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Meerkats to aid learning experience for young patients


The wellbeing benefits of using nature in the healing process are well documented so there’s great excitement for some new arrivals, to be located in an outdoor classroom within the grounds of the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People (RHCYP) on Edinburgh BioQuarter.

Five mischievous meerkats will be at the heart of an exciting distraction and learning experience for children and families, in a partnership between Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity (ECHC), Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and NHS Lothian.

Edinburgh Zoo currently delivers a weekly programme of educational activities at the RHCYP, including projects on penguins, pandas and tigers, all of which encourage children to think about their place in the world and the importance of wildlife within it.

The meerkat enclosure will replicate their natural habitat and zookeepers from Edinburgh Zoo will care for them and provide meerkat educational sessions while on site. The inquisitive creatures will give young patients, particularly those staying long term, the opportunity to learn all about nature and the environment.

Roslyn Neely, CEO of ECHC, said:
“Some children are too unwell or have been in hospital for so long that they don’t have the opportunity to engage with the outdoors, or interact with animals.

“Many of the children who visit the hospital care passionately about nature and the environment. Our programme will allow them to learn from experts while getting up close to the best teachers of all – the meerkats themselves.

“The wellbeing benefits of engaging with animals and using nature in the healing process are well documented, and there’s great excitement within the hospital in anticipation of our furry friends arriving.”

This is the first programme of its kind outside of Australia and is in the early stages of planning and hoped the meerkats will be in residence from 2024.