Meerkats set to cheer up poorly children with hospital residency

The programme aims to bring a smile to those staying long term at the hospital while providing conservation education.

Children at an Edinburgh hospital are being treated to the arrival of a mob of meerkats as part of a conservation outdoor classroom.

In a first-of-its-kind programme outside of Australia, meerkats from Edinburgh Zoo are set to reside at NHS Lothian’s Royal Hospital for Children and Young People (RHCYP).

The entertaining and inquisitive animals are set to give children at the hospital the opportunity to learn about nature and the environment.

The programme, which has been designed to support children and young people staying long term at the hospital, is a partnership between Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity (ECHC), NHS Lothian and The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).

The zoo currently delivers weekly education programmes at the hospital including topics covering penguins, pandas and tigers.

The new meerkat enclosure will replicate their natural habitat and zookeepers will care for them and provide meerkat educational sessions while on site.

Rosa Carter, a four-year-old patient at RHCYP Chris Watt

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.”

The programme is currently in the early stages of planning and it is hoped the meerkats will move into their new home from 2024.

David Field, chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, added: “Our conservation education programme has already been a great success and now we are taking this incredible next step by creating the only meerkat enclosure at a children’s hospital outside of Australia, making this a first in the UK and Europe. 

“Being close to nature and animals can have a tremendous impact on people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. We also know 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.”

Similar programmes have already been introduced in hospitals in Australia with Edinburgh being the first of its kind in the UK.

Allister Short from 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.”

Meerkat footage courtesy of RZSS

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