Kids and Animals Connect at the Philadelphia Zoo

A pair of elephants at the Philadelphia Zoo

“Can we pet the horses?” 8-year-old Zahra Jaffe asked, according to the South Jersey Times.

“You sure can!” the zookeeper reportedly said.

“I petted a lamb!” 11-year-old Amber Johnson told Philadelphia TV station WPVI.

Okay, so you might not get to pet the elephants.

But the Philadelphia Zoo in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has a new, hands-on way for kids to learn about animals – and have fun at the same time.

It’s called KidZooU, and it just opened earlier this month.

There are hundreds of animals there — goats and sheep and horses and birds and fish and butterflies and lots of other things to touch and see.

Okay, you can’t pet the butterflies, either.

But it’s still a lot more hands-on than most other zoos.

“(You) definitely should come and see it,” said Neena Heffernan of West Chester, Pennsylvania, in an interview with WPVI reporter Matt O’Donnell.  “You can go play with, like, the animals.”

And she’s not joking about the playing part, either.

For example, not only is there a place for goats to climb at KidZooU.

There’s also a place for kids to climb – human kids, that is.

There’s even a kid-sized ant tunnel, where you can figure out what it feels like to be an ant.

It’s called “parallel play.”

And there’s an important reason behind it.

“(You) are learning empathy, caring,” Philadelphia Zoo president Vikram Dewan told WHYY, the local public television station.  “(You) will be able to do what animals do.”

In other words, you’ll get to walk a mile in the animals’ shoes, as the saying goes – or horseshoes, as the case may be.

KidZooU also wants to show kids how everyday choices we all make can influence the lives of animals far, far away.

For example, by turning off a light switch, you’re using less electricity – and helping a polar bear at the same time!

How?

By using less electricity, you’re helping to cut the amount greenhouse gases released into the Earth’s atmosphere – gases that block heat from escaping.

And by allowing more heat to escape, you’re keeping the polar bear’s icy habitat from melting.

“(Your) choices can have an impact all the way to the Arctic (and) all the way to Australia,” KidZoo zookeeper Marina Haynes told WPVI.

KidZooU is open to grownups, too.

And according to published reports, you’re allowed inside at no additional cost, once you’re inside the Philadelphia Zoo.

What do kids have to say about it?

“I like this zoo!” Amber told WPVI reporter Amy Buckman.

“I really like the animals,” said Michaela Walter, speaking with O’Donnell.  “I liked how we get to interact with them.”

In the end, the folks at KidZooU want you to leave with a better understanding of animals – and greater respect for them, too.

“We want the kids to realize how close (the animals) are (to humans),” Philadelphia Zoo vice president Kim Lengel told Buckman.  “The animals are not that different from us.”