- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

Beware the petting zoo. That's the warning some animal-rights groups are issuing about the National Zoo's plans to construct a Kids' Farm on its grounds in Northwest.
Animal-rights groups are criticizing the petting-zoo plans for not being realistic.
The zoo's addition, set to open in spring 2004, will offer a "caring corral" that will hold donkeys, goats, ducks, cows and chickens.
The caring corral is the main reason for the criticism from Animal Awareness, a group based in Elkridge, Md. It says that showing kind treatment to animals on the Kids' Farm will give a false impression of modern-day life on farms, because children will walk away believing that animals, later used for meat and eggs, are not being brutalized.
"To accurately talk about hens, you'd have to have four or five hens in a 15-inch cage," said Janet Deery, president of Animal Awareness and a volunteer at the zoo.
Susan Ades, project manager for the Kids' Farm, said the point is to let children learn what goes into caring for animals, not to address issues of what is going on at farms that raise animals for sale.
"We're not an agricultural-education organization," Ms. Ades said. "The exhibit is about showing that caring for animals takes time and means doing a lot of different things."
The zoo hopes to expose urban children ages 3 to 8 to animals they might not otherwise see up close. The children will be encouraged to help animal caretakers groom the donkeys and goats.
Opponents say the zoo should use pictures, videos and statues to educate children about crowded, unpleasant conditions, instead of depicting the treatment of animals on farms as rosy. If not that, they should ax the exhibit, Miss Deery said.
The zoo is not mandated to present the absolute truth in its displays. The other animals are not in conditions "representative of anything that goes on in the wild," said Richard Farinato, director of the captive-wildlife protection program for the Humane Society of the United States.
"Chances are, they'll do what other zoos have done," Mr. Farinato said. "They'll build a big barn and have a couple chickens. That's not what milk and eggs come from anymore."
Miss Deery said Animal Awareness is also concerned about the potential for children visiting the petting zoo becoming infected by E. coli.
E. coli infection can cause a fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Young children are especially susceptible to serious infections.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported outbreaks of infections among children who visited dairy farms and petting zoos in several states, resulting in hospitalizations during the spring and fall of 2000.
Zoo officials say they consulted the CDC guidelines to ensure the safety of children. They say there will be five washing stations, where children must wash their hands before and after being around the animals.
For the National Zoo, the concerns about the petting zoo are less grave than some of the other problems they've had this year.
National Zoo Director Lucy H. Spelman was called before a congressional oversight committee in March after human error caused the deaths of several rare animals. In early 2000, two zebras died from hypothermia and malnutrition. Dr. Spelman, then head veterinarian, had ordered that the food given to three zebras be cut in half, which contributed to the death of one, according to an internal report.
This year, two red pandas ate rat-poison pellets buried in their yard by a pest-control contractor. Zoo records indicate that human error may have also contributed to the deaths of at least six other rare animals at zoo facilities in the past three years.

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