Court orders zoo to stop letting kids swim with alligators

Kids will no longer be able to swim with crocs and alligators at this German zoo.
Kids will no longer be able to swim with crocs and alligators at this German zoo. Photo: Krokodilzoo Friedberg

Children will no longer be allowed to swim with alligators and crocodiles at a German zoo, thanks to a court order banning kids from frolicking with the reptiles.

While feeding, touching and swimming with crocodiles and alligators has been an attraction at Krokodilzooin Friedberg, Hesse, since it opened in 2001, in August the nature conservation authority of Darmstadt's regional council first barred the activity for those under 18, The Local reports. 

The zoo subsequently launched an appeal, arguing that no one had ever been harmed and that the animals are "tame". On Thursday, however, a court in Giessen upheld the decision, noting that "dangerous wild animals" such as alligators should not be allowed to walk around freely in front of visitors - tame or not. The order means only those over 18 who have been explicitly informed of the risks, can get up close and personal with the crocs, Hessenschau reports.

The crocodile zoo is marketed on its site as "a worldwide unique attraction". 

"Only here you get the opportunity not only to see and observe crocodiles up close, but also to "understand", to feed and even to swim with them," the site reads, explaining that visits to the zoo are always a "guided tour",  given the crocodiles "move freely in the system".

Owner Rene Renz says his aim has been to bring the reptiles "closer to the people" and "to put the image of the 'evil monsters' in the right light."

The new rules, however, will challenge Mr Renz's vision, somewhat. Patrons, for example, will no longer have the option of purchasing the zoo's kids' birthday party package, which consisted of a tour, some snacks and a photo op with an alligator. That said, bachelor parties will still be able to book a "head trick", allowing "daring" guests to stick their head down the throat of a 60-year-old alligator bull, the "special event' captured on camera for perpetuity.

Head tricks aside, the order is a timely one - and clearly a win for common sense when it comes to minors. In June 2016, two-year-old Lane Graves was killed at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort when he was dragged into the water by an alligator along the edge of the Seven Seas Lagoon. An August 2016 report released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, classified the attack as "predatory", noting that the alligator grabbed the two-year-old in a manner consistent with hunting.

"Alligators routinely hunt and kill prey along the shore and drag it into the water. The victim's small size and position (bent down) at the time of the attack would appear to the alligator similar to many of its normal food sources," it read.

Disney later added alligator warning signs and erected a boulder along the Seven Seas Lagoon.