Wildlife park lets you pet tiger for 160
PARADISE WILDLIFE PARK – in Hertfordshire, where for a fee visitors can feed lions and tigers.
Daniel Foggo and Holly Watt
A WILDLIFE park is charging members of the public to feed a 500lb tiger and pet it by putting their fingers inside its cage, a practice condemned by animal welfare groups as dangerous.
For a 160 fee, Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire allows customers to stroke with their fingers Rocky, a nine-year-old Siberian and Bengal tiger cross described as a gentleman”. The park also permits customers to feed Narnia, a white tiger. Meat is held up to the bars so it can be pulled into the cage. Staff said Narnia does not like people very much”.
The wildlife park is offering the service up to twice a day despite the deaths of two people from maulings by tigers at two unconnected zoos overseas within the past month.
This weekend animal welfare groups criticised the practice of letting the public feed the tigers. Will Travers, the chief executive of the Born Free Foundation, said: These are wild animals. This is an accident waiting to happen.”
However, the owners of Paradise Wildlife Park, which also used to allow visitors to walk wolves in its grounds, said the feeding, which is open to anyone over 16, was entirely safe and sanctioned by zoo inspectors sent by the local authority.
On its website, it tells visitors they will get a souvenir T-shirt after they experience the animals breath and the brush of whiskers as it takes the meat from your hand”.
Last week reporters posing as customers visited the wildlife park in Broxbourne, where they were taken to the lion enclosure by Jenny, a staff member. One reporter was told to place her hand in front of the faces of the lion Turkana and lioness Mana to allow them to smell or lick her through the bars.
Then Jenny took the reporters to the tiger pen where Rocky and Narnia are kept and they were joined by Chris, another keeper.
After a health and safety” talk in which the reporter was told: The tiger cant get her teeth through the bars so if you feel something its the tongue,” she was told to stand next to the metal mesh separating her from the animals.
The reporter then took slabs of raw horse flesh from a bucket and held it up to the holes in the mesh until the tigers grabbed it.
Afterwards, Jenny showed the reporter how to put her fingers, but not the palm of her hand, into the cage to stroke Rocky. She was told to poke her thumb through an adjacent hole in the mesh, apparently in order to stop her hand being drawn entirely through the bars should Rocky bite her fingers.
Chris said that Narnia, who is 2 years old, was not keen on people because of incidents in her early upbringing. Both she and Rocky were hand-reared.
Rocky is a gent, he wouldnt hurt you intentionally,” he said. But we could never do this with our jaguars.”
A spokesman for the Captive Animals Protection Society said: This is really not a very bright thing to do. Even if they think the tigers are gentlemen they can still rip your arm off. The tiger does not know where the meat ends and the hand starts.”
Andrew Greenwood, a vet and a zoo inspector for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said he was not aware of anywhere in Britain offering such intimate encounters with tigers. He said Defra set standards for zoos but it was up to local authorities how they interpreted the guidance on implementing them.
East Hertfordshire council issues the wildlife park with an operating licence every six years. This is after visits by zoo inspectors who check that the publics safety is not at risk. It said it was unable to comment on this specific case”.
Steve Sampson, whose family runs Paradise Wildlife Park, said they had never had an incident in the years they had been offering the activity. Some of the money raised from it went towards conservation projects.
The cat feeding is a managed activity but from an insurance point of view they are more concerned about our playgrounds, where there is unmonitored activity with parents leaving their kids while they go off and have a coffee,” he said.