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Zoos Offering Rare Access For Those With Special Needs


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Zoos from California to Illinois are going to great lengths to allow kids with disabilities unique access to some of the wildest animals on the planet.

In what may be the most extreme example, the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Ore. recently offered children with visual impairments the opportunity to touch a Siberian tiger who was sedated for her physical, reports The Wall Street Journal. The children got to run their hands through the giant cat’s fur and along her sandpaper-like tongue.

In addition to the tiger, the Oregon Zoo program offers access to other large animals like elephants.

Though there are risks, one of the event organizers, Lisa McConachie, told the newspaper that such encounters are important for kids with limited or no vision who “can’t access anything outside their arms’ reach.”

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Comments (9 Responses)

  1. Linda Gunther says:

    HOW often does the Portland Zoo sedate it’s animals so that disabled patrons can ‘touch’ otherwise off-limits areas. What are the long term effects of repeat sedation and what if the animal becomes rogue as a result??

  2. Dave T says:

    “…a Siberian tiger who was sedated for her physical”

    – for her physical. It’s right there in the article.

  3. Liz says:

    Zoos regularly sedate large and dangerous animals
    for routine veterinary care. It is generally less traumatic
    for the animal. If the zoo chooses to share that “down
    time” with disabled kids I can only hope that other commenters
    will be perhaps less judgmental.

  4. Cat says:

    I am sure that this was probably arranged at the time of this tiger’s annual exam. Portland Zoo is very well respected in the zoological community and would not repeatedly anesthetize an animal simply for a human interaction. Repeated procedures would not cause an animal to “go rogue” but, as with humans, there are medical risks as well as labor costs (DVMs, RVTs, keepers, etc.) and the accredited zoos do not take them lightly. So while this is a lovely “feel good” story, it very likely is not the norm.

  5. Sara says:

    Linda it says during the animals PHYSICAL. I doubt they randomly decide lets drug the tiger today. Comprehension in reading is important.

  6. Judi says:

    The report stated, “…opportunity to touch a Siberian tiger who was sedated for her physical,…” I was also concerned about the Tiger, but after rereading, I am satisfied that these children were at the right time and the right place to experience this. I just had the opportunity to take my students (ages 7 & 8) to the LA Zoo and is was wonderful seeing their enjoyment to feel animals in the petting area. Two of my students were visually impaired. Let’s keep these opportunities growing!

  7. The Mobility Resource says:

    Exciting and scary – I can’t imagine having the guts to stick my hands in the tiger’s mouth. Even if he’s sedated!

  8. Ian says:


    According to the article, it was”a Siberian tiger who was sedated for her physical.” The tiger was not sedated to give the children access; it was sedated for a physical. Giving the children access an added benefit.

  9. Ellie says:

    Why only children with developmental disabilities. Why not any disabled person. My son is in his 40’s, but he is like a child and would love to experience the same things other children are experiencing.

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