Zoos, fun and games or Health nightmare?

Petting Zoos, something we have all probably experienced and participated as children. Are they as harmless and fun as they seemed like as a child? or are they causing sickness to spread more freely between people and animals alike? 

Petting Zoos are inherently high physical contact areas between animals and humans. Due to the current circumstances with everyone self-isolating to avoid as much physical contact through direct touch or mutually contacted items. This means the understanding of the spread of diseases through contact is at an all-time high. However, this brings us back to extra contact areas that increase the risk of disease spread between humans and potential diseases from animals that humans are ill-equipped to deal with. 

Does the current situation with COVID-19 a disease originating in animals that we are clearly ill-equipped to effectively combat without shutting most of the country down bring into question the risk level of high contact animal areas. Have the risks of petting zoos been understated or underestimated in an attempt to profit by zoos or have they thoroughly looked into the potential risks to individuals and society in general?

The situation with Orcas in captivity and close proximity to people in the past was a known high-risk activity that was deemed acceptable by Sea world management and yet has proved fatal on multiple occasions. Despite this, they continued to profit from having Orcas in captivity for years which was in their financial interest but definitely not in the interest of those that passed away due to orca aggression which was blamed on human error rather than the aggressive nature of a predatory animal.

In the same situation, the orcas were told to outlive those in the wild where they actually live up to 4 times as long in the sea as compared to their enclosures at sea world. This highlights the willingness of those profiting from zoos/animal parks to change facts to make them look more favorable to the public.

Back to Petting zoos though diseases normally only spread through food poison (undercooked food) have been shown to spread to people from petting zoos such as Escherichia coli O157 which was given to a young kid from going to a petting zoo. They even have a name for this; they are known as zoonotic infections/diseases. These are things that spread to people from animals which I had no idea was common enough to have its own category of diseases associated with spreading from animals to humans.

So then what is the question to be researched here, I think a broad interesting question would be, What is the impact of Zoos on Public Health. But that is quite an ambitious task to look into all of that information in the time I have researching for BCM312. So the first thing to look at is specifically Petting Zoos. This allows me to directly look at the spread of disease through this extra contact activity. Next to focus in on is the spread of disease from animals to humans and not looking at human to human spread with the animals as a common point of contact as this type of disease spread is not unique to petting zoos. So this leaves us with petting zoos and the animal to human disease spread to consider. So a fitting question seems to be; 

What is the impact Petting Zoos have on the number of Zoonotic diseases/infections?

This becomes a more achievable research object with seemingly enough academic research and secondary data available to be analyzed to discover more about the issue of Zoonotic diseases/infections & petting zoos. This is especially important as I do not have the skills or time to acquire primary data in this area for the purpose of this research project. Initial readings into this area suggest that 10-20 percent of some diseases may solely be spread through petting zoos and have even been the origin of some bowel and kidney infections and diseases.


A. E. Heuvelink, C. van Heerwaarden, J. T. M. Zwartkruisnahuis, R. van Oosterom, K. Edink, Y. T. H. P. van Duynhoven & E. de Boer 2002, ‘Escherichia coli O157 Infection Associated with a Petting Zoo’, Epidemiology and Infection, vol. 129, no. 2, p. 295, viewed 13 April 2020, <https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.3864957&site=eds-live>.

Schlager, S, Lepuschitz, S, Ruppitsch, W, Ableitner, O, Pietzka, A, Neubauer, S, Stöger, A, Lassnig, H, Mikula, C, Springer, B & Allerberger, F 2018, ‘Petting zoos as sources of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) infections’, International Journal of Medical Microbiology, vol. 308, no. 7, p. 927, viewed 13 April 2020, <https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edo&AN=131902884&site=eds-live>.

Evers, E. G. et al. (2014) ‘A Quantitative Microbiological Risk Assessment for Campylobacter in Petting Zoos’, Risk Analysis: An International Journal, 34(9), pp. 1618–1638. Available at: https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=s3h&AN=98898801&site=eds-live (Accessed: 13 April 2020).

Shnaiderman-Torban, A( 1 ), Steinman, A( 1 ), Meidan, G( 1 ), Paitan, Y( 2,3 ), Ahmad, WA( 4 ) & Navon-Venezia, S( 5 ) n.d., ‘Petting zoo animals as an emerging reservoir of extended-spectrum β-lactamase and AmpC-producing enterobacteriaceae’, Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 10, no. OCT, viewed 13 April 2020, <https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edselc&AN=edselc.2-52.0-85074709252&site=eds-live>.