A petting zoo is a zoo which keeps domesticated farm animals such as horses, goats, and sheep, along with some tame wild animals, like deer or turtles. Visitors to the enclosure can see the animals, interact with them, and usually feed them as well. Staff educates guests about the animals they keep, and for people in urban areas, a petting zoo can create a connection with animals which fosters respect and kindness. In addition, visiting a petting zoo can simply be fun.
Often, a petting zoo is called a children's zoo, because the experience is aimed primarily at children. Many conventional zoos have a special area where children can wander around with their parents or guardians. Zoo staff lead tours of the enclosure and offer informational talks and lectures to people who want to know more about the animals. In the spring, when there are numerous baby animals, the petting zoo sometimes lets visitors interact with the animals and their young.
A children's activity center may also include a petting zoo as part of its offerings. Unfortunately, the animals kept in these enclosures tend not to be as healthy and well cared for as animals at a regular zoo. Keeping farm animals does require skill and patience, and the staff in a children's center are not always up to the task. It is also important to have ample room for the animals to run and play in, an issue which is sometimes left unaddressed by the designers of these lesser petting zoos.
Interacting with farm animals can teach children about how farm animals live and socialize. In addition to hoofed farm animals, many facilities also have pigs and poultry such as ducks, chickens, and geese. The animals are selected for gentle temperaments, and children are encouraged to handle the animals so that they can learn more about them. Calm wild animals are also used to introduce children to the natural world.
Because many animals carry bacteria, even animals which are healthy and well cared for, a responsible visit includes washing up. Especially if you are visiting other parts of the zoo afterwards, you could accidentally carry something to an animal which might be susceptible to it. Some petting zoos include tubs for dipping your shoes in after your visit, and all of them should provide bathroom facilities with space to wash your hands.