Zoo nights have led to penguins being punched and tigers having beer poured on their heads say campaigners
Campaigners are calling for an end to drunk revellers “traumatising” animals as part of a new phenomenon where the public is invited to party in zoos.
Edinburgh Zoo, home of the UK’s only pandas, is set to reintroduce the nights where visitors are permitted to consume alcohol in a "relaxed atmosphere" and enjoy other after-hours entertainment to "kick start" their Friday nights.
But animal rights group Peta has fired off an urgent letter to the zoo’s chief executive Chris West demanding a rethink as animals lives are being put at risk.
The campaign group said similar events held at other zoos have had dire consequences including one incident in which a man got "touchy-feely" with some baby penguins and another in which a man asked a staff member, "Which penguin can I fight?"
Peta director Mimi Bekhechi said: “Putting animals at risk for the sake of making a few pounds should make the public question Edinburgh Zoo's priorities.
“We are calling on Edinburgh Zoo to do what's best for the animals – and that means cancelling the stressful "Zoo Nights" events.”
The zoo is responsible for the safety of the animals in their care, and they must make that a priority - Kirsty Henderson
In the letter, Kirsty Henderson, Peta’s campaign coordinator in Scotland, says the zoo is responsible for the safety of the animals in its care and it must make that a priority.
“Scientific research shows that during normal opening hours, the presence of zoo visitors can have a detrimental impact on the animals' welfare,” she writes.
During a zoo night held at London Zoo, one person reportedly tried to pour beer on a tiger, another allegedly attempted to undress and enter the enclosure that held penguins and another fell and "accidentally" punched a bird, according to Peta.
A spokesperson for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland said the nights were a way of funding the organisation’s conservation work and were a good way of reaching out to a younger audience.
The spokesperson added: “Edinburgh Zoo Nights visitors have never shown behaviour of this nature, which we totally concur is unacceptable.
“Although alcohol is available in moderation, there is absolutely not a drunken atmosphere.
“The events, of which there are only four, are planned in conjunction with our animal experts. Our keepers are very careful to monitor our animals’ behaviour at any evening event and these events are tailor-made to ensure there is no disturbance to them, with all entertainers and bars situated away from animal enclosures, even our disco is a silent one.
“Simply put, there is no one that cares more about the animals in our care than our keeping staff. The animals can also enjoy the added stimulus of visitors to the park with enrichment activities, evening feeds and later access outside in some cases.
“We would like to reassure you that we are confident that there are no welfare complications and the animals are always our priority.”