Dartmoor zoo have announced a new 'experience' where paying members of the public can 'play' tug-of-war with one of the zoo's big cats.

The zoo claims to be doing this as 'enrichment' for the animal, as they essentially have to fight for their food. Although we understand and encourage that animals in captivity need to be able to exercise and have activities that reflect their natural behaviours, this form of enrichment and the way it is advertised crosses the line into circus-like entertainment.  

The zoo is advertising this at £15 per person, but there is no extra information about the 'experience' on any of their posts or on their website. Which raises concerns for the animals involved - how often will this happen and for how long? Issues were also brought up on the video posts by Facebook users asking how this may affect the lion's teeth and jaws, whether it is a timed experience and if the same big cats are used every day.

The fact this is a paid-for experience emphasises the point that this is a performance for a paying audience, as another user mentioned.  

Human vs Beast

The experience is being marketed to the public as “human vs beast”, harking back to the days when animals were used in coliseums, forced to fight a human opponent to the death or to present day where bulls are forced into a cruel ‘final battle’ with a matador before dying, all to entertain crowds. Of course these lions will not die as a result of the encounter at Dartmoor Zoo, but should we really be promoting this kind of sentiment? Especially when children as young as 8 years old can take part.

Other zoos have done this in the past, such as the San Antonio zoo in Texas, also claiming that they try to "simulate what they would do out in the natural environment." Despite this claim, the questionable fun put into these experiences only encourage visitors to see animals as attractions they can pay to ‘play’ with.

Whilst we don't want animals to be in captivity at all, animal enrichment has been an important step in the welfare of animals in zoos. However, promoting people to pay for the 'experience' of a tug-of-war game crosses the line from care to entertainment.