Residents at Clevedon Court Nursing Home in Clevedon have been marvelling at exotic creatures from around the world thanks to a visit from a local zoo.

It follows research showing that routine exposure to animals has been proven to have a therapeutic effect on older people and has been shown to increase the production and release of serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ hormone.

Noah’s Ark Zoo in Wraxall delighted residents with a hissing cockroach, giant African land snail, African tortoise, royal python and two guinea pigs. Residents chose to participate in their own way, holding or touching their ‘new friends’, while the handlers educated them with facts about each one.

Activities coordinator, Amanda Rowles, was amazed at the residents’ response and how well they engaged with the zoo’s inhabitants.

“Everyone was really looking forward to it, and the home was buzzing with excitement during and after the visit,” explained Amanda.

“One lady was keen to be the first to hold the hissing cockroach but cried out ‘Oh my goodness’ when it scuttled across her hand. The resident hadn’t expected it to be real, but despite her surprise, she enjoyed the experience and asked lots of questions about the insect.”

Amanda believes that engaging with the animals helps to improve the residents’ social skills. She added: “Everyone was chatting, and it brought residents who are usually quiet out of themselves. It really stimulated our residents, hours later there was still a lot of chatter about the experience.

“Animal therapy has lots of health benefits for older people, physical, mental and emotional. We found it had a calming effect, helping the residents to relax and feel happy.”

On learning that the giant African land snail he was holding has around 14,000 teeth and that its slime can been used as an ingredient in face cream, George, aged 99, reflected on his time serving in Africa during World War II and said that he never saw one of the snails during his time there.

The guinea pigs also brought back memories for George, he said: “We used to eat these on the ship, and they tasted quite nice.” The handler agreed that guinea pigs did used to be kept on ships as part of the rations.

Resident Fay, aged 84, was very taken with Pepper and Dolly – the pair of guinea pigs – and said: “They are purring, it must mean they like me!”

The zoo visit is one of a wide range of activities organised and delivered by the 50-bed nursing home to stimulate residents and improve their wellbeing.