With an emphasis on education, wildlife conservation, and the breeding of endangered species, London Zoo offers visitors the chance to see tigers, gorillas, meerkats, and more in something resembling a natural environment rather than a cage. 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. 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 to feed and groom 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. The new Land of The Lions exhibit provides a habitat for a pride of the endangered Asiatic big cats, while another new exhibit offers the chance to get up close and personal with 15 ring-tailed lemurs. 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 and Tiger Territory, an enclosure for five beautiful endangered Sumatran tigers (including three cubs born at the zoo). Sunset Safari evenings, offering premium Guided Safari Tours and (limited) alcohol availability are held on Friday (6–10 pm) June 5–July 17. Check the website or the information board out front for free events, including creature close encounters and "ask the keeper" sessions.