Petting zoos can make children sick
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2005:
PLANT CITY, Florida–At least six lawsuits filed against
Ag-Venture Farms and the Florida Strawberry Festival, both of Plant
City, may hasten the demise of petting zoos. Two sheep, two cows,
and a goat exhibited by Ag-Venture Farms at the Florida Strawberry
Festival, the Florida State Fair near Tampa, and the Central
Florida fair in Orlando allegedly infected 30 to 80 visitors with an
often disabling and sometimes deadly form of e-coli bacteria during
March and April 2005, said the Florida Health Department.
The bacterium attacks the kidneys of victims, causing
hemolytic uremic syndrome, a severely painful condition that in
early stages is often mistaken for a stomach flu. Many victims are
incapacitated for life.
About 90% of the ill petting zoo patrons were children. How
many will suffer longterm effects is uncertain. There were no
verified fatalities. Tests failed to confirm a suspected link to the
March 2005 death of Kayla Nicole Sutter, 12, of Wesley Chapel, who
visited the Florida Strawberry Festival.
All 37 Ag-Venture Animals “will be quarantined for the rest
of their lives,” health officials told Saundra Amrhein of the St.
The first petting zoo to close as result of ensuing public
concern was Barnyard Friends, of Samsula, near Daytona Beach–a
non-traveling menagerie of about 200 animals founded in 1995 by
International Speedway Corporation director of community affairs
Donna Sue Sanders.
“There were no reports of anyone getting sick after visiting
Barnyard Friends. Hand-washing and cleanliness were always top
priorities,” wrote Kevin P. Connolly of the Orlando Sentinel. But
Barnyard Friends was unable to withstand the many field trip
cancellations that followed the e-coli outbreak.
“Most of the animals will go with Sanders when she moves from
Samsula to a 13-acre parcel where she and husband are building a home
near Lake Ashby in Osteen,” Connolly reported.
At least three other petting zoos were struggling, Connelly indicated.
The Florida e-coli outbreak was the second linked to a petting zoo in
under six months. Lawsuits are pending against the Crossroads Farm
petting zoo in Bear Creek, North Carolina, identified as the source
of an e-coli outbreak that hit 108 visitors to the 2004 North
Carolina State Fair in West Raleigh.
“Twenty-four outbreaks have been linked to fairs and petting
zoos since 1995,” said plaintiffs’ attorney William Marler, of
Marler Clark, a Seattle firm that specializes in e-coli
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture on April 21
announced new rules that will minimize animal contact with visitors
during the 2005 state far. “The petting zoos this year will be
nearly wallpapered with signs warning that contact with animals can
spread disease–especially to young children, the elderly, pregnant
women and sick people– and encouraging patrons to wash their hands
before leaving,” summarized Raleigh News & Observer staff writer
But the new rules are not binding upon private organizations
that operate on private property, Collins noted.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention published
non-binding guidelines for traveling animal shows in April 2002,
after tracing e-coli outbreaks that occurred in 2000 to a dairy farm
in Pennsylvania and a petting zoo in Washington state.
An outbreak of another potentially deadly bacterial
infection, cryptospiridium, in March and April 2005 afflicted 104
people who had either recently visited the Auching-arrich Wildlife
Centre near Comrie, Scotland, or were members of visitors’ families.
The CDCP warned in early May that small mammals acquired as
“pocket pets” have recently infected at least 30 people in 10 states
with an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonellosis. The outbreak
was believed to be carried by hamsters, mice, rats, and possibly
gerbils, guinea pigs, ferrets, and rabbits.
This followed an April warning that nine people in five
states developed salmonellosis after handling Easter chicks. Six
cases were traced to a single hatchery in New Mexi-co. Children were
infected in New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Traveling petting zoos often feature rabbits and chicks
around Easter, but whether there was a petting zoo connection to the
salmonellosis outbreaks was unclear.