A pop up event in London which uses live owls has finally opened its door to the public following a backlash from animal rights activists and "personal attacks" on its organisers.
The Annie the Owl event, held for six nights at a secret location in east London, was originally meant to take place in April at another venue, but had to be put back and changed following widespread complaints from the public.
The event was originally promoted as an 'Owl Bar' which would have sold a maximum of two alcoholic drinks. As news of the plans spread, an online petition demanded the "cruel" event not go ahead, attracting nearly 30,000 signatures.
"It is one thing to raise awareness of owls and the help that they might need to thrive in the wild, but it is quite another to tether them up in a cocktail bar and have people touching them and handling them," the petition read.
Despite this, demand for the event was huge. More than 80,000 people signed up for the raffle for tickets, causing the website server to crash.
The owners are now keen to express the intention of the night was never to have "rowdy" people handling the owls, with all the money from the event being donated to an owl conservation charity.
Organiser and CEO of app Locappy, Seb Lyall, told IB Times UK: "I think London just needs something unique and I thought it would be a good opportunity to offer them this. When the owls are brought out one by one, the handlers give a little speech about the owls then [go] around talking to people about the species.
"Our event is controlled, there's no loud music and everyone is seated. I thought it would be a good opportunity to show young people and educate them on birds of prey."
He added: "I think it's a great opportunity for some of the activists who were initially against it and join hands with me as there is no other way you could have got so many young Londoners interested in birds of prey."
For the price of £20 a ticket, visitors are treated to two smoothies (replacing the alcohol), hear about the birds - African Grass Owls, a Barn Owl and an Indian Eagle Owl - from two falcon holders, as well as allowed to briefly hold them using specialist gloves.
Visitors are required to remain seated at all times and there certainly isn't any of the loud music or bright or florescent lights as originally feared. The event also places house rules for the evening, including no flash photography and not to stroke the owls.
Lyall added he was "surprised" at the anger the original idea received when it was originally announced.
"A lot of people haven't educated themselves and this night was about showing what the event was about and you can clearly see it is not what a lot of people thought it would be. Our aim was to put on a peaceful, fun, entertaining, educational event. It wasn't easy because in the last month there have been a lot of personal attacks on me, but I've kind of come out of it stronger," said Lyall.
Charles Mason, a handler from company Animal Encounters, who provides the animals, said it is important for people to see the birds up close as they become "ambassadors for the owl world".
He added: "They're there to show people how beautiful they are, and if people think they're beautiful they will want to preserve them."