Wednesday is my conservation biology day. What I mean by this is that I spend four hours a week volunteering at WildCRU, Oxford University's conservation biology arm. I look at camera trap data from the forests of Borneo looking for clouded leopards.

Prior to acquiring a disability I was a conservation biologist about to move to the jungles of Africa to study chimpanzees. Clearly it’s hard enough living in urban environs, never mind jungles, so I do what I can to keep up and work in conservation.

Where did this desire to work in conservation come from? A childhood spent nagging my parents for trips to the zoo and the inspiration from there followed up by multiple library trips to the biology section.

This weekend I went to London Zoo. I haven’t been in ages, certainly not since being a wheelchair user. I didn’t actually call ahead to check accessibility. I sort of assumed that it’s mostly outdoor so I could wheel around and see all the creatures. To my surprise it was better than expected. The exhibits are a brilliant mix of viewing platforms with large glass panes to get up close, interactive exhibits where ‘free range’ animals get up close and personal. In order for me to have a similar experience, the zoo has invested heavily in lifts and ramps and automatic doors. What was super-cool was the choice. For example the tiger exhibit. There were steps, a ramp and a lift! That’s unheard of – two choices of level access!

What really impressed me was that this level of investment clearly pays off. I saw a lot of wheelchair users. More than is normal in day to day life. They ranged from a disabled father with his kids, to a boy in a wheelchair with his mum and dad. This last kid reminded me of my childhood. The look of awe and excitement in his eye that inspires. Then there’s the father who without it couldn’t be up close enjoying the interaction not only with animals but also his kids. Without this kind of infrastructure these kids wouldn’t get the up close experiences that moulded me into the conservation work I do to this day.

The other great thing about my trip to the zoo was the visibility, that us wheelchair users are mixed in amongst everyone else. We all want to get up close to the gorilla, the tiger, and the meerkat! It was a reminder of equal society. I’m sitting down, I can’t see through people. Lots of parents saying ‘let the nice man in the wheelchair see’. I also think that’s it is good to see wheelchair users of all shapes, sizes and ages enjoying the zoo just like non-disabled people.

The icing on the cake for me was seeing the bearded pigs. They are sort of brown hairy and pig-like. Nowhere near as beautiful as the tigers but these are one of the animals I see every week on my camera traps from Borneo. It was confirmation that my childhood exposure has come full circle and that the disabled kids I saw could be future conservation biologists too.