Cincinnati Zoo accident sparks safety debate

Tips for keeping your kids safe during trips to the zoo

Tips to keep your kids safe while visiting hudson valley zoos

If you’re a Facebook junkie like me, there’s no doubt that by now you’ve heard the buzz surrounding the little boy that fell inside the gorilla habitat at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. 

While scanning Facebook (as per my daily morning routine), I saw a myriad of responses all ranging from “this was clearly an accident” to “this mom should be put in jail.” Social Media dwellers are still left wondering who they should blame (the mom or the zoo), but we’d like to move on to a question that’s maybe just as important…

How can you keep kids safe while visiting zoos, aquariums, and nature centers?

At first glance, this may seem like a silly question… You may be thinking, “Parents instinctually know how to keep their kids safe,” but statistics could be pointing to something different.

According to National Geographic, 15 zoo incidents resulted in the loss of human life and 110 more resulted in injury at U.S. zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums since 1990.

Now, before anyone goes rouge and starts demanding all zoos, aquariums and nature centers be shut down, consider this: Connections can create conservationist.

things to do with kids in the hudson valley during summer

If kids (or even adults) don't see animals and nature up-close like they do at zoos and aquariums, they may not like them, appreciate them, have empathy towards them or want to help them. As a parent, you want nothing more than to give your child a better life, and one way to do that is by instilling in your children the importance of reducing our carbon footprint, recycling, and stopping deforestation (all of which are on-going themes at the majority of accredited zoos and aquariums).

So, how can parents allow their children to make these wonderful and majestic connections, while also ensuring another horrific accident doesn’t happen?

1. Make sure your child understands reality vs. imagination
This may seem like a no-brainer, but coming from a girl that once pet a wild bison (yes, I went up to a bison and pet him like he was a puppy)… reality is not always black and white for kids. Before heading out to the zoo, make sure you talk to your child and tell him the animals at the zoo are wild and act on instinct. They are definitely NOT cuddly, real-life versions of his favorite stuffed animal.

2. Keep your child within a safe distance
While it’s true that some parents want to give their child space to grow and explore for themselves, a zoo or even a theme park for that matter may not be the safest spot to exercise your child’s march towards responsibility. However, for some parents it’s a perfect place to let your child test the waters. It’s up to you to determine your child’s level of maturity and then decide if you want to give him a little space to explore or keep him nearby. If you choose to give your child some freedom, make sure you alert him to any potential hazards before sending him on his way.

3. Steer clear of the enclosure boundary rails
 In my many trips to zoos, I’ve seen parents holding their toddler on (and in one case over) the enclosure rails, I beg you… please don’t do it. Sure, Michael Jackson got lucky when he did it, but not all of us can have that kind of luck. Again, you may be saying, “I’d never do that,’ but things can change in the heat of the moment when little Timmy is crying and screaming because he can’t see what’s going on inside the enclosure. Instead of holding your child on the top rail, take a step back and put him on your shoulders or look for another spot to view the animals. Many zoos have underground viewing areas with sturdy glass windows that are the perfect height for little ones. Plus these underground viewing areas offer an animal-eye view of the habitat.

hudson valley zoos

3. Plan, observe and have fun, but don’t taunt
A day at the zoo should be a magical experience for all involved. Before your trip, visit your zoo’s website to see what animal exhibits they have. Ask your child to sit down with you to prioritize which animal exhibits are must-sees and which you can skip in the event that the zoo closes before you’re done exploring. Once you have your priorities in order, talk to your child about the different animals making sure to tell him not to bang on shark tanks or scream out to the rhinos. You never know how a wild animal will react, so it’s best to observe rather than creating your own interactive animal exhibit.


We want you to get in on the conversation! What tips, tricks, or advice do you have for parents planning a trip to their local zoo?