Dartmoor zoo offers visitors tug-of-war against lion or tiger for £15

'The lion loves it,' owner of attraction says

Tom Embury-Dennis
Friday 22 February 2019 13:13
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Dartmoor Zoo visitors play tug of war with lion

A British zoo offering visitors the chance to compete in a tug-of-war against a lion or tiger has been condemned by animal rights campaigners.

The competition at Dartmoor Zoo allows teams of four people, including children as young as eight, to pull on a rope tied at the other end to a slab of meat, which one of the big cats attempts to keep within its jaws.

More than 2,600 people have signed a petition calling for an end to the “cruel” attraction, which costs £15 a ticket to compete against 25-stone male tiger Dragan, or Jasiri, a 23-stone African male lion.

Sue Dally, who set up the petition on website 38 Degrees, said: “It feels like we're going backwards, the zoo is acting more like a circus rather than somewhere that really cares about the health and safety of the endangered animals in their captivity.”

The zoo’s owner, Benjamin Mee, insists campaigners are “making a fuss about nothing” and that the animals “love” the experience.

"I think this is 100 per cent the right thing to be doing, the lion loves it,” Mr Mee told the Plymouth Herald. "One of problems people have potentially raised is the lion doesn't get fed unless he wins, but obviously that isn't the case.

“Another issue is around his teeth - well, have you seen pictures of lions tugging at wildebeests' faces? Their teeth are really strong - they are not coming out.”

Mr Mee said the zoo was a charity and the money raised by the tug-of-war would help rebuild a decades-old lion house which needs upgrading.

One man who bought a ticket for the attraction tweeted about his “amazing experience” with his wife.

“Tug of war with a [lion] and yeh we lost lol!” he added.

But the RSPCA accused the zoo of faling to "respect the animals".

“We understand the zoo feels this will provide physical enrichment for these big cats but there are many alternative ways of doing this and we feel it should not be marketed for public entertainment and that this activity does not promote respect for animals,” a spokesperson said.

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Dartmoor Zoo said: "Over February half-term, the zoo is for the first time enabling a small number of visitors to join in with the keepers, to experience for themselves the strength of the animals and to learn more about these threatened species.

"The zoo is a charity and money raised from participation in the experience goes toward the zoo’s conservation, education and research efforts to improve captive animal management and protect wild habitats that are being destroyed or lost."

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