Blind students get hands-on encounter with tiger
Oregon Zoo opens its doors to visually impared students
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
Thats what youll find at the Oregon Zoo on any given day this summer.
But for girls like 10-year-old Clara Johansen, the zoo isnt anything to get excited about.
Johansen, a fifth-grader at Durham Elementary School, has a rare genetic disease known as Leber's congenital amaurosis. With a visual acuity of 20/400, she is twice the threshold to be considered legally blind.
For her, unless the animals are near the glass, its difficult to make out their shapes.
But that wasnt the case last week, when she and her mom got an up close and personal encounter with a 235-pound Siberian tiger.
On July 16, the zoo opened its doors to a dozen blind and visually impaired children for an experience few have ever had: The chance to pet Nikki, one of the largest cats in the world.
The tiger was brought in to the zoos veterinary medical center as part of her annual check up. She was anesthetized so veterinarians could clean her teeth and take blood samples.
While the big cat slept, students were able to feel her long, sharp claws and teeth, run their hands across her rough, scratchy tongue, listen to its heartbeat and pet her thick fur.
Its not soft, like you would think it would be, Johansen said. Its super coarse hair.
Many in the group were completely blind, and this was their first chance to feel what a tiger looks like, said Lisa McConachie, program administrator for blind and visually impaired services at Columbia Regional Program, which assists local school district in educating students with special needs.
Touch is such an important sense for these kids, she said. Typically, when (blind or visually impaired) students come to the zoo, they can only hear the animals, not see or touch them. When the kids touch a living, breathing tiger, they light up its really a magical experience.
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McConachie organized the trip with the Oregon Zoo, which has been hosting programs like this for 15 years.
The program is something we strongly believe in, said Mitch Finnegan, lead veterinarian at the Oregon Zoo. These encounters are something we will continue for years to come.
The zoo hasn't held an event with the tigers this for a few years, said zoo spokesman Hova Najarian, because it can only happen when the animal is anesthetized, but students last year were able to pet one of the zoo's Asian elephants.
As we support children in their neighborhood schools, rare behind-the-scenes encounters such as these are invaluable, said McConachie. They open up new worlds to the students memorable experiences that they would not normally have access to, given their vision impairments.
Experiences like this one do more than just show students what some of the world's creatures feel like, McConachie said.
These trips help increase the students understanding and conceptual awareness, and trips to the places like zoos help support independent travel and interactions within the community.
They will remember this experience for the rest of their lives, she said.
Just being able to see the tiger, and actually pet it, it was amazing, she said. There are not many people who get to do that. Everything about that experience was awesome.
Johansens condition can often be difficult for her, her mother Laura Johansen said.
Things can be frustrating for her, she said. But every once in awhile, she gets to do something like this, and that is just really cool.Add a comment