Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! Zoo Safety Tips for Toddlers



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Children are naturally drawn to animals. They like to touch and see and smell and feed them. So zoos, wildlife parks, and petting zoos are favorite summertime excursions for many families.

As with many family trips, there are things you can do to help make the trip go smoothly for little ones, yourself, and the animals. If you are thinking about taking your toddler(s) to the zoo, please keep the below zoo safety tips for toddlers in mind.

10 Zoo Safety Tips for Toddlers

1)      Plan your trip – Don’t just decide on a whim to go. Planning is everything and can mean the difference between an enjoyable outing and a frustrating one. Something as simple as not finding out how much admission is or if the park is even open can mean disappointment and wasted time, gas,  and money.

2)      Map your route – Most every zoo has a website. Go there first. If the site allows, print off a map and let your child decide which animals she wants to see. When you get there, show her how to use the map to get where you want to go.

3)      Schedule of events – Animal activity can change depending on the season and weather. Plan your trip around baby animals, feeding time, zookeeper talks. These activities are good ways to keep your toddler entertained and to safely observe and possibly interact with the animals.

4)      Timing – Time your visit according to your toddler’s nap and meal time. One option is to plan your arrival so that the kids have a chance to nap in the car. If your child is one that gets cranky when her nap is interrupted (crankiness is not good when dealing with wild animals), perhaps a visit before nap time would work better. Also, try to keep the visit to two hours or less, and try to plan for days during the week and during the day when the crowds are smaller and less intimidating for your child.

Animals also have a kind of schedule. If the day is too hot, animals are likely to be inactive, particularly those animals used to cooler weather (polar bears, penguins). Animals are most active in the morning and evening when it’s cooler.

5)      Age-appropriateness – Petting zoo enclosures or activities are often best for children under the age of five. Lions, tigers, and bears in their habitats can be hard for little ones to see. Some days the animals might be cooperative and be easy to spot, but try to arrange for zookeeper talks to get a closer look.

Zoo Safety Tip: Don’t Feed the Animals

6)      Don’t Feed the Animals – People food is for people. Animal food is for animals. Do not encourage your child to feed the animals people food. Most zoos have vending machines that provide the appropriate food for the animals to eat.

7)      Wear appropriate clothing – Avoid putting girls in dresses or fluffy, loose clothing. Animals are drawn to these materials and will nibble. Clothing needs to be comfortable, but not loose.

Zoo Safety Tip: Wash Your Hands

8)      Wash your hands – One of the main concerns in handling animals is animal-borne illnesses such as E. coli. The easiest way to prevent this is simple hand washing. Where basic soap and water is not available, alcohol- or other anti-bacterial hand sanitizers are ideal. Hand washing should be done several times during the visit, particularly after petting or feeding the animals, and before eating.

9)      Follow the rules – Each zoo or park has its own rules. Some will not allow you to bring a stroller of your own, but they will provide one that is safe to be around the animals. Some parks prohibit you from bringing your own food into the park or provide specific places to picnic. There are always rules about interacting with the animals, particularly those in enclosures. 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). The animals may be in cages, but they’re still wild animals.

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

Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for


Love the Zoo – How to Make the Most of Your Trip. Felesky, Leigh. Web. May 28, 2012.

Taking your Toddler to the Zoo Tips for a Tear-Free Visit. Mundy, Deirdre. Yahoo Voices. Web. May 28, 2012.

Making a Zoo Visit With Toddlers. Web. May 28, 2012.

Tips for Safely Enjoying a Petting Zoo. Meeks, David. Web. May 28, 2012.

Park Policies. African Lion Safari. Web. May 28, 2012.

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