GRIFFITH PARK (CBSLA.com) — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is lashing out at the Los Angeles Zoo for allowing visitors to pet hippos.

The zoo posted on Youtube a video showing visitors touching Mara the hippo and her 15-month-old baby, Rosie, while a curator feeds the animals vegetables. It is part of a new tour called Hippo Encounter to Visitors.

PETA accuses the zoo of violating the Animal Welfare Act, which the animal-rights group said “mandates that barriers should separate potentially dangerous animals from visitors.”

Hippos are dangerous and aggressive animals that have killed more people than any other mammal in Africa, according to PETA’s blog.

“Their nature is inherently unpredictable. And that’s what makes them wild,” said Heather Rally who is a veterinarian with PETA. “You just don’t know when an unprovoked attack may occur.”

“Depriving a mother of the opportunity to raise her baby in peace without the continuous stress of strangers approaching her…is dangerous to visitors and animals alike,” PETA wrote.

The L.A. Zoo released this statement: “The encounter does not violate the Animal Welfare Act. The safety and welfare of both our animals and zoo guests is always our number one priority.”

Despite their friendly appearance, hippos are ranked among the most dangerous animals in Africa, killing up to 300 people a year.

PETA said it has contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is calling for an investigation into the practice.

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