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Fun with furry friends: keeping your children safe at the zoo
Petting Zoo
Keeping your children safe at the zoo - photo by Metro Creative Graphics

Some people will do anything for a nap. This little girl, especially, who effectively turned a “petting zoo” into a “pillow zoo."
In a photo found on imgur, below, the girl can be seen resting her head on the bellies and backs of various zoo animals.
Let the awwwws commence.

But this girl’s desire for a little sleepy time points to a larger issue -- how safe are our zoos?

Studies by Born Free USA found that between 2000 and 2008 there were 12 human injuries and two deaths at zoos under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) umbrella.

“These numbers increase almost fourfold when including roadside zoos and people owning exotic animals as pets,” Born Free USA reported. “This doesn’t even factor in escapes without incident.”

The Washington City Paper also reported that between April 2007 and October 2013, there were 38 injuries caused by animals in the National Zoo.

These kind of injuries haven’t escaped the minds of policymakers and government agencies either. The American Society of Safety Engineers has stressed zoo safety recently, saying that new procedures need to be put in place to keep kids and zoogoers from getting injured.

A new study also found that 61.5 percent of all injuries to zoo veterinarians come from animals in a major way, while 32.2 percent are from animal-related allergies, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information.

“Zoos are unique because zoos have a wide range of issues to consider. Animal health and safety is important, and the health and safety of employees and guests are also very important,” Mary Ciesluk, former assistant director of public safety at an Illinois zoo, said to EHS Today.

“These are just needless deaths and illnesses,” Becky Maness said to Food Safety News. “We should be smart enough to figure out a way to see animals without this happening.”

So how do you keep your children safe at the zoo?

1. Time your visit right.
As the Amarillo Zoo points out, you’re not the only one going to the zoo. Many people tend to visit during the middle hours of the day, leaving your late afternoon and early morning as a prime time to visit and avoid the swarm of people.

2. Follow the rules.
It sounds simple enough, but it’s also easy to sidestep. MommyPage, a blog that offers motherly advice, suggests that families follow the rules posted around the zoo to avoid as many problems as possible.

“There are always rules about interacting with the animals, particularly those in enclosures,” MommyPage suggests. “Pay attention to the posted rules and help teach your children about appropriate actions around animals (e.g., do not bang on the glass or fencing, no shouting or jumping).”

3. Wash your hands.
This is especially true at petting zoos, like the one the young sleeper above visited. Essortment noted that animals commonly carry diseases that are damaging to humans, and it’s best to wash your hands between petting the animals to eliminate all bacteria.

4. Prepare your children.
Like planning the day ahead, it might be good to give your child some advice before heading into the zoo. MommyPage’s Darlene Oakley explained that giving your kid a little primer on what to expect could go a long way during your visit.

“Go to the library or read some of your own books to educate your child about the creatures you will be seeing,” Oakley wrote. “Included in these educational times should be ways to respect the animals and their habitats, which you can enforce during your visit.”

Twitter: @herbscribner