A zoo in Florida, Dade City’s “Wild Things” came under fire in recent weeks for allowing visitors to swim with baby tigers as part of an “up close” animal encounter promoted by the business. Video footage and photographs were released showing tiger cubs swimming in a pool with tourists and a person who appeared to be a handler repeatedly preventing one young cub from climbing out of the pool, despite the baby crying out in distress. The zoo charged $200 per person for the 30-minute experience, which has been branded “cruel” and “ridiculous” by animal protection advocates.

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Wild Things

Zoos argue that their main focus is to care for and conserve endangered animal species, but stunts such as this one go to show that, when profit can be made, animal welfare is often given lower priority. Sadly, the way in which the cubs are being exploited by the zoo is not an isolated incident. The “Wild Things” zoo, based in Dade County, has reportedly had a complaint filed against it by the USDA for “[continuing] to mishandle animals, particularly infant and juvenile tigers, exposing these animals and the public to injury, disease, and harm.”

CBS Tampa reports, “According to the complaint, in 2012, inspectors cited Wild Things for failing to provide proper veterinary care for a black panther, forcing a tiger cub to stay in the water even though it clearly wanted to get out, and maintaining a perimeter fence that was too low.”

The list of complaints is alleged to date back to include incidents from 2010.

Another investigator from PETA witnessed a caretaker at the establishment as they, “lowered a young tiger into a pool by the tiger’s tail, pulled the tiger’s tail in order to restrain it while it was in the pool, and pulled the young tiger out of the pool by the tiger’s right front leg.”

Not to mention, it has been noted that young tiger cubs used in the swim experiences are far too young to be separated from their mothers and are likely to experience stress and fear from being handled by unfamiliar people on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, these complaints and incidents aren’t the only issue with the zoo.

Welfare Concerns Extend Further Than The Pool Sessions

Furthermore, a number of the cubs photographed are white tigers. Despite misleading promotion from zoos which breed these animals, the white tiger (and white lions) are not rare species of big cat but are, in fact, the result of two animals with the same genetic condition, known as leucism, being deliberately mated.

As the white tiger population is so small, the gene pool is limited, leading to inevitable inbreeding. This has lifelong welfare implications for the animals involved, but zoos continue to breed these unusual-looking animals as they are so popular with visitors. White tigers and lions have been documented as suffering from congenital cranial problems, respiratory disease and a shortened lifespan.

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The use of animals, and particularly young animals, in close encounter experiences, is rife across the zoo and animal entertainment industry; but it is not just animal welfare being put at risk. One Green Planet recently reported on a young boy who was given a “swim with a sea lion” experience at a Spanish zoo for his birthday. The treat turned to tragedy after the little boy was attacked and had to be taken to the hospital as a result of his injuries. This is a single example of many unfortunate incidents that occur when wild animals are forcibly put in close contact with people.

Call It Out If You See Animal Exploitation

Here at One Green Planet we don’t believe that animals, and particularly baby animals, should be hired out and subjected to stressful situations and we are sure that you green monsters agree. You can help bring an end to the cruel exploitation of the cubs at Wild Things zoo by taking the action suggested by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA). If you become aware of animal handling events being held at a zoo near you, you can raise concerns with respected organizations such as Born Free USA – who monitor zoos and take action when welfare concerns are raised.

The best thing we can all do as individuals is to boycott cruel animal attractions like Dade County “Wild Things.” These pitiful establishments run on profit, so when the money stops coming in, the need to exploit these animals ends. No living creature should suffer for the sake of our entertainment.

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Lead image source: Daily Mirror