When I was little and visited the San Antonio Zoo, I remember looking down at the meerkats and their little babies running around them and I thought "if only I could touch them". Lots of zoos and animal parks have hands on activities or encounters now. I believe it started in the larger privately funded parks , then the smaller parks began hands on and animal experiences, then finally it has hit the AZA zoos in the last five years after they recognize the profitability, even though handling and having pets is something that it may not condone.
A few years ago Jason and I visited the Alabama Gulf Breeze Zoo while on a Zoo conference, we had 'backstage passes' and got to experience all of their encounters for their visitors. The most amazing and most memorable was their ruffed lemur encounter. The encounter was held in a 20 x20 wooden and wire building, similar to something we had recently purchased for other animals. It was simple, the animals were enjoying themselves and it seemed like a dream. When we got on the bus to leave the zoo to go back to our hotel we looked at each other and said, when we get home we have got to start working on this. That was in 2014. One year later we bought our ranch in Kingsbury.
5 years later we are putting up the literal framework for our animal adventure, a 24ft dome shaped encounter area for our visitors to come and meet our animals and feel what it is like to touch and experience them like I did at the Alabama zoo.