By David Russell
Catching tadpoles isn’t something kids can usually do in a playground, but then the Adelaide Zoo’s latest initiative isn’t any ordinary playground. Launched on Tuesday night, Nature’s Playground is designed specifically to introduce children to the natural world.
“The Playground encourages unstructured play using a lot of natural elements,” Zoos SA CEO Elaine Bensted told Inside South Australia. “We’ve got a creek bed… last night we had a bunch of kids tadpoling… One of them got very excited because he’d never seen a tadpole before.”
The playground also includes timber climbing structures, rope ladders, water play areas and an aerial walkway that gives kids a view of the Zoo from tree level.
“You can get up there on these walkways see Adelaide Oval and the CBD, so it gives a really nice sense of place… there’s (also) some spiral slides and trampolines,” said Elaine.
“It’s designed to give kids a range of areas that can test them. There’s things that will suit a six month old and things that will suit older kids and even adults.”
The Zoo developed the new playground after receiving feedback from visitors and recognising a greater need to connect kids to nature in an interactive way. They partnered with children’s charity Variety on the project, making the equipment as accessible as possible for kids of all abilities.
“We’ve put a lift in, so if someone is in a wheelchair or has mobility issues and can’t go up the stairs or the rope ladder to get to the walkway, they wont miss out.
“We also have raised sand beds, so children with mobility challenges can be alongside the pits and still play in the sand.
Zookeepers will bring animals into the playground for talks and demonstrations, giving the kids up-close encounters with snakes, barn owls, quockers and other critters. The Zoo will also be relocating the family zoo from its current location to the play area, which will create space at the back of the zoo for an extended breeding and conservation program.
Elaine expects the new play area will attract more visitors over the holiday period and increase sales of members passes.
“If you buy a membership it means you can come to the sites as often as you like throughout the year. We hope the new playground facility is going to be a place that kids want to keep coming back to.”
While families and tourists are the biggest market in terms of visitors, there is another, unlikely group that frequent the Zoo.
“Our market research has shown it’s also a very popular place for young adults on dates. It’s a safe place to go and you get a chance to talk to each other, whereas if you go to a movie you don’t.”
The Adelaide Zoo is open 365 days a year. Access to Nature’s Playground is included in the price of entry.