The first programme of its kind outside of Australia, the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People (RHCYP) will soon be home to five mischievous meerkats who will be at the heart of an exciting distraction and learning experience for children and families.
A partnership between ECHC, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and NHS Lothian, the inquisitive creatures will give young patients, particularly those staying long term, the opportunity to learn all about nature and the environment.
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.
Roslyn Neely, CEO of ECHC
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.”
Allister Short, Service Director, Women’s and Children’s, NHS Lothian, said: “We are really excited about this innovative programme coming to the RHCYP.
“Meerkats have been introduced into many children’s hospitals in Australia and this unique concept encourages children to learn and be inspired, particularly when they’re in hospital for long periods of time.
“We want to brighten up our patients’ days in an educational way and we know that the meerkats will be an exciting addition to the RHCYP.”
The programme is currently in the early stages of planning and it is hoped the meerkats will move into their new home at the RHCYP from 2024.