Few things can dazzle a child like the discovery of a new animal.
"I've never saw a zebra before," Evie Hulme said.
Petting a donkey or kissing a goat can be pretty exciting for young fairgoers, too.
"I think anything that is unique, that you can't see otherwise, certainly brings folks here," said Tim Shea of the Champlain Valley Exposition.
Fair officials say in a state dominated by dairy they'll always showcase the Holsteins and the jerseys. But it's the allure of the unknown that really draws people in. No surprise, exotic petting zoos rank high among fair favorites. And since Vermont does not have a zoo, many schoolchildren rely on fairs to expose them to non-native species.
Animal rides are major moneymakers at fairs. But when the animal handlers come to Vermont, they can bring the camels, but they have to leave the elephants behind.
"We don't allow elephants in Vermont primarily for safety concerns, primarily public health concerns," said Col. Dave LeCours of the Vt. Fish and Wildlife Department.
Fish and Wildlife says elephants are common carriers of human tuberculosis, a contagious respiratory disease that's airborne. Allowing the ivory tusked animals in is not something state officials are willing to risk.
"We're concerned with people being exposed to that in a mass situation like a fair would be," LeCours said.
But it hasn't always been that way. Twelve years ago, the Shelburne Museum hosted the Big Apple Circus and a parade of elephants graced the grounds. This marked one of the last times the gentle giants came to town. Animal rights advocates protested outside, concerned about the animals' welfare.
Vermont is one of the only states that has outlawed elephants and wildlife officials say the fair community is not pushing too hard to change that. And these kids don't seem to mind. They're more focused on what the fair does have.
"The goats and the sheeps and a zebra," said Liam Lavery, 4.
The max penalty for sneaking an elephant into Vermont is a $3,000 fine.
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