Two news stories of note caught my eye within the past few days. At least one has gone viral, which you may have seen. The other hasn't, probably due to lack of accompanying video.
Fed Up Gorilla Gives Taunting Kids at the Zoo a Scare They Won't Soon Forget
Zoo Bans Whole School After Pupils Bare their Backsides at Monkeys
When I catch guests behaving badly, I try to convey a simple message: for our animals, this is their home. They deserve to be treated with respect. Some people just need the lesson put to them in a different way: "If you were sleeping in bed, you wouldn't want people pounding on your door or walls, would you?" Makes sense...
Some people need a more... direct approach. I caught some kids at one zoo where I worked pounding on the fennec fox glass (and when your ears are THAT big, that pounding must be annoying) and shouting. I tip-toed up to them, tapped one on the shoulder, and then thrust my face into his and loudly chattered gibberish while making crazy faces. As the startled kid stumbled back back, scared and confused, I smiled and said, "See? You don't like it either..."
A small percentage of our guests (and as much as we bitch and moan, it is a small one) cause problems. When it's a small child, you have to assume that they don't know better and that it's a learning experience, for them and their parents. "No, that's not how we say hi to the animals," or, my favorite, "Excuse me Miss, but if your son doesn't stop chasing that swan, it's going to turn around and break your child's arm..." People tend to be selfish, so it never hurts to remind them why it is in their interest to behave.
Of course, when the rule-breakers are older kids ("Old enough to know better, too young to care") or adults, you may have to be a bit firmer. It has long been past the point where I have become willing to throw people out of the zoo, or threaten to call the police ("I don't care how badly you want a picture, get your ass out of that exhibit NOW!") The important thing is to remember to be polite while doing so (not because they deserve it, but to cover your own backside if they complain). With issues of visitor conduct and animal safety, I've never had a supervisor fail to take my side.
Zoos can be a wonderful place for visitors to learn about wildlife and wild places. They can also be lots of fun. It only works, though, if they are willing to behave in respectful manners at the zoo - respectful towards the animals who live there, towards the other guests who are also trying to have a good time, and sure, why not, towards the staff as well. It is our job to foster that kind of respectful environment.
Until then, I'll keep rooting for that gorilla...