Environment

Assistance dogs granted access to Adelaide Zoo for first time ever

Assistance Dogs have now been granted access into Adelaide Zoo for the very first time.

A new era has dawned at Adelaide Zoo as it embraces Assistance Dogs, granting them entry for the very first time. This development opens a realm of wildlife exploration to visitors who rely on accredited Assistance Dogs.

In collaboration with See Differently (formerly known as the Royal Society for the Blind), Zoos SA’s assistance animal program has initiated the admission of See Differently accredited Assistance Dogs to the zoo during specific hours from 10.30am to 3.00pm.

An innovative Assistance Animal zone map has been introduced, guiding visitors and their Assistance Dogs throughout the zoo. This map ensures a safe and enriching experience for Labradors, lemurs, and their human companions alike. The creation of this map is a result of meticulous scientific research.

Nic Bishop, Zoos SA’s Animal Behaviour and Creative Programs Manager, explained that this program was born out of collaborative animal behaviour research involving Zoos SA veterinarians, keepers, and See Differently specialist dog trainers.

See Differently’s assistance dogs participated in four testing days, interacting with zoo animals to assess their responses. These interactions involved walking the dogs past various animal habitats throughout the zoo, with Nic recording the zoo animals’ reactions and the handlers noting the dogs’ responses.

“We wanted to know what might happen when a lion meets a Labrador. Using over 100 pieces of behavioural footage, I assessed how dogs and different zoo animals responded to each other to assess where assistance animals can go in the zoo,” Nic Bishop stated.

The results of this testing process revealed that, for the vast majority of species, encountering an Assistance Dog was a positive enrichment experience. Bishop shared a fascinating observation, stating, “It was fascinating seeing the Meerkats’ reaction; they were so curious and all ran over to the glass fence to check out their furry visitor.”

These findings have been translated into a traffic light system on the Assistance Animal zone map. Green zones signify areas where assistance animals can safely roam, orange areas call for caution, and red zones restrict Assistance Animals’ access.

Elaine Bensted, Zoos SA Chief Executive, expressed excitement about this pivotal milestone in providing an inclusive space. She noted that Assistance Animals play a crucial role in granting people with accessibility requirements greater independence, emphasizing the positive impact of such initiatives on Adelaide Zoo’s accessibility journey.

See Differently Executive Director, Damian Papps, praised the unique research phase of this program and the collaboration between See Differently and Zoos SA. He highlighted how this initiative enables South Australians with guide or assistance dogs to enjoy a new, accessible experience at Adelaide Zoo.

Human Services Minister Nat Cook lauded the initiative, remarking that it enhances accessibility and inclusivity for all South Australians.

At this early stage, the program exclusively accommodates accredited See Differently Assistance Dogs and not other types of assistance animals.

People visiting with an accredited See Differently Assistance Dog can head to the Accessibility page on the Adelaide Zoo website and access the Assistance Animals Guide and complete an application or call Adelaide Zoo on (08) 8267 3255.

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