If you’re a parent, recent incidents between children and animals have likely left you shaken to the core.
A two-year-old boy died this week after an alligator dragged him into a large, man-made lake near a Disney hotel outside of Orlando, Florida. The death comes just weeks after another young boy fell into an enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, compelling officials to kill a western lowland gorilla out of fear for the child’s safety.
And while much has already been written about who’s to blame and what might have been done differently, perhaps there’s another question we need to be asking: How do we talk to our kids about scary, sometimes fatal wildlife encounters?
“I think this is so tragic that you’re never going to find the words to magic it away,” says Melina Gerosa Bellows, who leads National Geographic’s media for children. “But what parents can do is reassure their kids that mom and dad are doing everything they can to keep them safe.”
While sometimes horrific and sad, Bellows says parents might also try to use such events as teaching moments. (Learn more about how to travel with kids.)
“We talk about respecting and caring for the environment,” she says. “Well, animals are part of the environment, and you should never get too close to a wild animal.”
After spending over 40 years studying and caring for animals, Jack Hanna says it all comes down to one word—respect.
Before you enter a zoo or other area that might contain a wild animal, parents should talk to their children about expectations, says Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio and host of multiple wildlife-oriented television programs.
“This is the animal’s home,” he says. “You don’t yell. You don’t throw peanuts. You respect its home.”
And the advice doesn’t stop at elephants and bears. Chances are, kids will encounter a dog far more frequently than an exotic animal.
Which is why Hanna recommends teaching your children to always ask for permission before petting a dog, and under no circumstances should the child ever put his or her face near the animal’s muzzle.
“I don’t care what kind of dog it is,” he says. “The owner may say, ‘Well, this dog’s never bit anyone before.’ But that’s not the point. The point is it can happen.”
Continue reading this story by Jason Bittel at the original source, National Geographic News