Autism – Late diagnosis, the process and my reaction

Autism

I was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism in 2016, aged 19. Originally referred to as Aspergers Syndrome.

Laura… I think you might be Autistic.

I had no knowledge surrounding Autism. I believed my Therapist had confused me with another patient. 

I succeeded through two nurseries, two mainstream schools (Primary and Secondary), and had recently finished my College life. And not once had the word Autism been mentioned to myself or anybody in my family. A Teacher said to me (after informing her about my referral), “I don’t think you seem Autistic, Laura”.

Sigh.

Increasing numbers of people are beginning to receive an Autism diagnosis later on in life as traits are better recognised and detected. Autism doesn’t end after Childhood. It’s a lifetime diagnosis, where we learn to manage our struggles whilst learning more about ourselves as individuals on the spectrum. I’m amazed that I managed to mask my symptoms for such a long time, considering the inability I had to act in School Drama lessons.

The mutual assumption seemed to be that I was shy, I would “probably” grow out of it with age. I became a favoured student as I just got on with things, paid close attention to minor details in my assignments and didn’t kick up a fuss. I rarely displayed meltdowns in education, but I would (and still do) run away from stressful situations. I held other “typically Autistic” attributes. Such as high sensitivity levels, routine favourability and difficulties maintaining friendships. I particularly despised having supply Teachers taking over due to sickness (for example), as this issued a change in routine and structure.

I’d been working weekly with my Eating Disorder Therapist for a long duration of time. We hit a brick wall in terms of treatment, following the difficulties I had with expressing my feelings and emotions (an essential component in taking therapies!) We tried a collection of techniques together, some of which worked better than others. At one point, we resorted to an “emotions wheel” where I had to point to the word in which I was feeling.

The process

My Therapist contacted Trafford Extended Services (Manchester), following a discussion with myself, my Mum and my Psychiatrist. My Therapist had detected “possibly Autistic” traits in me. Ie: The difficulties I have understanding sarcasm and taking everything literally, the struggles I have with maintaining eye contact and the ways in which I would use laughter to cope. I also found it impossible to tolerate change as it leads to distress and discomfort, which is why my Anorexia remains so complex and difficult to treat. It was then a waiting game.

The waiting game

I ran home every day waiting for the greatly anticipated referral letter to be pushed through the door. And, to my dismay, the wait lasted for 6 months. We attempted to speed up the referral process, but services are stretched and limited, which made this difficult. I became distressed, the wait was agonising and my mental state began quickly deteriorating as I spiralled further into my Depression. I tried to remain humble as I understood others had lengthier waiting periods than I had. I struggled to tolerate with “not knowing”. I had so many questions, and I evolved many unhelpful assumptions about myself and my abilities throughout the waiting process.

The assessment process

I then received an appointment, which involved 2 assessors from the team coming to my home. This simply involved an introduction about the service, the process and a general chat about my life, past and present. There were queries about friendships, family life, my interests and so on.

The assessors (one named Mike, the other… I forget) returned to my house 2 weeks later for an individual discussion with my Mum. I believe this was again, about my personal life, characteristics and such, but I chose not to delve too much into this for Mum’s privacy reasons.

Finally, I was invited to take part in a practical assessment away from home, with a mere 15 minute drive to Barnett House. I engaged in a test called an ADOS test (The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule). This took place in a small room under the observation of Mike and a lady I hadn’t previously met before, named Cath. I was given a brief explanation regarding the process and had to take part in various tasks to gain an insight into the understanding I have regarding different scenarios and situations.

Further information on ADOS can be reached, here:

I was tasked with reading from two different Children’s books, both containing no words, which heightened the confusion I had surrounding the task at hand. Later on, I understood that the aim of the task was to test my ability to understand and read facial expressions/emotions. To which I completely ignored, as I focused more on the objects and animals on the diagram.

Other tasks included basic demonstrations. I particularly enjoyed choosing random objects from an enclosed bag to proceed with telling my own short story. Of course, my story involved animals (my “special” interest). 

