Petting zoos are a popular attraction among kids at local carnivals, fairs and birthday parties. For many children, it's their first exposure to animals other than cats and dogs. Having the opportunity to pet and feed the animals often provides them with memories they’ll cherish for a lifetime. Fewer people are operating petting zoos, though, due to the work and time involved. This can work to your advantage if you are interested to learn how to start a petting zoo business.
Find a facility to house animals. Before you invest any time or money into starting a petting zoo, it is important that you ensure you have a place to have the animals that make up your business. Not only do you need adequate shelters and outdoor areas for the animals to be in, but you must be in a location that doesn’t prohibit you from having certain animals on your property. Ideally, you should find a place located outside city limits.
Register your petting zoo. You need to register your business with the federal, state and local government. Federal registration should be done with the IRS, while your state registration is generally handled by the department of revenue, licensing or professional regulation. In addition, you need to register at the local level and obtain any license your county or city government may require since you have a large number of animals.
Buy animals and care for them. You must decide what animals you want to include in your petting zoo. Ideally you want animals that are interactive and have been around humans before since kids and adults will be petting and possibly riding them. Most petting zoo animals can be bought from local farms, and you can train them to perform and behave how you want.
Find transportation for animals. While you can set up your business to host birthday parties at your location, most petting zoos travel to where the party, fair or carnival is. Not only will you need cages and pens to keep animals separated during transport, but you’ll need a trailer to carry them and a large vehicle to pull the trailer. Although you can lease this equipment, you may find it more cost effective to buy depending upon the amount of travel and the distance you cover for your petting zoo.
Protect your business with insurance. It is important that you get insurance to protect yourself and your business. While you may have worked with and trained your animals for many years, they are still animals that can behave unpredictably. You need insurance to protect yourself from any lawsuits that may arise due to injuries sustained by an animal. In addition, it is a good idea to consult with a lawyer about establishing a waiver for parents to sign that acknowledges that you aren’t responsible for any injuries that occur to them or their children.
Purchase equipment needed to set up zoo on the spot. With a mobile petting zoo you need to buy fences that can easily be set up and taken down. This allows you to take your animals almost anywhere and still keep them contained for people to see and pet.
Hire staff. It’s important that you have adequate staff when your petting zoo is providing entertainment. Each animal should have someone to watch it and ensure that it’s not being agitated as this can cause it to lash out at patrons. When not providing entertainment, the zoo can be cared for by you since the animals will be at home in their cages or pens. However, you may find it helpful to hire an additional staff person to help care for them since they require food and water every day.
Market your petting zoo. In order to get people interested in the services you provide, you’ll have to market yourself. Contact local events and festival organizers to see if your services are needed. In addition, consider advertising in avenues that parents use when planning birthday parties for their children.