It’s not unfair to say zoo animals are running wild across the United States this month.
Controversy erupted last week when a child fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. Park officials killed the 17-year-old gorilla to keep the child safe, which inspired nationwide debate about whether the gorilla should have been killed or if the parents were to blame for letting their child fall in.
Controversy aside, this week there’s been a number of zoo-related videos circulating that show something similar. For example, a lion tried to pounce onto a small boy inside the Chiba Zoological Park in Tokyo, according to WND. Thankfully there was protective glass that kept the animal from striking. Zookeepers told WND that the lion merely wanted to play with the boy.
And just Tuesday, a panther pounced on a man outside the wild animal refuge center in Mexico. The panther, though, merely licked the man’s face, and no one was injured.
Earlier Tuesday morning, Zeya the leopard escaped the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City. The leopard was captured and tranquilized and there were no injuries reported.
All of these events seem like the making of a Pixar movie — “Zootopia: Live Action!” — or the plot of “Planet of the Apes.” Or maybe it’s because of this guy. Regardless, it has opened up a national discussion about how to stay safe at a zoo, and what parents can do to make sure their child doesn’t fall in harm’s way.
After all, injuries and death at zoos aren’t a rarity. Research from 2000 to 2008 found that 12 people were injured and two others died at zoos that belonged to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. More recent numbers corralled by the Washington City Paper show that there were 38 injuries caused by zoo animals between April 2007 and October 2013.
But these numbers may be a bit low, as they don’t account for the roadside zoos or exotic animals that people own as pets (some of which we shouldn’t own anyway), according to WCP.
Still, there have been a number of court cases throughout the last decade that point to how dangerous zoos can be, too. In 2007, a gorilla climbed out of its cage and attacked a 2-year-old girl and baby sitter before wreaking havoc on a neighborhood. In 2008, a tiger escaped and attacked three visitors in the San Francisco Zoo.
There was even a case where a 2-year-old girl contracted E. coli after touching animals at the zoo.
Attacks like these usually lead to court cases where the families sue the zoo for violence or sickness, or some zoos will euthanize or kill their animals for any wrongdoing.
But as I wrote for Deseret News National in 2014, there are several ways that parents can help their children stay safe, which I’ve outlined below along with some other tips from experts.
1. Visit at the right time
You’re not going to visit the zoo alone, so make sure you show up when you can avoid as many people as possible so you don’t put your family at risk. Experts suggest going during the middle of the day and leaving before rush hour.
2. Follow the rules
Make sure you follow the rules of the zoo. This seems basic, but it’s important for parents to teach their children about the rules to help keep them safe.
3. Wash your hands
There are plenty of germs in a zoo. After all, you’re dealing with hundreds if not thousands of animals. Keep sanitizer on you so you can always stay germ-free.
4. Prepare your child
Before you step in the zoo, talk to your child about what they’re going to experience. Have your youngster read books about animals or zoo experiences so that they’re aware of the potential problems that could arise.
5. Don’t tease the animals
Now that your child is prepared for the visit, it’s good to make sure that they don’t provoke the animal through the glass enclosures.
“It’s best, experts say, to teach children to respect animals and their habitats,” according to CNN.
6. Don’t risk your life for a good photo
As CNN reported, it’s really important the parents and children “don’t dangle for a better angle.” This can be applied to photos or just checking out the animals. Keep yourself within the bounds of the zoo and avoid falling into traps.
7. Respect the animals
“Other top recommendations include teaching your children that zoo animals are not cuddly versions of their stuffed toys at home but are truly wild animals that will react on instinct,” CNN wrote. “That includes those at the petting zoo, who may not take kindly to a hit or swat instead of a pat.”
Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.