2 weeks later, I was diagnosed with Autism. Mike and Cath came to my house to reveal the findings of the assessments, where I sat anxiously with my Mum waiting for the unknown to become the known. Information of my diagnosis was issued to us extremely casually, almost like “Yes. You have Autism”.

My reaction

I was asked numerous times how I felt after receiving the news. I still struggle to pinpoint this as I felt multiple things all at once.

Relief? So…many…questions. 

Mainly, it was confusion. Numbness.

How exactly do you react to finding out you have a diagnosis you’d been oblivious about up until adulthood?

I struggled for weeks, months and years to accept my Autism diagnosis. I attempted to sugarcoat this in the beginning in a bid to hide my true feelings and thoughts. But I spent a lengthy period focusing on the negatives, using my “new” diagnosis to define myself and coming to terms with what this meant for me.

I learned to come to terms with my Autism diagnosis with the help of weekly appointments with my Autism support worker (Cath, who I mentioned previously) which lasted for approximately 16-months. And with the assistance of attending weekly group sessions (for ten weeks) amongst other newly-diagnosed adults, which covered a range of topics each week and also allowed me to learn more about other people, their experiences and their struggles.

Anorexia recovery – Eating, comparison and being brave

Mental Health

For the past few years, I’ve fallen very much, unwillingly, into comparative habits. This can be detrimental in Anorexia Recovery.

If my friends aren’t eating, why should I?

I MUST be greedy.

Why am I eating if the people around me aren’t? So…much…guilt.

It’s a constant turmoil.

I very recently stumbled across a highly informative blog post by Tabitha Farrar, which highlights mutual recovery worries and concerns. Even an incredible podcast, which can be reached here

I’ve found that Eating Disorders have a tendency to possess a competitive nature in an assortment of ways. The constant fixation on what others are doing and saying can be exhausting.

My friends are dieting, does this mean I should?

My Mum hasn’t eaten Lunch, I guess I shouldn’t either.

I understand that I can become preoccupied with what others around me are eating, and I remain positive that I’m not alone in this, but I’m learning to reverse that focus onto myself to assist me in my journey.

My Therapist issued me with advice, in which I’d like to share. Individuals in recovery from Eating Disorders have significantly different needs in comparison to those around us. We need more food to assist the repairing of the bodies we’ve destroyed for prolonged periods. We have distinctively different needs in comparison to others. We’re in a calorie deficit, our bodies struggle to function with minimal nutrition. Our periods end, our organs begin shutting down and we encounter abnormal blood test results. (Note, symptoms vary within individuals!)

Rewind back 4 years ago, my Therapist challenged me to eating in College. To this day, I still struggle immensely with eating away from home, it typically feels disorganised and unnecessary. But I’m working on it. I was tasked with eating a cereal bar. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. My friend informed me that she hadn’t eaten and I simply couldn’t comprehend eating if she hadn’t, because it obviously “wasn’t” important. I had to constantly remind myself that she’d go home and eat, she wouldn’t restrict calories like I would or engage in unhealthy coping techniques.

The food stands as the building blocks essential for regaining our concentration, protecting our organs and obtaining energy. We must focus our energies on recovery and allowing our bodies (And minds) to habituate to increased food quantities.

It’s important to remember that food is our medicine, the key to our mental and physical healing. No two people eat the same. Skipping meals and snacks simply to match up to our peers only encourages the disordered voices whilst ensuring that we remain compacted within our unhealthy coping mechanisms and ways of thinking. Eating doesn’t equate to greed, increasing calories doesn’t highlight excessiveness.

Other people’s eating habits are NOT an invitation for us to alter our own, it’s vital that we work hard and cooperate with our negative and competitive feelings in order to more forward. We all have different eating habits, we eat at different times and enjoy different foods. This isn’t a matter to be ashamed about, diversity is one of life’s many wonderful factors, it keeps us different and unique.

There’s bravery in reaching for a snack or preparing a meal when those around you state how far from hungry they feel or how little they’ve eaten throughout the day. That takes strength and a considerate amount of determination.

