Petting zoos give children the impression that animals exist for them to be treated without regard for their well-being. It normalises the idea of captivity, which can have lasting impacts on the way they interact with and view animals for the rest of their lives. Children learn what a frightened, frustrated animal is like, away from its natural habitat. These are not appropriate examples to set for children and provide very limited educational value.
Most petting zoo animals are very young and have been prematurely taken away from their mothers, purely to provide entertainment for people - this is simply not fair on either the mothers nor their babies. Frightened and often in various states of distress, these young animals are denied their normal socialisation and developmental processes. Animals are disposed of (typically sent to slaughter) when they are no longer young enough to be attractive to customers, Little Oak Sanctuary is home to several animals who have narrowly avoided this fate.
There is also a high probability of children and adult contracting zoonosis resulting in e Coli and other diseases that hand washing alone will not prevent.1
Animals used in petting zoos are constantly transported from one location to the next, often in cramped and uncomfortable conditions. The constant stress of traveling to unfamiliar locations can cause great anxiety to the animals involved.
Children and adults alike may be unaware that many of the animals in petting zoos do not wish to be patted or handled. Body language of animals is ignored, often supervision is noway near sufficient for the number of children in the confined area to supervise each interaction. There is often no safe area where the animals can go to escape, unlike in a sanctuary environment where it is up to the animals whether or not they interact with visitors, petting zoo animals have no choice. Having people constantly touching them and picking them up can be a very traumatic experience, and can lead to the development of aggressive tenancies in some animals, once again making them very difficult to re home.
From irregular feeding times, lack of food and water during transport and minimal veterinary care. With nominal regulation of standard of animal care, there is no guarantee that animals in petting zoos are well looked after.
Denial of natural behaviours:
Petting zoo animals are forced to interact with numerous strangers and unable to express natural behaviours. Animals are kept in a confined space and are unable to move away from people when they choose to, those who don't succumb to illness from this repeated stress exist in a state of learned helplessness. Ducks in these zoos are often denied water to swim in, goats unable to graze naturally in a herd or rabbits unable to burrow - just to name a few examples.
Breeding of animals:
Petting zoos further contribute to the over breeding of animals for human purposes. Whilst sanctuaries are often at capacity caring for animals from tragic situations, the animals who are bred by petting zoo's face nowhere safe to go when they are no longer wanted by the zoo.
Slaughter of animals:
Once animals are no longer cute enough, younger enough or if they fall ill, they are often killed. The cute little piglets in the petting zoos don’t stay little; they will frequently then be slaughtered, as was going to be the fate for our three calves, Barry White, James Brown and Jack Black - this is the fate of many animals that are part of petting zoos. These animals are often killed via home slaughter, an unregulated process that can involve fully conscious animals being killed.
What makes sanctuaries different?
Sanctuaries exist, first and foremost, to provide a safe haven for animals in need. The animals come first, and whilst many sanctuaries offer tours and the chance to interact with the animals, this is always done with the animals best interests as the primary concern. You will note that when visiting a sanctuary, animals are not confined for interaction. Those animals who like to interact will approach guests, and you will be asked to respect the space of those who do not wish to interact. Animals should not be offered food as a "bribe" to interact with guests, food is something that animals should not have to 'earn', or go outside of their comfort zone for, it is a basic right for an animal to be fed.
Alternatives to petting zoos
If you are able to, visit a sanctuary, where animals are able to interact with visitors if they decide they'd like to, on their own terms, and in their own home. Visit an animal shelter and provide some company for lonely animals looking for homes, a great way to teach children about why people need to adopt pets rather than shop at pet stores. Seeing animals in the wild by visiting a nature reserve is also a great way to teach children about animals as they should be, living their own lives with their family groups.