Zoos are controversial enough — they certainly did not need help from the Dartmoor Zoo, near Plymouth in England, to draw more criticism. The zoo is being condemned for charging visitors $20 to play tug-of-war with its big cats (one lion named Jasiri and one tiger named Dragan).
Dubbed the “human v beast” competition, it allows visitors as young as eight years old to pull a rope attached to a piece of meat in the animal’s mouth and try to wrest it from its grip.
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There is a gate separating guests from the animals, and the zoo argues that the activity helps keep the lions and tigers fit and healthy. That hasn’t dissuaded over 2,000 people from signing a petition calling the practice cruel.
Sue Dally, who organized the petition, believes it demonstrates a “total lack of respect for these beautiful majestic wild animals […] the zoo is acting more like a circus than somewhere that really cares about the health and safety of the endangered animals in their captivity.” The animal charity RSPCA echoed her sentiment. “There are many alternative ways of [giving the animals exercize] and we feel it should not be marketed for public entertainment and that this activity does not promote respect for animals.”
The zoo, however, is pushing back, claiming the animals genuinely enjoy the activity. “In the cooler weather,” said a zoo spokeswoman, “Dartmoor Zoo’s keepers occasionally do rope-pulling with their big cats for enrichment purposes. This type of activity, which is common at many zoos, is very important to keep the animals fit and healthy as it encourages exercise, which builds muscle mass.” She adds, “It is completely at the cat’s discretion if they want to engage with the enrichment and they are not forced to participate in any way.”
H/T: The Guardian