The Reston Zoo has more in common with the National Zoological Park than you might think. Both cram opportunities to commune with fauna into mostly residential areas, and at both zoos, you can see monkeys. But in many ways the distance is far, far greater than the 22 miles that separate them. Reston’s a feeding and petting zoo, and while you can pet some of the farm animals at the National Zoo, at Reston you have the option of purchasing animal pellets in either a cup or a tub, or a la carte at vending machines. Also, the National Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA); Reston is not.

Your first stop at the Reston Zoo will probably be the barn, where goats—-a lot of goats—-and sheep hustle to the low fence whenever anyone walks by, in hopes of getting some of those pellets. But hustle past those fatsos on down to the “Zoofari” ride. On my way to that this past Sunday, I saw a man plonk his kid on top of the Sicilian donkey, and another woman trying to pluck a feather out of an ostrich that came up to the fence to see whether she had any food.

On the Zoofari ride, Reston’s uniqueness as an animal experience becomes more pronounced. Snappy detached homes loom above the basin in which bison, deer, camels, and other ruminants run free; their yards end in high chain link fences, as much to prevent animal intrusions as to keep barbecues from getting out of hand.

On the ride, you sit on a flatbed trailer with wooden benches; you’re pulled by a tractor whose driver has to shoo away an ostrich before he lets you on board. But after loading the trailer, he stops to let the ostriches approach and feed, which they do by thrusting their heads into visitors’ feed cups, scattering pellets and screaming children as they do so.

Later on the ride, this experience was repeated with a camel. My 4-year-old, who’s terrified to death of something new every week (recently: mummies, vegetable gratin, seaweed) LOVED being able to reach out and touch a camel’s nose; me, I was too busy hugging our 1-year-old to my chest to make sure he didn’t get carried off.

I mentioned that deer shared the Zoofari grounds; I’m not sure whether they’re intended to be part of the exhibits. Certainly there are a lot of Canada geese around, attracted, no doubt, to the animal pellets scattered near all the cages. As a result, there’s goose guano covering most walking surfaces, and the pond, which ostensibly showcases ducks, belongs completely the geese at this point.

Just past the pond I saw this alligator moping around in mucky water. What I didn’t see much of was zookeepers; the AZA and the USDA both insist that “animal contact areas should always be supervised by a trained zoo representative” but this does not appear to be the policy at Reston.

We decided to skip the pony rides, figuring that at this point we’d racked up enough karmic debt for the day. The gift shop is very nice, though.