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Disabled teen hits out at zoo after birthday sleepover is cancelled at last minute

By Kirsty Topping

A DISABLED teenager has hit out at Edinburgh Zoo after it cancelled a planned birthday sleepover just a day before the event.

Jessie Csere, who is wheelchair-bound, had planned to celebrate her 18th birthday on Saturday by attending the sleepover at the zoo, an event organised as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

But on Friday she received a message to say the event had been cancelled – leaving the devastated birthday girl with no time to arrange an alternative celebration.

The cancellation is believed to have been down to the recent suspensions of the zoo’s interim chief operating officer Gary Wilson and Iain Valentine, head of Animals, Education and Conservation, following “serious” allegations.

The knock-on effect has seen other senior staff having to take on increased roles, which has left them unable to staff the sleepover.

Miss Csere, who has muscular dystrophy and also suffers from a heart condition said: “It’s not like I can arrange anything else because everything’s booked up now so it’s really distressed me.

“Because I’m disabled any shows have to be booked in advance they have really spoiled my plans.”

Miss Csere, who has applied for a dance course at Telford College, which starts later this year, added: “Some staff have been coming and going at the zoo but why should they make us suffer because of it?

“I saved up for weeks before I booked it – it’s not a cheap event to go to. I can’t repeat my 18th birthday again – I’m gutted.”

A spokeswoman for the zoo confirmed they had been forced to cancel the event at very short notice but insisted the remaining seven sleepovers would take place as planned.

She said that everyone who missed out on a chance to spend the night at the zoo would be offered a special ‘VIP tour’ later in the year, including the chance to meet giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang.

She said: “In light of the recent events at the zoo, members of the senior animal staff have had to take on extra responsibility and it was decided that it would simply not be possible to staff the event on Saturday, which is why we were forced to cancel.

“This was one of eight planned sleepovers and the remaining seven, which are fully booked, will go ahead as planned.

“The people who were due to come along on Saturday are being offered a full refund and we are also offering them the chance of an extra experience, which is something money can’t buy, as we realise how special an event like this can be and how disappointed people are.

“We are lining up a VIP tour of the zoo for later in the year, which will include a chance to meet our giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang and talk to their keeper.

“They will also be treated to lunch at the Mansion House and get a chance to feed some of the animals, which is extremely rare for members of the public.

“We are making every effort to make up for this cancellation, but it was, sadly, completely unavoidable.”

A spokesperson for the Edinburgh International Science Festival said they had been informed of the cancellation by the zoo.

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