I personally struggle to eat if those around me aren’t. I feel extremely reluctant to eat and then become more anxious if it’s gone past a “safe time”. But our bodies aren’t clocks, they appreciate food all-round. It heightens the guilt I feel surrounding eating and the anorexic voice in my head persuades me to give in. I easily feel greedy and insignificant, especially given my lack of hunger cues. But an essential component of my healing journey consists of prioritising my needs and my thoughts, aswell as acknowledging why I may struggle while working to alter that.

People without Eating Disorders don’t typically have set eating/meal times, and even if a meal or snack is skipped, no disordered thoughts will lure their nastiness. And if they skip a meal (usually due to time constraints/preoccupation or other commitments, not on purpose), this generally DOESNT have implications on the other meals of the day, compensative behaviours will not be used and a recommended amount of calories (ENERGY!!) will still be reached.

Ideally, others will make up for the food they’ve missed throughout the day and may prefer larger meals as opposed to “little and often”. But I imagine no two days of eating are the same for anybody, people may eat more on some days than on others. And vice versa. It all balances out. I would find this unmanageable and daunting, and eating irregularly quickly leads to lightheadedness and fainting episodes. One day I’ll be free from a structured meal plan, but today is not that day.

We must remember to focus on ourselves and our needs, whilst acknowledging that this isn’t selfish, but a necessary component in becoming a step closer to health and happiness. Food is fuel, and although eating may feel like a constant job, it is our medicine.

Anorexia Recovery – Ditching the scales, freedom away from numbers

Mental Health

The morning approached, it was 6:30am.

Already, I encountered deliberating thoughts about eating. I pondered whether I should, or whether I shouldn’t. And I’m beginning to believe that this may be a constant, lifelong battle for me.

With every day, I cannot determine how my thoughts will challenge me throughout the day. Some days will be easier than others, and some will be spent fighting with the grit of my teeth and my upmost strength and determination.

I cried, I rationalised and sat anxiously with my thoughts. I felt defeated, and frankly, nourishment felt more like a punishment. I often wonder why I am 22-years-old becoming tearful over food and fixated on numbers. I curiously think about life of the latter, freedom with food and perhaps, body acceptance?

Rewind a few hours later, I felt empowered and encouraged. I desperately wanted to alter my mindset and to challenge my toughest thoughts. Admittedly, my breakfast simply consisted of giving in to my disordered thoughts. I decided enough was enough, I had the rest of the day to build myself up and to tackle more habits. I simply couldn’t carry on waiting to be saved whilst putting in minimal effort to save myself.

Anorexia Recovery compromises of more than just regaining a “normal” relationship with food, but also about challenging other behaviours and rituals that extend beyond food. I stood up, heart racing and thoughts pondering, and reached up for my scales. The scales have dominated my life and my way of thinking for 6+ years and I first weighed myself at the mere age of 4. And until today, I kept this hidden. I’d been weighing myself multiple times a day, every day for years, and it began feeling exhausting and it held the equivalence of a heavy load on my shoulders. Anorexia is conniving and encourages sneaky behaviours and rituals. I no longer wanted to be sneaky, I wanted to be brave. Yesterday I owned up, and the support I received was not only remarkable, but incredibly reassuring.

I nervously threw my scales away, with much hesitation and questioning on my part, although ready to say good bye to a dark chapter in my life, determined to bring in a happier one. Anorexia screamed at me no, and insulted me greatly, but I wholeheartedly knew it was the best decision in the long term. A step forward in recovery and regaining my health, happiness and sparkle.

I’ve anxiously sat through feelings and urges during the day and have become ridden with guilt and uncertainty. I cannot move forward with the constant fixation and obsession on numbers, and I believe only my medical professionals need to know. I’ve been underweight for years, and I believe focusing on numbers only heightened the anxieties I have surrounding weight gain and reaching a healthy weight/BMI.

The number on the scale dictates my relationship with gravity, it can never determine my worth, intelligence or sparkle.

