Israel Bars New Petting Zoos in Schools, Citing Animal Cruelty

Animal rights activists say petting zoos frequently violate the law, and also 'betray the goal for which they were established.'

A petting zoo in an Israeli school (illustrative)
Haim Taragan

The Education Ministry is not currently allowing schools to set up petting zoos for their students, it said in a letter to the Bialik-Rogozin school in Tel Aviv.

It added that it is currently drafting a formal directive on the issue.

The letter was sent after the Let the Animals Live organization appealed to the ministry to prevent the school from establishing a petting zoo. The school had already held a fundraiser for the project.

In most schools, petting zoos hold only small animals, mainly baby chicks, mice, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs. Let the Animals Live charges that these animals are often crushed by the children, who aren’t aware of their own strength, and are dropped on the ground repeatedly. As a result, they are frequently injured or killed.

The organization also says these petting zoos teach children not to respect animals, as the children learn to see an animal as “something that if it dies, you simply bring another in its place.”

Hila Achisar, the ministry official responsible for school petting zoos, wrote to Bialik-Rogozin principal Eli Nechama that the ministry plans to abide by the decision of MK Itzik Shmuli, chairman of the Knesset’s subcommittee on prevention of cruelty to animals, and “not allow the opening of new petting zoos beyond those already approved.” She added that the ministry is now determining which schools already have petting zoos so it can assess how best to deal with the issue.

Achisar also wrote that for the last two years, she has been working to change the schools’ approach such that any animal kept by the school is separated from the children, and any interaction between children and animals is “by the animals’ choice.” Such interaction would “begin by encouragement through feeding and continue in the hope of a personal connection between the animals and the students, with a ban on lifting the animals.”

In its own letter to the school and the Tel Aviv municipality, Let the Animals Live wrote that petting zoos frequently violate the law, and also “betray the goal for which they were established. “

“Based on our years of experience, animals don’t survive in petting zoos for more than a few days,” the letter said. “Petting zoos teach the exact opposite of respect and love for animals, and in the process cause serious abuse of and harm to the animals, and even their death.”

The Education Ministry said that following a meeting on the matter by the Knesset Education Committee, it decided that until its planned new rules are formalized in a directive issued by the ministry director general, it will not allow the establishment of any new petting zoos in schools.