A group of meerkats will move into a children’s hospital to give patients the chance to connect with nature.
A new enclosure will be built for the animals in a courtyard at the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People in Edinburgh.
Five of the animals from the Edinburgh Zoo are expected to move into their new home from next year.
Keepers from the zoo will care for the meerkats and provide educational sessions for patients.
It is thought to be the first facility of its kind in Europe.
Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity chief executive Roslyn Neely said many of the children who visited the hospital were passionate about nature and the environment.
But some were too unwell, or had been in hospital so long, they did not have the opportunity to get outdoors or interact with animals.
She said the programme would allow young people to learn from experts, with the opportunity of getting up close to the meerkats.
“The wellbeing benefits of engaging with animals and using nature in the healing process are well documented,” she added.
“There’s great excitement within the hospital in anticipation of our furry friends arriving.”
The enclosure, which will be located in the Castle Mey courtyard, will replicate the meerkat’s natural habitat, with sand, rocks and logs.
It will also feature Perspex panels so that children in pushchairs or wheelchairs can see the animals.
The welfare needs of the animals, such as feeding and veterinary care, will be overseen by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).
It will provide expert animal keepers, vets and trained volunteers.
The zoo currently delivers a weekly programme of educational activities at the hospital, which RZSS chief executive David Field called “a great success”.
He added: “We are taking this incredible next step by creating the only meerkat enclosure at a children’s hospital outside of Australia, making this a first in the UK and Europe.
“Being close to nature and animals can have a tremendous impact on people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.
“We also know that people and communities are more likely to help protect nature when they have had the opportunity to connect with our natural world.”