Friday, July 10, 2015

Roaring Nightlife: See the LA Zoo in a Different Light

Rediscovering the LA Zoo with other grownups is a rare treat!  After all, the zoos are places where children go to see animals.  Roaring Nights seamlessly converts the sun-drenched kettlecorn and plush souvenir safari into a fun, comfortable night habitat for adults, which still has kettle corn and gift shops.  A friend I ran into at the event commented that she was genuinely surprised this was the same place.   

Roaring Nights is essentially a party with exotic animals, and it drew a big enough crowd to feel lively and popular.  The event is laid out like an archipelago, featuring centers of activity carefully scattered just out of sight of one another all across the sprawling campus.  They seemed to pop up out of the darkness as I wandered between islands of art and food and music.  The distributed layout created welcome quieter spaces to relax between the busy attractions.  It was also a treat to walk around the LA Zoo’s expansive asphalt paths without the usual midday heat.  Attendees are a relatively even mix of all ages from recent high school grads to couples with grey hair, with a healthy population of attractive twenty-somethings.  

The “animal artistry paint party,” a series of tables with paper and paint for making postcard-sized artworks just inside the gate was pretty quiet when I arrived but built up a crowd by the end of the night.  At the next island in, zoo personnel in their khaki best have a variety of smaller animals for people to interact with.   I stopped by mini-presentations on an armadillo, two snakes, which I got to touch, and an adorable hedgehog.   The larger of two music venues featured live rock music at authentic rock concert volume which drew a dense and enthusiastic crowd.  It is also net to the carousel, which runs all night for $3 per rider.  The DJ and dance floor on the opposite side of the campus had a mellower atmosphere.  Food was provided by popular food trucks, arranged into several mini food-courts. The zoo also provides surprisingly thorough, if expensive bars in all the food areas.  Daytime zoo-lovers, fear not, the kettle corn stand is open.

Parking is free and easy, even if you’re a little fashionably late.  There’s a very fast security gate to walk through and wristbands to identify the over-21s.  I got carded! Try to wander to the big outdoor exhibts while there is still some light, as none of the enclosures are lighted, and many of the larger mammals do not come out at night.  You are probably not going to see a lion at Roaring Nights.  The gorillas don’t stay out past 8:00.  Once it does get dark, the reptile houses are a good bet for animal viewing.  

Zoo volunteers carry little flashlights, which they use to point out animals at night.  I’m not sure how I feel about shining a flashlight into an animal’s habitat, but it is a potentially useful accessory.  On the other hand, there’s also a special sort of pleasure in working to find a little moving shape in the dark, and knowing that you and you alone found the outline of a Koala climbing up his tree.  The elephants stay up late, and their white tusks are particularly striking in the darkness.  The animals are different at night – some are asleep, of course, but the ones who stay up for the party seem genuinely intrigued by the unaccustomed throngs of nighttime visitors.  And the grownups are different too, more willing to ooh and ahh at the razor jaws of a false gharial.  A couple highlights for my group included standing in front of a dark, empty enclosure, when someone’s camera flash drew out a little herd of inquisitive Zebras, and a paca which was so excited by our presence that it ran circles around its cage for its rapidly growing audience.   

Upcoming Roaring Nights at the LA Zoo, July 24 and August 21, 7-11pm.  18+ only.  Tickets at

--Matt Share (

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