(ANIMAL WELFARE/OP-ED) Introducing children to animals is an important stage of parenting. How you present the human-animal relationship to a child will unquestionably echo into his/her adulthood.

It’s during these formative years where kids learn how to peacefully and respectfully coexist with living beings unlike themselves.

Children and animals are kindred spirits and possess a precious kind of bond. They share an outlook of simplicity, wonderment, and joy for the littlest things. Because of this, animals and children are able to develop powerful and life-lasting relationships.

There are many resources for parents on how to introduce their children to their four-legged companions, but how do we introduce them to wildlife?

In a perfect world where animals wouldn’t be imprisoned for our entertainment this would be a very different discussion. But since we do have zoos, and since zoos partake in many positive things such as species conservation, it is important to find an appropriate approach to children’s wildlife study.

How we behave around wild animals goes a long way in showing kids how to behave. But because kids are prone to many faux pas, it’s important to steer them in the right direction.

Here’s a list of things kids should not be doing at zoos or animal sanctuaries.

DON’T RIDE THE ANIMALS

This doesn’t look like fun for the tortoise. Photo credit: Liev Schreiber/Twitter.
Both the boys are now putting their weight on the tortoise’s shell. Photo credit: Liev Schreiber/Twitter.

This one should be a no-brainer, and yet some parents still haven’t figured it out. One prime example involves Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber’s kids at the Turtle Conservancy in Ojai, where Schreiber recently took snaps of his two kids laying down and sitting on top of a turtle. Not only can the turtle hardly bear the weight of the children, but this is not teaching them the importance of saving the world’s remaining turtle and tortoise populations.

DON’T FEED THE ANIMALS

Respect the wildlife by not messing up their diet. Photo credit: keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Do NOT feed the animals unless otherwise permitted. Animals at zoos have very special diets. When you interfere with those diets, it could end in severe health issues for the animal. Letting your child share their chocolate bar with a kangaroo is not cute—it’s negligent.

DON’T YELL AND SCREAM

Nobody wants to hear that. Photo credit: ukghana.co.uk

This is a major problem, especially at zoos. If you’ve ever been to the zoo at the same time as a children’s school trip, you are well aware the noise level can reach epic proportions. Loud noise is a major stress factor for wild animals. Children need to be taught that the zoo is home for many animals, and disrupting their daily routines with shouting will make them very uncomfortable in their own home.

DON’T BANG ON THE GLASS PARTITION

This shouldn’t have to be reiterated yet somehow parents still think it’s acceptable to let their kids bang on the partition to get the animal’s attention. This not only stresses the animal (imagine your level of anxiety and annoyance if strangers would bang on your window every five minutes to get your attention), but also teaches children to objectify animals. It’s not guiding them toward respect and admiration, but instead this teaches them that humans have the right to disturb wild animals in their “habitat” for their own entertainment. A trip to the zoo should create a lasting impact to help kids become passionate about conservation or animal rights, not about “funny” videos.

DON’T BLIND ANIMALS WITH FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY

Pictures with a flash are dangerous for baby turtles. Photo credit: amcgltd.com

While some animals may not react to a camera’s flash, other reactions could be vastly different. Flash photography could disorient and stress the animal, especially animals with sensitive eyes for night vision. In fact, animals have even died from being blinded by a flash. A picture is not worth endangering an animal’s life.

Remember to guide your kids into a life of compassion and proper etiquette around wild animals.

— Sonia Horon, exclusive to Global Animal

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