Bitten, Mauled, and Clawed: Why Roadside Zoo Field Trips Are Dangerous For Your Students

Considering a roadside zoo for your class field trip? Think again. Roadside zoos force sentient beings to spend their lives behind bars just to entertain the public. Living conditions are often dismal, with animals confined to cramped, filthy, barren enclosures where they suffer from relentless frustration and loneliness and sometimes even endure abuse from the people who are supposed to be caring for them. Roadside zoos aren’t just bad for the animals, however. There’s a long and often undocumented history of severe injuries to humans by animals imprisoned at these facilities.

Is a Roadside Zoo a Good Field Trip Destination?

Taking a class of students to a roadside zoo puts the children and teachers in a dangerous situation. In addition, if an incident like the ones listed below should occur, it could have extremely harmful or even traumatizing effects on children.

tiger at at West Coast Game Park Safari, a roadside zoo
A tiger stares through the chain-link fence of an enclosure at West Coast Game Park Safari, a roadside zoo in Oregon.

Dangerous Animal Incidents at Roadside Zoos

This list will be updated as more of these incidents are discovered or published.

  • August 2021: An alligator chomped down on a trainer and refused to let go at Scales and Tails in West Valley City, Utah. A visitor jumped into the enclosure to help the trainer. The incident occurred at a girl’s birthday party, and several young children saw it unfold.
  • March 2021: Oklahoma court documents reveal that a woman was left disabled and disfigured after sustaining life-threatening injuries from being attacked during an encounter with an elephant at the Endangered Ark Foundation in Hugo.
  • February 2021: A volunteer at a roadside zoo in California was hospitalized with injuries to her torso and neck after being attacked by a leopard.
  • October 2020: A 2-year-old girl lost an arm while reaching into a cage that contained wolf-dog hybrids at an unlicensed facility in Michigan.
  • October 2020: A visitor at the Zoological Wildlife Foundation in Miami was bitten by a lion cub while posing for a picture with the animal. The roadside zoo received multiple citations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

PETA and the Animal Legal Defense Fund Sue Pymatuning Deer Park, the roadside zoo, over Bosco and other animals

  • August 2020: A man entered a black leopard’s cage at a “backyard zoo” in Florida and was immediately attacked. The leopard bit him on the head and ear, leaving his scalp hanging off and his ear torn in half.
  • December 2019: Patty Perry, director of Wildlife Environmental Conservation Inc. in California, was hospitalized with puncture wounds to her neck following an attack by two tigers.

The list goes on—read more about dangerous encounters with animals at roadside zoos across the country.

Swap the Roadside Zoo for a Humane Field Trip

The aforementioned incidents are the most egregious of the last few years, but incidents of public endangerment at roadside zoos are common and widespread. Keep in mind that these are only the ones that have been published. It is likely that many others have not been reported.

PETA has compiled a list of many roadside zoos on this interactive Google Earth map that you can use to avoid those in your area. If you’re an educator and you would like help planning your next humane field trip, please feel free to contact TeachKind.

All fields in bold are mandatory.

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