On Monday I went to London Zoo for the first time since I was little. There was no real occasion for going, we just decided it would be fun. As the schools have gone back, the summer is pretty much over, and the weather was so-so, the zoo was almost empty.
I was amazed at just how much there was there seeing as it is, after all, only a corner of Regent's Park. We spent all day there, from 11AM to closing time at 5PM.
The zoo has most of the things you'd expect of a zoo, including lions, tigers, penguins, giraffes, etc. No elephants - they've moved to Whipsnade. It also has the famous aviary (a listed pole-and-wire-mesh structure), a reptile house and an aquarium. One thing that did surprise me about the zoo was how much the focus was on endangered species and conservation. In the aquarium, nearly all the fish were under threat in some way - common fish weren't really there. Even in the petting farm, they had some old and rare species of native sheep (70-80% pure) and goats.
The reptile house contains loads of different animals, including lots of snakes, spiders and even a small crocodile. Most snakes are relatively harmless, of course, and few people are killed by snake bites nowadays. However, I did learn that the Saw-Scaled Viper is the deadliest of the lot, apparently killing 'thousands each year' (not sure how up-to-date that is though).
I really enjoyed the BUGS building, which isn't about insects but biodiversity ('BUGS' being some kind of acronym). One of the first features is a colony of leaf-cutter ants, which are housed in a series of tanks linked by ropes which come out through holes, so you can see them up close. There were warnings that the ants can bite - which worried some guests as a few ants had managed to escape up the wall. I watched for about ten minutes though, as an ant cut out a circular chunk of leaf, using front pincers and rotating slowly in a circle, then carried it all the way back to the colony. It's the kind of thing you normally only see on television, so it was great to see it up close. You can also see the different kinds of ants (at different sizes), which have different jobs.
Another great area was the moonlit walk, underneath the small mammals building, which is dark and houses nocturnal animals. One enclosure housed bats, constantly flying around, in others there were possums, aye-ayes and tamarins.
We saw two talks - one where a guy in BUGS brought out a tarantula and explained enthusiastically how they weren't dangerous, he'd never been bitten handling them in 23 years, and how people shouldn't be afraid of spiders. For real arachnophobes, London Zoo runs the best course in the world, which uses a combination of hypnotherapy and learning about spiders, apparently.
All in all, it was a great day out, and London Zoo is well worth visiting!