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Announcing a New Collaboration Between PaRx and Your Toronto Zoo
TORONTO, ON, Wednesday, September 27, 2023: This fall a trip to your Toronto Zoo could be just what the doctor ordered! We are pleased to announce healthcare professionals can now prescribe a trip to your Zoo to improve mental and physical health, thanks to a new collaboration with PaRx, Canada’s national nature prescription program. As the first zoo in Canada to participate in the program, we kicked things off this morning by hosting a media event and question and answer session with Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo, Dr. Melissa Lem, PaRx Director, BC Parks Foundation, and Jennie McCaffrey, Vice President of Strategic Relationships, BC Parks Foundation.
The BC Parks Foundation launched PaRx in November 2020, starting in British Columbia then expanding to every province across the country by 2022. In under three years, over 11,000 healthcare providers—including over five percent of all physicians in the country—have registered to prescribe time outside for their patients’ health, helping to connect thousands of Canadians to nature. PaRx has also been endorsed by more than 80 major healthcare organizations including the Canadian Medical Association.
“Visiting the Zoo isn’t only about seeing animals and learning about how you can support conservation, it’s also about getting outside at any time of year and exploring our 10km walking trails in a safe, beautiful site” says Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo. “Covid was hard on everyone, but it also served as a reminder of the importance of carving out time for mental health breaks, connecting with one another, and taking some time away from our devices to get in touch with the natural world and the animals that need our help”.
A growing body of research shows that connecting to nature has a wide variety of health benefits from improving symptoms of depression and ADHD to reducing risk of heart disease and stroke. Importantly, time spent in nature anytime anywhere is good for health, whether it’s at the zoo, in a national park or local community garden. PaRx recommends an achievable, evidence-based green-time target of “2hours per week, 20+ minutes each time”. Given the way zoos combine recreation, education and conservation in a way that engages people of all ages, scientists are increasingly recommending that they take on a larger role in promoting human wellbeing.
In addition to the wide range of health benefits for humans, nature prescriptions can also improve the wellbeing of our planet. Research shows that exposure to nature promotes pro-environmental values and behaviours that extend beyond support for conservation. By connecting visitors to the wildlife and wild spaces they strive to protect, places like Rouge National Urban Park and the Toronto Zoo play a critical role in building public support for conservation and other environmental efforts.
As the first zoo in Canada to join PaRx’s mission, your Toronto Zoo is perfectly positioned to help connect our community to nature as we are located right in Canada’s Rouge National Urban Park.
This ground-breaking partnership lends a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘nature walk,’ given that our trails bring guests side-by-side with African lions, Masai giraffes and more than 290 other species in seven geographical regions. By presenting their PaRx prescription and matching ID at the entrance gate, patients can enjoy 50 per cent off their admission on the day of their visit.
PaRx has collaborated with numerous organizations to improve access to nature. One of its first collaborations with Parks Canada enabled health professionals registered in the program to prescribe free Parks Canada Discovery Passes for patients, providing unlimited access to over 80 national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas.
“We want to make sure that people who need it can get out easily and affordably to benefit from the healing power of nature,” says Andy Day, CEO of the BC Parks Foundation. “Through the generosity of our partners like the Toronto Zoo, we are able to help connect children and adults from across the country to nature in deep, consistent and meaningful ways."
As a world leader in the nature and health field, PaRx was recently named a key partner in a €6.3 million international project on nature-based therapies that will provide a roadmap for communities worldwide that seek to introduce nature as a health intervention. Other notable milestones for nature prescribing in Canada include PaRx’s recognition in 2021 by the World Health Organization as an effective way to inspire restoration and protection of nature for our health, and the inclusion of nature prescribing as official recommended policy for learners and physicians by the Canadian Medical Association in 2022.
“It’s remarkable how quickly PaRx has grown, the partnerships it’s inspired, and how it’s changing conversations worldwide about the vital connections between nature, biodiversity and health. Our collaboration with the Toronto Zoo is a wonderful way to move our mission forward in an exciting new direction,” said Dr. Melissa Lem, Director of PaRx.
Your Toronto Zoo’s neighbour and the largest urban park in North America, Rouge National Urban Park, provides families in the Greater Toronto Area access to an expanse of wild Canadian nature to enjoy. With trails through forests, thickets, meadows, wetlands, and rivers, the park offers a great local opportunity for free guided nature walks, relaxing paddles and wildlife photography right on the doorstep of the Zoo.
The BC Parks Foundation invites other partners, governments and funders to engage and collaborate with PaRx as it continues its mission to connect people to nature for their health.
BC Parks Foundation
Jennie McCaffrey, Vice President of Strategic Relationships
Amy Naylor, Media Relations Coordinator