I’m learning to define myself by the number of animals I help, the milestones I’ve achieved and the strength I’ve gained. It’s going to be a long journey, but one I’m dedicated to.

I’m more than just a number. I’m a person with goals and aspirations, strength and determination. And I’m ready to move forward.

A weighted life perspective

Mental Health

We live in a World where weight gain has been, and continues to be, demonised. An increase in the scale number quickly equates to feelings of low self worth, inadequacy and failure. We attempt to remain small, whilst measuring our worth in kilograms and not so much smiles, achievements and memories. I understand the satisfaction gained from the decreasing scale number, believe me. But I can assure you that it brings minimal comfort, I was never fully “happy” until I faced death. A reduction in weight was never enough to counteract the thoughts and feelings I battled internally.

I despise weight related comments. Before opening up about my Anorexia battle, I regularly received praiseful words on my malnourished body, told that I had a “perfect figure”, I was asked for diet advice and the methods I used to lose a large proportion of weight in not so little time. And in doing so, this made it significantly harder for me to acknowledge that the actions and behaviours I constantly engaged in were wrong. Please be mindful of chosen words.

It’s impossible to pass a day without talk of dieting and weight loss. Celebrities promoting silly appetite suppressants and highlighting unrealistic diets to vulnerable followers for a sum of money. Of course, healthy weight loss is crucial for those who are medically overweight. And I believe this should be supported to avoid the usage of unhealthy coping mechanisms. Ie: Starvation, bingeing and purging. However, we’re indefinitely becoming a brainwashed society and I’m yet to meet an individual who is confident in their body. I’d like to see a drastic change in this, for new and current generations. More emphasis on body acceptance, less on methods to change your body and more ways to gain a healthier mindset.

There is very little talk in mainstream media regarding positive, and essential weight gain, which can be extremely discouraging. I often receive compliments on my current body, and this isn’t okay, being small isn’t a compliment or a goal, but being healthy IS. This frame has been gained through years of starvation and neglect, not nourishment, love and acceptance. The media is filled with praise, complementing people for weight loss and body transformations and I’m yet to see encouraging comments congratulating individuals on weight gain.

Benefits of weight gain:

  1. Energy
  2. The ability to rationalise thoughts and decision making
  3. Increased concentration maintenance
  4. Reduction in tiredness/lethargy
  5. A step closer to health and happiness!

Weight gain isn’t always a negative. For some, it’s essential. For those recovering from Eating Disorders, for those who battle Cancer and often become reliant on supplement drinks following unintentional weight loss and for those with speedy metabolisms (To list a few). People require it to return back to a healthy state, both physically and mentally, and may require more food and it’s a factor that simply isn’t highlighted enough. It can encourage thought rationalisation and provide energy whilst helping to maintain lengthy concentration periods.

An increase in weight can be the beginning of a new chapter for some, one that is exciting and memorable. The lease of life, the regaining of energy, life and freedom. Our world is forever evolving, with new and exhilarating developments in different areas. It’s time to step aside from the misleading idea that weight gain equates to fat. And even so, that “fat” is a bad thing. Quite frankly, fat is essential, it stores energy, supports brain function and protects our organs. It doesn’t make us ugly or uncharismatic, it makes us Human.

As somebody recovering from Anorexia Nervosa, weight gain is an essential component. With this being said, Eating Disorders are NOT primarily weight focused, you can suffer at ANY weight. Without this, there would be a significant restriction on my life, and I wouldn’t be fully committing to recovery. I would face a lifetime of remaining critically underweight and unwell, in a child-like body that simply cannot function properly, or issue me with an appropriate amount of energy. Without the weight gain, I would still be collapsing unexpectedly, growing fine hairs on my body to stay warm and losing large clumps of my hair. This shouldn’t be glamorised or used as an achievable goal, but support should be issued to help people to manage their situation.

Thus, in a world where the majority are losing weight and promoting fad diets, it’s important to be kind. To prioritise our own needs, our own health and our own happiness.

