Operated by the nonprofit Zoological Society of London, the zoo was begun with the royal animals collection, moved here from the Tower of London in 1828. The zoo itself did not open to the public until 1847. A recent modernization program has seen the introduction of several big attractions, with a focus on education, wildlife conservation, and the breeding of endangered species. The huge B.U.G.S. pavilion (Biodiversity Underpinning Global Survival) is a self-sustaining, contained ecosystem for 140 less-cuddly species, including invertebrates such as spiders and millipedes, plus some reptiles and fish. At Gorilla Kingdom, a walk-through re-creation of the habitat of the Western Lowland Gorilla, you can watch the four residents at close range. Rainforest Life is an indoor tropical rain forest (complete with humidity) inhabited by the likes of armadillos, monkeys, and sloths. A special nighttime section offers glimpses of nocturnal creatures like slow lorises and bats. The Animal Adventures
Children's Zoo allows kids to get up close to animals including mongooses and llamas, as well as feeding and grooming sheep and goats. Two of the most popular attractions are Penguin Beach, especially at feeding time (1:30) and Meerkat Manor, where you can see the sociable animals keeping watch over their own sandy territory. If you're feeling flush, try to nab one of the six daily "Meet the Penguins" VIP tickets (2 pm) that offer a 20-minute guided close encounter with the locals (£45 weekdays, £60 weekends). There are similar VIP encounters with giraffes, lions, owls, meerkats, kangaroos, and aardvarks. Other zoo highlights include Butterfly Paradise; the Blackburn Pavilion, with its hundreds of tropical bird species; the Big Cats enclosure, home to a pride of Asian lions; and Tiger Territory, an enclosure for five beautiful endangered Sumatran tigers (including three cubs born at the zoo). For a more grown-up experience, check out Zoo Lates, where comedy, cabaret, and a wine bar are offered to over-18s (in addition to all the usual zoo attractions). These are held on Friday evenings (6–10 pm) in summer. Check the website or the information board out front for free events, including creature close encounters and "ask the keeper" sessions.