An Edinburgh children’s hospital is set to build a new meerkat enclosure for its patients to allow them to connect with nature.
The patients of an Edinburgh children’s hospital will be in for a treat thanks to a new initiative: they will have the opportunity to get in touch with nature thanks to the fact that a meerkat enclosure will be erected on the hospital grounds.
Meerkats from Edinburgh Zoo will live in the Scottish capital in the new enclosure built at NHS Lothian’s Royal Hospital for Children and Young People (RHCYP).
Meerkat enclosure – will be home to five animals
While the programme is currently in its early stages of planning, it is hoped that the meerkats will get to move into their new home at the RHYCP in 2024.
There will be five animals in the enclosure in the Castle Mey courtyard, which is designed to perfectly replicate their natural habitat with elements such as sand, logs, and rocks.
The enclosure will contain Perspex panels so children in pushchairs or wheelchairs will have an equal opportunity to marvel at the meerkats.
Keepers from the nearby Edinburgh Zoo will tend to the meerkats and provide regular educational sessions in communal spaces, at bedsides, and outside the enclosure.
It is hoped that not only will the programme put a smile on the patients’ faces but will also serve as an educational tool for them.
A new initiative – the first of its kind outside of Australia
The new initiative is the first of its kind outside Australia. It is being delivered through a partnership between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), NHS Lothian, and Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity (ECHC).
RZSS chief executive David Field outlined his pride in “taking this incredible next step […] creating the only meerkat enclosure at a children’s hospital outside of Australia, making this a first in the UK and Europe”.
Field also expressed his hopes that the initiative would benefit both the animals and the patients of the RHYCP.
He noted that “being close to nature and animals can have a tremendous impact on people’s mental and physical health” and suggested that “people and communities are more likely to help protect nature when they have had the opportunity to connect with our natural world.
“We are really looking forward to bringing a group of meerkats to live at the hospital next year and seeing the impact this will have for the children and their families”.
Connecting patients with nature – provides a positive effect
Allister Short, director of women’s and children’s services at NHS Lothian, spoke about how the enclosure will positively affect the patients at the hospital: “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”.