Volunteering – Walkden Sixth Form Centre

Work experience/volunteering

Where:

Walkden Sixth Form Centre, Walkden. Lancashire.

When?

July 2015 – July 2016.

I began working at Walkden Sixth Form Centre in the animal unit shortly after the completion of my 2 year Animal Care and Management Diploma, in which I proudly received a D*D*D* qualification.

My roles at the college consisted of basic animal care and husbandry (cleaning, feeding and watering), alongside assisting Student’s practical sessions within the animal unit. I also took regular trips to the local vets with unwell guinea pigs Gerald and Harold, who became poorly shortly after neutering.

I also became involved within the Hedgehog unit within the animal care centre, and worked closely with rescued hedgehogs. The first being an male, named Teddy, who was released months later. We worked on a rota, I engaged in the morning duties and often the afternoon duties before going home. This involved feeding, daily weight checking (to ensure healthy weight gain was occurring), recording and cleaning out the enclosure.

The role allowed me to build on my people skills, whilst growing in confidence and gaining experience with a collection of animal species. Ranging from small and large mammals, reptiles, birds and fish.

Volunteering – Greenslate Community Farm

Work experience/volunteering

Where:

Greenslate Community Farm. Orrell, Wigan.

Duration:

One day.

Roles:

I volunteered at Greenslate Community Farm for the duration of one day. This was nearing a scheduled open day, so my tasks were mainly cleaning and maintenance focused.

I collected the Hen’s freshly laid eggs, cleaned out the duck enclosure and scrubbed the outdoor rabbit enclosure. This consisted of a large, square wooden run which five of us lifted before proceeding with the disinfecting duties to assist the removal of faeces. I then refilled the water bottles, before carefully attaching them and placing the rabbits back inside the run, after the disinfectant had dried.

I then cleaned out a stable, which appeared to be filled with tools and other forms of equipment and necessities. This was to ensure it was safe and clean enough to house one of the goats overnight, as he had to be separated from his brother while receiving specialist veterinary treatment.

Following this, I weeded the overgrown grassy area in preparation for another enclosure being relocated to the area.

Volunteering – Idlewild Animal Sanctuary

Animals, Work experience/volunteering

Where:

Idlewild Animal Sanctuary, Conwy Valley. North Wales.

When?

September 2017 – Present.

I began volunteering at Idlewild Animal Sanctuary in September, 2017. I opted to partake in voluntary work alongside my university studies. I sent a message querying about volunteering, and was soon invited in for an induction.

Roles:

The sanctuary remains close to my heart as it follows a vegan lifestyle, similar to my own. My roles at the sanctuary include basic animal care and husbandry (Cleaning out, feeding, grooming), whilst working with a collection of wonderful animal species. Including: Small and large mammals (Goats, Sheep, Donkeys and Rabbits) And birds. I’ve made friends grown in confidence and expanded on both my knowledge and experience within the animal care industry. 

I also enjoy spending quality time with the animals and encouraging them to remain both mentally and physically stimulated through different forms of enrichment. Alongside ensuring they are content and healthy. 

Volunteering – Little Owl Farm

Animals, Work experience/volunteering

Where:

Little Owl Farm, Oldham. Lancashire.

https://m.facebook.com/LittleOwlFarm/#_%23_

When?

February 2017 – Present.

I began volunteering at Little Owl Farm in February, 2017. After an email and 3 bus rides lead me to finding myself at the farm for the first time.

Roles:

My roles at the farm include basic animal care and husbandry (Cleaning out, feeding, grooming), whilst working with a collection of wonderful animal species. Including: Small and large mammals (Goats, Sheep, Donkeys and Rabbits) And birds. I’ve made friends, grown in confidence and expanded on both my knowledge and experience within the animal care industry.

I also enjoy spending quality time with the animals and encouraging them to remain both mentally and physically stimulated through different forms of enrichment. Alongside ensuring they are content and healthy.

Additionally, I enjoy expanding on my knowledge and experience with animal and nature photography. Snapping my farmyard friends brings me joy, and I love picturing animals in that given moment and sharing my images with others.

