How To Start a Petting Zoo

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Image of a child feeding animals

A Quick Overview of The Petting Zoo Business

If you have ever dreamed of starting a new business and you love animals, then a petting zoo may be just the answer that you’ve been searching for.

This business offers a variety of niches, including permanent petting zoo or traveling petting zoos, where animals can be taken to schools, senior and convalescent homes and, of course, birthday parties.

It might look good on paper to decide that you want fifteen large animals for, but you have to look at the practical aspects of having that many animals to care for on a daily basis.

To run a local or mobile petting zoo correctly will take a lot of effort in providing animal care as well as maintaining your animals’ shelter, providing daily social interaction, and maintaining health standards for them and their environment.

Skill Set:
  • Cleaning of animals
  • Cleaning of animal corrals and cages
  • Feeding and watering of animals
  • Upkeep of veterinary records and shots
  • Grooming
  • Providing animal-specific diets
  • Experience in animal or veterinary care is a plus
  • Maintenance of animal corrals and cages
  • Monitoring of all visitors’ interaction with the animals
  • List of Common Business Skills
Employee and Job Consideration During The Start-Up Phase or In The Future:

Common staff positions needed to run some businesses

Approximate Daily Hours Needed:

Animal care, in general, is a 24/7 job and hours of operation with visits will vary according to open hours set at a permanent location.

Plan to spend about two to four hours feeding all the animals, cleaning their areas, and checking on their health, not only before and after visits but at regular times throughout each day.

Equipment, Supplies, & Services During Start-up OR In The Future:
  • Pens, cages, corrals
  • Truck & Trailer
  • 1 – 5 acres of farmland is recommended
  • Rakes, Shovels, Buckets, Gloves, Rope
  • Fencing
  • Heating and air conditioning units
  • First-aid kit
  • Trash bags or containers for debris and animal droppings
  • Onsite dumpster
  • Composting containers
  • Essential office Equipment
Monthly Expenses and Operating Costs To Consider:
  • Land, lot, or other animal housing
  • Feed/water
  • Animal Care
  • Fuel for mobile animal transportation
  • Temporary permits if setting up in a fair
  • List of common business skills
Licenses:

All petting zoos that operate in the United States are normally required to have a Class C Exhibitor’s License issued by the Department of Agriculture. You may need a Class C license and or other permits for exotic animals.

You will need to contact the authorities in your area for information on what steps you must take to be issued all required licenses and permits.

See Our Page on Licenses and Permits

Approximate Minimum Startup Cost:

Startup cost vary. Costs involve advertising, licenses, permits, cost of the animals, insurance coverage, plus you need to factor in the cost to lease or own, land and barn as well as setup expenses such as fences.

Tips & Considerations:
  • You will want to protect your assets in the event someone should become injured while visiting your zoo. Therefore, be sure to purchase good liability insurance. To do this, contact insurance companies that offer commercial liability coverage and ask for a quote.
  • Adequate space for both the animals and visitors is an absolute must. You should purchase a range of about 1 – 5 acres of raw land at the very minimum. Make sure that the land is easily accessible to the public, and that there are no land restrictions anywhere near your zoo. This is especially the case for exotic petting zoo operations.
  • It is also a good idea to check land and building codes with your state’s zoning department so that you are fully aware of certain zoning bylaws. Lastly, make certain that all predatory animals are kept away from their prey to avoid any type of attack and situation. Always do extensive research, and seek the advice and assistance of zoo experts and animal care specialists.
  • Create guideposts to direct visitors to where they can see all of the animals during their tours. Have signs close by with facts and details describing each animal by species. Also, make sure that your facility is secure enough to be completely safe for your visitors.
  • Always purchase your animals from a licensed vendor. Examine these credentials carefully to make certain that they are updated by a government-sponsored organization or state commission. The basic criteria when selecting your animals, is that they are people-friendly, are well-behaved around other animals, have been properly cared for by the previous owner, and are disease-free. If you decide to purchase animals for an exotic petting zoo business, contact your local authorities to secure permits for handling such animals if necessary.
  • Always provide your animals with a healthy diet, proper physical fitness, and regular vaccinations. Give them lots of love and nurturing. Pay very close attention to behavior patterns, and watch for signs of odd conduct and unhealthy emotional issues. Address all health concerns immediately as they occur. Completely groom them daily, and keep them as comfortable and as happy as possible. Allow them to rest and play when needed.
  • Keep your operation sanitary, and make sure that you adjust the temperature settings for your animal facility according to weather conditions. Maintain adequate heating for the cold winter seasons, and central cooling during the hot summers.
  • If you are starting a mobile petting zoo, you will have to purchase temporary mobile units to transport your animals from one location to the next. You can start out by leasing trailers and trucks for tours to schools, private parties, and country fairs. After raising a bit more capital, you should invest in your own trailers and trucks. Make sure that they are cleaned regularly, are in good mechanical condition, and are properly registered and insured.
Pros and Cons:

The Pros:

  • Ideal business for animal lovers
  • Excellent side business for farms and ranches
  • You get to work outside
  • You provide a fun and educational service
  • This business is completely expandable
  • Lots of fun
  • Minimal competition
  • Can travel

The Cons:

  • Work tends to slow down during the winter months
  • A lot of heavy lifting and hauling machinery of all different types is required
  • Caring for sick animals can get extremely costly
  • Chance of visitors getting hurt or bitten (hence, high liability insurance costs)
  • Many hours of upkeep
  • Numerous laws, rules, and regulations to comply with
  • Opposition from animal activists
  • Zoning laws may restrict the types or numbers of animals you can keep on your property
  • High startup cost

Type of Customers:

You will be mostly catering to families, so you need to be very kid friendly as well as able to communicate to adults. You will need to establish clear boundaries concerning the length of visits and where people can and cannot go. You will need to make sure that you are able to enforce these boundaries.

Revenues:

$5,000 – $30,000 per year, as this is primarily a seasonal business for some. Depending on your niche, it can be a highly lucrative year-round business.

Resources:

Related Sites:

Petting Zoo Directory

Courses:

World Wide Learning

Equipment and Supplies:

Animal Care

Shor-Line

Associations:

American Association of Zoo Keepers

International Zoo Educators Association

Books:

Zoo Animals: Behavior, Management, and Welfare

Animal Biology and Care