulthood it became less acceptable to want to spend your days watching penguins swimming around, learning about dinosaurs, or dressing up as a giraffe. The majority of any zoo’s educational outreach typically goes to kids in schools, and much of their day-time focus is on good old-fashioned family fun. The Edinburgh Zoo Nights events, however, challenge this with a strict over-18s policy, while keeping a well-stocked set of face paints. The nights blend educational talks with exceptional local entertainment, and all the fun and games normally offered only to the wee ones.

“You’d be surprised by how many people love that stuff,” says Jo Paulson, Edinburgh Zoo’s Events and Experiences manager. “Take the kids out of the equation and give the adults a Dinosaur Detective Trail, and they just go with it. When they’re at the zoo we can engage with them, tell them about our educational and conservation messages, and engage them with the natural world again.”

Those of us who might hesitantly call ourselves ‘grown-ups’ are left with a world-class zoo now peppered with local performers, gourmet food and even the odd alcoholic tipple. For The Skinny, the prospect of being let into a zoo after hours, attending a talk on paleoneurology with a face a painted like a tiger, and then getting our paws on a ‘G&T-Rex’ sounds like the African Hunting Dog’s bollocks.

Though Edinburgh’s Giant Pandas have sent their apologies, the zoo’s cheery mob of meerkats will be in attendance with the Edinburgh Police Choir to get the music going. Then it’s a short walk to the Budongo trail for an intellectual chat with the Chimpanzees before some improvised laughs with The Stand’s long-standing resident comedy duo Stu & Garry.

The Dinosaurs Return exhibition will be open all evening, with trained keepers on hand to keep the beasts at bay and point the way to the silent disco. In all, the bill looks like that of an outlandish birthday party for an eccentric laird with a penchant for natural history.

As with many things a zoo does, the Nights events have attracted criticism. Down in London, Zoo Lates events made headlines with their rowdy crowds, and critics have asked whether nocturnal visits put extra stress on the resident animals. But with a host of educational talks on offer, careful planning of where live music is in relation to the animals, and of course plenty of food to soak up any craft beer consumed, the Edinburgh Zoo Nights have strived for a more relaxed atmosphere: an early-evening cocktail party rather than a night on the lash.

The animals themselves may enjoy having more humans to look at too. “Our head of the living collection says that actually having access to their outdoor enclosures and having extra things going on in the evening can be a benefit for them; it’s extra enrichment that they don’t normally get,” Paulson says, before reassuring me that none of the animals are missing out on any rest. Many species only become active in the evening (just think of your household cat or hamster). Furthermore, there’s no reason we should expect the Sun Bears to lead a strict 9-5 lifestyle, especially when it stays light until gone 10pm.

As well as those closely monitoring the animals’ well-being, zoo keepers will be making the rounds throughout the evening giving ‘animal encounters’: a chance to meet certain characters from the zoo’s collection up close in a setting normally reserved for school groups. As for our well-being, that’s looked after by the Bongo club’s DJ Francis with a soul set around the main lawn, and acoustic alt-rock from the Dark Jokes. Local dance troupes Hustle and the Flying Jalapenos will be popping up around the zoo’s labyrinth of paths, and clowning duo Chris and Cammy will be leading the slapstick sing-alongs right up until it’s time for a talk on paleontology with a world-leading scientist. There is even talk of ‘dino-related surprises’ and photo opportunities throughout the night.

Though we’re all still legally responsible and jolly sensible most of the time, it’s refreshing to see an event pitched at the inner child. One that doesn’t shy away from the fact that adults can learn interactively and enthusiastically, or that you can discuss climate change and mass extinction while eating a burrito, with or without whiskers.

Edinburgh Zoo Nights runs on 5 June, 19 June and 26 June, starting at 6pm. Tickets £20 (£17 ZSL members)