June – A new month, a happier mindset and new recovery challenges

Mental Health

It’s officially the beginning of June! And I wish you all a wonderful month filled with health and happiness. I’m determined to head back to Uni in September eager to inform my friends and Tutors of the fun-filled Summer I’ve endured. Not a Summer known for obeying Anorexia’s demands.

It’s terrifying. I’ve realised that I’m not okay and that I simply cannot continue along this pathway. Counteractively, recognising it is one thing, but actively changing it is another. And while I can’t possibly gain back lost time, I can make up for the time I’ve lost. I’ve been fearful of change for lengthy periods of time. But perhaps, change is exactly what I need. And maybe, change is good. I need to be kinder to myself. 

I simply cannot comprehend just how quickly the year is flying by. I’d like to signify the beginning of the month as the beginning of a new chapter. A step closer to health and happiness. A month filled with learning, growth and recovery-focused challenges. I’m aiming to find body acceptance, to follow a meal plan and to be brave. I’m simultaneously excited and extremely anxious for my next steps.

Last night, I had a realisation. I battled suicidal thoughts and overcame gruelling urges once again. I’m young, I haven’t lived properly yet, and it hurts that I often seek a way out when I should be finding my feet, exploring the world and developing new interests. My Tutor helped me to understand that the things that matter now may not matter in the years to come. I need to survive the bad to find the better, regardless of how painful it often seems. I’m about to delve into yet another challenging and unpredictable chapter, so it’s crucial that I care for myself increasingly, whilst allowing myself time to heal. I’m determined to prioritise my health and happiness, to appreciate the light in every day and to relearn healthier coping mechanisms.

I’m soon scheduled to be beginning treatment with a new Dietician. This initially filled me with dread, I contemplated whether I wanted recovery or whether I would ever be okay. I’m fearful of letting go, and of losing control. But the only person who can save me, is me. I’m now incredibly motivated to work with her, and not against her, to fight my demons, to challenge my fear foods and to overcome one of my largest fears – weight gain. I’m educating myself about the art of weight restoration, it’s simply weight that should never have been lost, the building blocks to energy, life and freedom. Pre-anorexia I was slightly underweight and disordered thoughts have always remained present, but it’s time to change. One day, I’ll accept a healthy body. And one day, I’ll rekindle a healthier relationship with food.

Recovery: “A return to a normal state of mind, health or strength. The action of process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost”.

Recently, I’ve started to picture my life in future years. And I quickly become tearful and distressed whenever I imagine my future self still battling with the torment of my mind. I refuse to be 30 years old requiring reminders to eat, crying over food and still remaining reliant on feelings of accomplishment from the decreasing scale number. And that’s enough to acknowledge that I do want to get better, I’m just scared and slightly lost, but these feelings can and will pass. I’m fighting for memorable years and for future adventures. A life outside of Anorexia.

I’m putting my future prospects to the forefront of my mind. In a years time, I want to be preparing for graduation after working hard in my third year. I’m ready to radiate light and happy vibes. I want to be physically and mentally stronger, to be helping more animals and to be preparing to travel the world. I don’t want to be terrified of myself or life anymore, or to reminisce and think “what if”. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed and I’m beginning to understand just how precious life is. I want to work hard in the present moment to build a brighter future.

I aim to be healthy enough to give blood, as my current weight prevents me from doing so. To volunteer abroad, minus the fear of unmeasured food and different meal timings. I’m striving for more, more that I simply cannot accomplish with the torment of an Eating Disorder. I long for the days where I eat ice-cream on sunny days, where I no longer use harmful techniques to compensate and to find new vegan cafes with my friends. And I can do this.

