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MLA Full: "Are Exotic Animals Safe For Kids?" YouTube, uploaded by Animal Wonders Montana, 22 November 2018,
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APA Full: Animal Wonders Montana. (2018, November 22). Are Exotic Animals Safe For Kids? [Video]. YouTube.
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Can you let kids interact with exotic animals? Is it safe? Of course it's not safe, but by following a few rules and guidelines it is possible. Jessi shows some real life examples.

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Hi, I'm Jessi and this is Animal Wonders.  We have animals that we care for everyday, from parrots to lizards to armadillos and we have a lot of individuals that need special attention, but on a personal level, I also have kids that need my care and attention.  I get asked all the time if my kids help me take care of the animals or if I let them play with the animals.  That's a great question--I'd be curious, too, so I'm going to give you an honest answer.


I'm not advocating that wild or exotic animals are safe for children, but I do let my children interact with many of the animals that we have at Animal Wonders.  This includes snakes, foxes, beavers, parrots, porcupines, an cockroaches.  Now, you might be thinking, how could you let a child play with a porcupine?  Aren't they dangerous? 

Well, yes, of course they're dangerous, but let's take a step back.  Really, any animal can be dangerous, to a child or to an adult.  The most common pet, dogs, have the most cases of injury to humans of any species.  The main reason for this is because so many people have dogs that the chance for injury is very high compared to a porcupine, who very few children have access to, because porcupines aren't pets, but let's talk more specifically about exotic animals, because exotic animals tend to carry more unexpected risks than domesticated species.

For example, porcupines.  Their quills are obviously not a good thing to have around young kids, but turtles and tortoises and other reptiles are pretty common as pets and they can be very dangerous for a young child too.  Reptiles can bite and injure a child, just like a dog can, but they can also spread the bacteria salmonella if you don't have good hand washing tendencies--which, let's be real, most kids don't wash their hands very well.

Parrots are another common exotic pet that can be quite dangerous, because they can cause significant injury with their powerful beaks.  There are so many ways exotic animals can be dangerous, especially to children, so knowing that exotic animals can be very dangerous to children, I'd like to show you how I keep my kids safe while also letting them interact with the animals.

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When I have my six year old son interact with our African crested porcupine Kizmit, it's strictly supervised, and the situation is always very specific.  Kizmit is an individual and she's learned to trust me and trust other humans that are with me.  There's no way I would be comfortable having my son interact with a porcupine that I didn't trust.  I'm always there to prevent a misunderstanding from happening, and if something unexpected did happen, like my son tripped, I'm right there, ready to focus and calm Kizmit while he regains his footing.

I've also clearly communicated to my son in advance that he can tell me if he's nervous and he can leave at any time.  So when I have him touch Kizzie, he's respectful and calm and when I have him help me feed Kizzie, he doesn't directly hand her food.  His job is making the enrichment items that she gets to rip apart.  He's never going to be in a situation where Kizzie will see him as a threat to her or her access to food.  

This is how he interacts with Kizmit in a safe way.  To be very clear, I think there's a big difference between what we do, caring for a porcupine and having our child come in to her home for visits versus having a porcupine as a pet and having your child and the porcupine live in the same home.  I would never put my child in a situation where I wasn't right there supervising and I know that if something startling happened in those situations, I would be able to keep my son safe.  

Another example: I have a two year old daughter who loves all the animals, as long as they don't hold on to her.  Her favorite animal is a fox and she gets giddy whenever she sees them, but just because she loves the foxes doesn't mean I'm going to let her come into contact with them.  When I come into contact with the foxes, they nip and scratch at me.  Serafina the red fox will readily bite at my eyes if I let her get too close to my face and Cas the arctic fox bites any exposed skin that he can find.

Allowing a two year old child to come into contact with the foxes would just be really irresponsible.  I know how to keep myself safe around the foxes, but just because I can, doesn't mean others can, especialy a child.  Instead of coming in to contact with the foxes, I allow my daughter to interact with them from a safe distance.  She really enjoys putting their food in a small box and then tossing it to them and watching them excitedly grab it and go. 

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Here's another example of how I promote safe interactions between the animals and my kids.  When my son turned five, he was finally able to feel confident enough to hold a bird on his arm.  When he got distracted and dropped his arm down and the parrot held on to his shirt sleeve with her beak because they didn't wanna fall off, he didn't know why they wouldn't let go.  I was able to quickly have the parrot step onto my finger and kept them both safe.  

If I hadn't been there and didn't have a trusting relationship with the bird, both the bird and my son could have been injured.  Now, a year later, he understands that he has to hold his arm steady if he wants the bird to stay where they are, and this is a really important experience.  He learned that if he wants to interact with an animal, he has to make sure that animal is comfortable or there can be unpleasant consequences for both parties.

Okay, here's another example.  My son loved being near the herd of guinea pigs and building them little forts for them to run around in,  but he was always sad when the guinea pigs would run away from him.  We talked about how big his body was compared to them and how he might feel if a giant were moving around close to him.  He learned to listen to the guinea pigs communicating to each other and he eventually heard Chili Pepper the Patagonian cavy purr, which is a sign that he likes what's happening.  My son was so excited to know that Chili Pepper liked him.

From these experiences, he learned how his actions caused those around him to react and if he was calm around the animals, they would be happier.  I'm sharing these very specific events because it's how I'm trying to answer the question, are exotic animals safe for children.  I could simply say no, they're too dangerous, and be a hypocrite because I allow my children to interact with them, or I could say yes, giving no other context and then I'd be promoting very dangerous situations.  By giving specific stories, I'm hoping you can start to see how my family's unique situation works and why there's no simple answer to this question.  

I want my children to know how to be safe around the animals they will encounter as they grow up, and the only way to make that happen is if they are allowed to practice in safe situations where they can make small mistakes and learn from them.  

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Some of the most important things to keep in mind when animals and children interact are:

  • Always know the animal's natural behavior and how that will affect the reaction to the situation in the moment.

  • Always wash hands after the encounter, because lots of animals can share bacteria and viruses that aren't good for children, or anyone.

The lessons my son has learned from interacting with some of our animals has helped him with other interactions as well.  He has learned empathy towards animals as individuals and treats our dogs and cats and also his friends with more respect.  

Now as for the second question, do my kids help me clean the animals?  Have you seen what a two year old does with a pile of trash?  Well, if you haven't, they usually play with it, and if you're lucky, they don't try and eat it.  Two year olds are excellent at finding the most mundane objects exciting, but soiled animal bedding should not be one of  those things.  So do they help me clean?  Simple answer: no.  The kids don't help me clean the animals...yet.

But at almost seven, my son is getting better at holding a dustpan and I'm ready to take advantage of this new skill while he still thinks it's cool to help his mom.  

I hope that helps shed some light on how I manage my kids around all the animals.  I feel very lucky to be able to raise my children to love and respect all animals and get to know them as individuals while doing it in a safe way.  

Thanks for letting me share this part of my life adventure with you.  If you'd like to go on a new animal adventure every week, subscribe and join our awesome community of animal enthusiasts.  Thanks, and we'll see you next week.