Dartmoor Zoo hits back at animal cruelty claims
The owner of a British zoo which starred in a Hollywood film has hit back at animal cruelty claims over guests playing 'tug-of-war' - with a lion.
Dartmoor Zoo launched the "human vs beast" challenge earlier this month - charging visitors £15 to try and wrestle meat from the jaws of a lion or tiger. But some claim the practice is cruel, and a petition was launched to ban the activity at Dartmoor Zoo in Devon.
Owner Benjamin Mee, who was played by Matt Damon in the 2011 film We Bought a Zoo, insists the activity is good for the big cats and mimics life in the wild.
The 53-year-old, told the Plymouth Live that not only do the animals "love" the experience, it is an "enriching exercise" and helps earn cash that can be used to rebuild the 30-year-old lion enclosure which "needs upgrading".
"People are making a fuss about nothing," Benjamin said. "I think this is 100 per cent the right thing to be doing; the lion loves it.
"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. But that's nature isn't it, it's gruesome. In the wild the level of force a lion puts its whole physique through is considerably more than we can replicate.
"They do genuinely tug with other animals over carcasses and one of the things for him personally is he understands it's for his benefit."
Zoos across the the world host similar tug-of-war experiences, but have also attracted criticism from groups including PETA and Born Free. The latter urging Dartmoor Zoo to reconsider it's 'Human vs beast' offering:
.@DartmoorZoo to offer 'Human vs Beast Experience' this February half-term. Is a tug of war game with a lion or tiger really the way to inspire respect for these animals? RT to urge the zoo to rethink this! #DontBuyCaptivity#KeepWildlifeInTheWild 🦁🐯 pic.twitter.com/7LvnjmAoZQ— Born Free Foundation (@BornFreeFDN) February 18, 2019
Furthermore, a petition against the tug-of-war activity started by sue Dally on the campaign website 38 Degrees says: "Dartmoor Zoo are selling tickets for £15 each to have a tug-of-war with a captive lion or a tiger. It's cruel and shows a total lack of respect for these beautiful majestic wild animals.
"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 claims it's to give the animals intellectual exercise and fun, but it comes across as putting profits before the animal's welfare. There are plenty of ways that experienced professionals can care for the rare animals, without turning them in to a novelty play thing for tourists."
In response to the petition Mr Mee said the activity continue regardless, adding it would be "bitterly ironic if animal rights campaigners stop animals getting enrichment in zoos".
"I will not be persuaded not to do the activity unless someone provides me with evidence against it and I would be amazed at that," he said.
"I understand some of the criticism is around it being a form of public entertainment, and we are being paid to entertain crowds, but it is engagement at its purest form. People get a real appreciation of the power of the animal, which you just can't get from a documentary."