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A BIG dog!? No, it’s a polar bear!

In the last week of August, children from substitute homes and safe houses from all over Estonia got to enjoy a traditional pre-school visit to Tallinn Zoo with the help of the non-profit association SEB Heategevusfond. In addition to seeing all sorts of birds and animals, the children had fun on trampolines, had their faces painted, enjoyed some tasty pancakes and took photos with family and friends.

The children just could not wait to go to the zoo. The bus ride was fun, just like any time when there’s something exciting ahead. The children discussed their expectations, planned which animals to see, and recalled their previous visits.

For many of them, the zoo was a pretty familiar place already and the visit has become an eagerly anticipated family tradition in quite a few homes. The children could find their way around the zoo with no problems by observing the signposts and deciding together where to go next. The weather was lovely and the animals were not too shy to show themselves.

A new experience for many children

For some of the smaller children, this was the first experience of seeing the animals so close and their emotions and questions were endless. They were curious about how the animals lived in the wild, what they were called, and what their life was like in the zoo.

This time, we also had some children who have lived in a substitute home for a short amount of time and have grown up in the rather tiny world of their own back yards, without having a chance to see much outside the home. While other children noticed the animals straight away because they knew to look for them, these children only saw a broken ball, tyres, ropes, etc. When arriving at the polar bear cage, they shouted “Oh what a large dog that is!” The teacher had to fill the kids in by explaining all about what this animal was and where it lived. For these children, it was a completely new world...

It was also somewhat surprising that there was a 14-year-old who had never been to a zoo before. His idea of the place had been completely different. He couldn’t exactly put what he was expecting into words... His favourite animal was definitely a leopard, but unfortunately we were unable to meet it this time.

Trampoline, one of the favourite “animals”

Although people normally come to see animals in a zoo, it has many other exciting things to offer. For example, a trampoline, and face painting. Anyone who’s ever been to Tallinn Zoo obviously knows this!

And so it happened that for many families, the first stop after getting to the meeting point at Rebasemäe was a welcoming trampoline, which helped to release the emotions of those both big and small. It was followed by discussions on how many somersaults one could do when jumping and how to improve the technique to beat everyone else.

More active boys could even somersault twice. Kristjan could not have been prouder and kept telling everyone how many somersaults he could do in mid-air. And little Henri, who was a bit afraid at first and kept away, finally stood in the line and had his very first try at jumping on a trampoline. “I loved it!” he cheered afterwards.

Even Teele got herself together at the last moment and did a backflip twice! Taavi overcame his fears, acquired the technique and was proud to take part, even though he was afraid until the very end.

There he is!

The children were most excited about the big animals - bison, camels, lions, polar bears, rhinos and elephants. Nevertheless, the smaller creatures received just as much attention. There was a lot of excitement about the mice – the children had a plan to bring all of them back home and let them loose just to see what would happen. After all, they knew how much the teachers would dislike these little pests.

One of the families was determined to see all of the exhibits, thus they moved in slow motion and peeked into each and every cage and enclosure to see who lived there. “There he is!” yelled the children, when they finally spotted a bird or an animal in some hidden corner.

Exotic animals were fascinating, but also a bit frightening. There are always those who are a bit afraid of snakes and crocodiles. Thank goodness they were safely behind the glass at the zoo...

Elephant turned into a dinosaur

For many children, the biggest surprise, quite literally, was the elephant. They admired it with great awe and respect. Three-year-old Damian called it a dinosaur. Although the teachers explained, the boy stood his ground, absolutely convinced it was a dinosaur...

Yet, there was a fair share of compassion for the big animal after finding out it had to go to the dentist. Even though it was huge, it must also have had big teeth, with big holes in them!

The indisputable favourites of the children were the monkeys. The visit to their enclosures were the longest and all the information boards were carefully read. The monkeys were fun, goofing around and mimicking each other and the visitors. The cheerful animals made the children jump around in a similar way.

They brought excitement to almost every family. It was so interesting to see how the monkey mama offered her child a banana. Some babies were tiny and didn’t pay much attention to the fruit, but some of them took a piece to try.

What kind of animal is an ecoduct?

There’s always plenty of new things to see at the zoo, but the children also used the chance to share the knowledge they already had while watching the animals. Information boards explained a lot of new things about the habitats and habits of the wildlife, and gave the children a lot of new knowledge.

A large tunnel is currently being built at the zoo. The teacher asked if they knew why it was being built there and who might start using the new tunnel. After some hints, the children guessed it was meant for wild animals to cross the road safely. The teacher added that it was called an ecoduct, introducing more general animal topics with this piece of information.

In one of the families, the lives of various Estonian animals were discussed, and Reino and Raimo, the family’s boys, were almost smarter than the teacher. They are the biggest nature fans of the family, spending a lot of time watching animal movies and nature documentaries.

Polar bear as large as a house and seals playing hide and seek

The children got tonnes of emotions from what they saw. The injured foot of the polar bear, for instance, made them seriously worried about how it was going to heal and how long it might take. For one family however, the polar bear almost performed a circus show by leisurely spinning a large red ball while dipping into the water from time to time. Dima, the eldest of one of the families, had a hard time believing that the cute white bear could be a dangerous predator...

Another exciting moment came when the huge polar bear stood up against the fence – the children compared its height to a building.

The smooth way in which the seals quickly disappeared under water and then popped their heads back up also brought a lot of joy to the children.

Don’t pet a tiger, but a rabbit doesn’t mind

Observing a big and imposing tiger was also fascinating, although somewhat scary, especially when it growled and showed its fangs. A graceful, but dangerous animal – clearly not suitable for cuddling!

Noisy birds made the children stop and have a look. And the small children’s zoo with goats and rabbits brought a lot of excitement to those both big and small. Finally something you could touch and pet!

But the eagerly awaited baby rhino remained unseen this time, well hidden behind its mother’s back. The other family, however, got a better glimpse of the new baby. There was no doubt that she and all of the other young animals were everyone’s favourites!

Elephant, snake and lion – fond memories

Smaller children even spoke of their visit to the zoo days later. All of the family guests were informed of their visit to the zoo and given the latest news on lions and snakes. The youngest child in one of the families also drew an elephant, snake and a lion in the notebook used for writing down all of his good and bad emotions – obviously, the trip to the zoo was a positive memory.

The trip was a nice change and an opportunity to stand side by side with some of the mightiest members of the animal kingdom. This experience will surely be useful later in school.

The children agreed on the way back that it was another one of those fun days to always remember. They very much hope the tradition will continue next year. The parents hope that the tradition of doing something fun together will also carry on with their own future families.

The children also had eyes for the flowers and in quite a few cases, they knew who had one just like it in their own garden. One of the teachers agreed that their enthusiasm and interest in flora also sparked an interest in the family children.

In addition to seeing things with their own eyes, the children also gained a lot of knowledge. The information boards informed them of what the respective animal ate, where it lived in the wild and what its characteristic traits were. Later, at home, they read even more about the animals. In several families, the children decided to pay more attention to animal books to get to know the awesome animals a bit better.
 

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