THE BLOG

Never Work With Children or Animals Unless It's at London Zoo

03/11/2014 11:55 GMT | Updated 02/01/2015 10:59 GMT

It was late and Lucifer would not stop his roaring - a little obnoxious - but he is the king of the zoo and clearly needs to remind everybody. He's noisy once he gets going and it was going to be hard enough getting some sleep among the giant orb spiders, cave crickets, and leaf cutting ants.

This wasn't an attempt to recreate I'm a Celeb; I was on an unusual sleepover, and braved taking four children on a trip single-handed. I was joined by my brother, his mate, my sister and cousin at B.U.G.S! (Biodiversity Underpinning Global Survival), London Zoo's biodiversity and conservation exhibit.

Armed with sleeping bags and torches, we were given a team name and a spot to sleep in. We got lucky - we were Team Tamarins for the night, and would be camping next to golden tamarin monkeys. Not sure we'd have got much sleep if we were Team Black Widow or Team Tarantula...

After we'd set up our area, we were introduced to some of our roommates for the night, including a pink knee tarantula.

2014-11-02-Spider.JPG

After our beastly introductions, we took a tour round our home for the night; where we studied the ant colony, tried to count locusts in a huge swarm, grimaced at the weird-looking naked mole rats, tried to spot the miniscule rare golden mantella frogs and oohed and ahhed at the moon jellyfish.

We listened to stories, asked questions and played games. Then it was time to wrap up for a night-time tour. We were handed red film to put over our torches so we didn't hurt the animal's eyes and off we set.

2014-11-02-WelcometalkatBedBugs.JPG

By night, the zoo comes alive with animal activity and without all the crowds and noise we got to see them up close. We saw Lucifer and his pride, aardvarks, porcupines, llamas, camels and komodo dragons, while the zookeepers told us facts and anecdotes. When we returned to B.U.G.S!, the children congregated in front of the locusts to hear stories, play games and have an almost midnight snack. I made 'friends' with an incredibly organised group of parents who shared their luxury hamper of wine and cheese with me (not included in the sleepover package). Then it was time to return to our camping areas for lights out.

The next day after a surprisingly peaceful night's sleep, we woke to the playful sounds of the tamarins and ate breakfast.

Our last experience of the trip before the zoo opened to the general public was a tour of the indoor rainforest and night life enclosure. London's only living rainforest mimics tropical conditions. Heated to almost 30°C, it allows the exotic trees from Costa Rica, the curious red titi monkeys, mischievous emperor tamarins, chirping tropical birds and chilled-out sloths to do as they please.

Once we'd left the heat of the forest, we wondered downstairs to meet the nocturnal creatures including rats, bats, armadillos and strange but adorable slender lorises next door. The day didn't end there as included in the experience is a full day at the zoo.

As we left the zoo, me slightly harassed and craving a glass of Shiraz; my young charges content and armed with an abundance of animal knowledge, declared: "That was the best sleepover ever." I agree, it was, but next time, I'll be sure to bring a hamper.

www.zsl.org/experiences/bedbugs-sleepovers