Truthfully, I’ve begun acknowledging that my body will not cope for much longer and it’s a daunting realisation. I haven’t been a friend to my body, more of an enemy. It won’t continue to function on minimal calories and through the obeying of Anorexia’s hurtful rules. For a long time, I believed that my body would defeat the odds. I believed I could survive on calories less than the recommendation for that of a toddler. And currently, my body isn’t coping and this isn’t okay. My Anorexia convinced me that I’ll be fine, that this is sustainable, but I physically feel drained and cannot last through the days without lightheadedness, shaking and chest pain. I’ve tried for so long to ignore the physical symptoms, but they currently grow stronger by the day. I’ve displayed abnormal blood results and ECG’s, my clothes currently hang off me and I understand that I’m not truly happy, and this isn’t really recovery. Recovery signifies fighting, not merely surviving.

I’m ready to fight for a future Laur wants, not a future Anorexia craves. I want to save animals and to help others, and to live. And, most importantly, to make those around me proud. I’m ready for June, I’m ready to accept growth and I’m keen to see where I stand in a months time.

.

Chester Zoo 31/05/2019

Animals

I’ve been a regular, proud visitor of Chester Zoo from an early age. I became introduced to the Zoo during fulfilling and memorable family visits as I grew and developed and learned more about a variety of different animal species. I distinctively recall standing in awe, gazing at the towering Giraffes and becoming mesmerised by the Flamingos unmistakable pinkness.

My friend and I headed to the Zoo yesterday. The weather was in our favour, as it remained dry and temperate throughout. Though, I wouldn’t have minded either way. I’ve visited the Zoo in snowy conditions and warmer ones, and all experiences have been a joy!

https://www.chesterzoo.org

I wanted to give an insight into my favourite species. I particularly have a soft spot for Ungulates, which I guess heightens my admiration of Goats…

I particularly favour Chester Zoo. The animals’ enclosures resemble natural environments as closely as possible, and aim to encourage both mental and physical stimulation through enrichment and the exhibiting of natural behaviours. This is important, especially in captivity as it helps to reduce stereotypical and abnormal behaviours, such as: Pacing, head banging, pica (the consumption of non-food items) and bar biting.

Giraffes (Giraffa Camelopardalis)

Place of origin: Africa.

I had the pleasure of seeing the Zoo’s newest, and most beautiful, Giraffe calf’s who stood elegantly at approximately 6 feet tall. Twins: Mburo and Karamoja, and newest arrival Mojo. They were lightly coloured and curious animals, covered in patches that are totally unique like fingerprints. They successfully widened the smile on my face, with being my favourite African mammal. Giraffes are currently near extinction, and the Zoo aims to conserve and protect species for future generations.

Okapis (Okapia Johnstoni)

Place of origin: Southern and Central America, Asia.

The Okapis continue to fascinate me greatly, with a horse like appearance and zebra-like stripes situated on the legs and the behind. Fascinatingly, they’re known as the closest living relative of the Giraffe and they share similar features. Ie: they’re both ungulates and herbivores. This Okapi in particular was enjoying a watermelon slab, before sharing it with the small Deer inhabiting the same enclosure.

Elephants (Loxodonta)

Place of origin: Africa.

The Elephants at Chester Zoo are a related herd, named the hi-way family. Heartbreakingly, two members of the herd have tragically passed away (October, 2018) due to the spread of the lethal EEHV virus, which is known to attack membranes, resulting in bleeding and a fever. Almost all Elephants carry the virus, yet, it only turns into an illness for some. I believe another member, one of the youngest, has also recently been treated for the disease and it currently making a speedy, successful recovery. The herd were being bathed during our visit, as they contentedly soaked up the water and widely opened their mouths, almost like a smile.

Find out more about EEHV here:

Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

Place of origin: Africa.

Tapir (Tapirus terrestris)

Place of origin: Southern and Central America, Asia and Africa.

During my previous visit to the Zoo, the Tapirs were running around energetically outside. This being when the weather was dramatically colder. This time around, the group were relaxing indoors before one slowly proceeded to wake up. There are 5 species of Tapir, which inhabit forested regions in America and Asia. The youngest individual was easily identifiable amongst the others, due to white markings on the body. The markings are typically present from birth, but fade significantly during development.

 

More of my favourite images: