The CEO of Dartmoor Zoo has defended allowing guests to play tug-of-war with resident lions and tigers, claiming it is inspiring and educational.
The zoo was criticised by animal rights groups for offering visitors the chance to play tug-of-war with the zoo’s lion, Jasiri, during the February half-term.
Ben Mee, whose story inspired the Matt Damon film We Bought a Zoo, said the activity was fun for the lion and inspiring for guests.
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Speaking to talkRADIO’s Julia Bradbury, Mr Mee said: “It’s a really good way to exercise the animal and engage the animal and the pub at the same time.
“When you see people at the tug-of-war event, the atmosphere is reverential, there’s no taunting or goading. Everybody comes away with that experience with a real sense of awe and wonder at how incredibly strong these animals are.”
Mr Mee said he had been reassured by veterinary experts that the activity posed no risk of harm to the big cat, and was told the competitive element was important for Jasiri’s development.
One of the tweets criticising Dartmoor Zoo for the activity.
“He can see the people tugging as well, he knows it’s a competition and you can see it in his eyes. He knows how big and powerful he is, and this is a really good chance for him to show everybody else,” Mr Mees said.
“It doesn’t how hard you pull, the lion always wins, and he’s so pleased with himself at the end. He gets it, he sits down, licks the skin off the bit of meat and starts to enjoy it.”
One of the zoo's resident tigers taking part in the tug-of-war challenge. Image: Dartmoor Zoological Park.
Mr Mee said the activity had raised around £300 for the zoo, with the proceeds going towards renovating the lion enclosure.