Stuffed animals are Dublin Zoo’s latest weapon for educating children
New Discovery and Learning Centre opened by President Michael D Higgins on Monday
At the back wall of Dublin Zoo’s new Discovery and Learning Centre two stuffed lions glare out ominously from behind a glass screen, one of them a cherished former resident of the park.
They are the genuine articles, and visitors can approach safely, “without getting killed or attacked”, notes 15-year-old Aimee Merriman, a student from High School in Rathgar, Dublin, dispatched to test the new facility’s appeal to its target audience.
“You can get really close up to them and you can see the actual size of them and what they look like,” she enthuses.
As she and fellow student Sam Redmond (15) fixate on the colour-shifting stick insects crawling up their sleeves, it seems there is no question about the centre’s potential.
It is Dublin Zoo’s latest weapon in education, targeting schools in particular with classes on everything from biodiversity to eco systems and sustainability.
Its public section is replete with objects of fascination from the animal kingdom - a giraffe skeleton, monkey and elephant skulls, and ostrich eggs line the walls.
Dublin Zoo is, noted President Michael D Higgins at the centre’s launch on Monday, “an environment where education and conservation are combining to become a stimulating learning resource, a living classroom that enables all visitors to discover and experience the living world.”
He recalled a speech he gave in the Seanad 40 years ago in which he described the difference between how a child and an adult handles a scorpion, the former held more captive by the wonder of nature.
“This is something that we have to sustain right through education. And education will gain from the facilities that are available here,” he said.
The new centre is partially open to public visitors but also houses classrooms and an auditorium especially designed to cater for tours and curriculum-linked education programmes. At a cost of just over €3 million, it is more than two years in the making.
In the modern world, is there a deficit of awareness around nature? “I think yes there is,” says Aileen Tennant, manager of the zoo’s discovery and learning department. “TV programmes like David Attenborough help to raise awareness but coming to see creatures in natural habitats like Dublin Zoo and engaging in this kind of space [at the new centre] helps people to make a connection.”