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May 2013
Contents / home
Disease research in cheetahs
Top awards for NZG research
Ragged-tooth shark released
Holiday fun at the zoo
Knysna seahorse pampering
Emma the lioness
11th ICEE comes to Africa
Exhibit draws large crowds
Scifest Africa 2013
A kiss from a seal
Farm programme fascinates
Rhino poaching update
Conservation Grapevine

A kiss from a seal

The National Zoo was proud to form part of an exciting educational activity for children with autism.

As part of their community service, which is a requirement of their course, veterinary science students from the University of Pretoria (UP) presented a fun-filled day at the zoo for learners from the UNICA School for Autism. NZG staff assisted the veterinary science students to facilitate an educational experience whereby learners not only got to learn more about the animals in the zoo, but about veterinary science as well.

A learner gets a kiss from a seal. (The learner's face is blurred to protect his identity.)   Students lead the learners in the "lion" activity.

Seal facts

The students welcomed the learners to the zoo before accompanying them to the first area of activity for the day. The first stop was the Cape fur seal enclosure where learners were given an overview of the seals and an activity to participate in. The activity required the learners to indicate what type of food seals eat, why seals have flippers, the hunting strategies they use and what the seals get caught in at times.

The veterinary science students explained their role in caring for seals that are covered in oil from a stranded oil tanker and how best to clean them up. The learners completed the activity with the aid of pictures that they were able to stick next to the corresponding questions. The use of pictures as part of a visual teaching approach is essential for creating an optimal learning environment for most learners, but especially for learners with autism.

After completing the interactive activity, the learners were introduced to the seals. The seals performed tricks for the learners and were rewarded with fish. The learners also had an opportunity to get a kiss from a seal! This experiential learning experience was one of the many highlights of the programme.

Enrichment programmes

The second area of their tour was the primate enclosures, where learners learnt more about how enrichment programmes benefit the animals and how enrichment is conducted. On this particular day, popcorn was placed around the enclosures for the primates to find and eat. The enrichment is done to stimulate the animals' minds and to encourage them to be creative and active in foraging for food.

The learners also enjoyed the cable car ride, which gave them an aerial view of the zoo. The final stopover for the learners was the lion and tiger enclosures were they learnt more about the big cats and were given an activity to participate in. They had to explain what types of food the big predators eat, how lion cubs are carried by their mothers, why lions have claws and the habitat of the lions.

Predator incisor tooth extraction simulation

The veterinary science students demonstrated how they would go about extracting a broken incisor tooth from a lion. They cleverly made use of a small lion furry toy, lion skull and used pliers to extract a large cardboard cut-out of the tooth. Learners joked about the large gold coin that the tooth fairy would be depositing.

As most of the learners had not been to the zoo before, they thoroughly enjoyed this exciting visit and visually rich learning experience.

UNICA School for Learners with Autism is a public benefit organisation which provides specialised education to learners between the ages of 3 and 18 with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism is a disorder of neural development characterised by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behaviour. For more information on UNICA School for Learners with Autism, visit

By Belinda Mokhanda, NZG Intern

Zoo and Aquarium Visitor