Visually Impaired Students Touch And Handle Live Tiger At Oregon Zoo

Avatar BCR | February 20, 2009 0 Likes 0 Ratings

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Visually Impaired Students Touch And Handle Live Tiger At Oregon Zoo

By Bill LaMarche

Portland, OR – Fourteen students from the Columbia Regional Program had a very close encounter with a 400-pound Amur tiger at the Oregon Zoo this week. The visually impaired students got to touch the anesthetized tiger at the zoo’s veterinary hospital Tuesday, Feb. 17, during the animal’s annual physical.

“Touch is such an important sense for these kids,” said Lisa McConachie, assistant program administrator for blind-visually impaired services at CRP. “Normally when these 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 — it’s really a magical experience.”

Students from Portland, Gresham-Barlow, North Clackamas, West Linn-Wilsonville and Gladstone school districts attended the tiger procedure.

“We’ve been inviting kids from this program to the zoo for tactile encounters for the past 12 years,” said Mitch Finnegan, the zoo’s lead veterinarian. “The program is something we strongly believe in, and these encounters are something we will continue for years to come.”

The Columbia Regional Program assists local school districts in the education of students with special needs. Serving Multnomah, Clackamas, Hood River and Wasco counties, the program provides direct instruction, assessment and consultation, as well as accommodations and modifications, for about 270 blind or visually impaired students.

“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.”

According to McConachie, a trip to the zoo not only helps increase the students’ understanding and conceptual awareness, but also supports independent travel and interactions within the community. “They will remember this experience for the rest of their lives,” she said.

The zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission to inspire the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Washington’s pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot butterflies, western pond turtles, Oregon spotted frogs and Kincaid’s lupine. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.

The zoo opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Zoo visitors are encouraged to ride MAX or take TriMet bus No. 63. Visitors who take the bus or MAX receive $1 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit for fare and route information.

General admission is $9.75 (12-64), seniors $8.25 (65+), children $6.75 (3-11), and infants 2 and under are free; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $2 per car is also required. Additional information is available at or by calling 503-226-1561.

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