My last visit in Dublin Zoo was over a year ago. I wrote a German article at the time, however we were so impressed with the visitor service, that I wanted to write an English version – so here it is, cute animal pictures included.
I had wanted to visit the zoo for a while, but we thought it would be difficult for two people with vision impairments to navigate the grounds without sighted help, since we are unable to read signposts or maps. So we called a day in advance and asked if someone would show us arround. The lady at the visitor centre said one of their volunteers would be delighted to give us a guided tour of the zoo.
The friendliness of Irish people towards strangers fascinates me. Our guide Catherine was lovely. The guided tour was more like a stroll around the zoo with a friend. We had interesting conversations and some great laughs. All volunteers are trained and have an impressive knowledge of the zoo, including historical facts and information about the different species it houses. It was great to be shown the zoo by someone who is passionate about their work.
Dublin Zoo offers a number of facilities to make its grounds accessible to everyone. Apart from the guided tours they have wheelchair, accessible toiletes, facilities for minding service dogs and a number of tactile objects with braille. We could touch an elephant skull with tusks, a set of giraffe teeth and a tiger fur. It was helpful to feel the different structures and to get a better impression of the shapes of the animals.
The best part of our visit was watching the feeding of the elephants during which even the baby elephants came close to the water. The carer told us how much and what they eat. Some fun facts: The elephants are trained to lift their feed to get their nails cut; And as part of the regular health checks their poo needs to be tested. In order to determine which gigantic pile belongs to what elephant they are each fed a bit of differently coloured tinsel. Well, at least the carers can see the bright side of an otherwise not pleasant-sounding task.
Some animals like reptiles or birds can be hard to see for people with vision impairments. I brought a magnification tool, which I normally use to look at traffic lights and bus numbers. Another trick is to zoom in with the phone camera or to take a picture and zoom in afterwards to focus on an animal.
The landscape the animals live in resembles their natural environment. Especially impressive is the ape area consisting of numerous islands. The penguins with their black and white colour contrast were also easy to sse. We could even watch them swimming under water through a glass wall. It was similar with the giraffes and zebras in their savanna.
More fun facts> Catherine told us about a scientist who uses video footage to study how long each of the flamingos stands on the same leg. I would love to know the answer for my fun facts collection.
In many ways it is difficult for people with disabilities to live independently in Ireland (public transport is my favourite example). However, what makes it a lot easier is the willingness of many people to give extra time and effort to other people´s special requirements. In contrast, in Germany many employees only do what is required of them according to their job description. Volunteering is not as as large a part of German culture as it is in Ireland. There are special guided tours, but often only if you bring a goup, pay extra for it or arrange it months in advance. In Ireland we were always accommodated without lengthy arrangements.
Unfortunately, we could not find skunks, my favourite animals. I suspect it is because of the smell. Dublin Zoo is always worth a visit. Nature is fascinating and without institutions promoting the continuation and procreation of endangered animals a significant number of animals would have died out by now.