A private zoo in Florida is charging visitors $200 to spend a half hour swimming and playing with baby tigers.
Dade City’s Wild Things, which is located outside of Tampa, Florida, advertises its new money-making attraction as ‘an amazing encounter’ that includes ‘playing in the grass, bottle time and swim time,’ according to its website.
The zoo charges an additional $10 for anyone that wants watch the encounter. The price includes a CD with photos and videos of the experience ‘including action shots and posed shots in the water with your cub,’ according to the website.
The one-on-one playtime is limited to tigers no heavier than 40 pounds, due to a state law that restricts how closely the public may interact with large cats.
Animal rights activists condemn the zoo’s practice of charging visitors for access to the animals, calling it abusive and dangerous to the animals’ health.
‘The cubs are awakened repeatedly for anyone who will pay to pet them or take photos with them,’ said one critic on the 911 Animal Abuse website. ‘Cubs don’t like holding still for petting sessions and photo opportunities. The swimming solves that problem … because the cub has to swim for dear life.’
The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a warning citation to Dade City’s Wild Things last year for a number of violations, including an incident in which a handler forced a tiger cub into a swimming pool after the animal appeared hesitant to enter the water.
When the animal tried to exit the pool, the handler forced it to keep swimming.
‘The cub swam towards the handler located at the pool wall and extended its paws towards the edge of the pool apparently wanting to get out of the pool,’ a U.S. Department of Agriculture official wrote in an inspection report dated September 2011. ‘Instead of pulling the cat out of the water and stopping the encounter the handler decided to continue with the swimming.’
The zoo says the animals enjoy swimming and that they are especially easy to control in the water.
‘Tigers are known as the best swimmers of all the big cats, with webbing between their toes to make their feet more like flippers,’ the zoo states on its website. ‘We can manipulate them more easily as they are floating. When they are young, they love taking baths and then we slowly introduce them to the pool.’
The zoo also offers swimming lessons with alligators whose mouths are taped shut.