Recently a private zoo in Pasco County called Dade City’s Wild Things has received a lot of media attention, including appearances on Fox & Friends and Good Morning America, for “pool parties” featuring tiger cubs. At Dade City’s Wild Things, baby tigers, monkeys and other animals are shoved into the arms of one paying customer after another for photographs and swimming sessions. In addition to being exploitive and cruel, the money-making scheme encourages Dade City’s Wild Things to continue its irresponsible breeding of tigers.
Following an email alert (join ARFF’s email list here) concerning the dangerous and abusive exhibit, we heard from someone who had made the mistake of paying for an encounter with a tiger cub at Dade City’s Wild Things. Here are excerpts from her account of the experience:
I was charged $214.00 dollars to “swim and play” with their 7 week old Siberian tiger named Tony. I discovered after the fact there have been numerous complaints filed against them and actions taken to shut down this “private zoo” (not rehabilitation sanctuary) and I myself witnessed the extreme unnecessary discomfort of the animals….
I was told on the phone before I arrived that this encounter is “good for the tigers and helps with their training”. I was also told that the visit would not be about taking pictures with the tiger, but about “spending time playing with him”. Thinking that this would be a wonderful experience not realizing the damage that it is doing, I went through with it.
I along with several other paying customers were shuttled out to the owner’s property where the animals are kept and we were met there by trainer Randy Stearns
I immediately noticed that the animals were kept in tiny cages and that groups of people were there specifically to pay to hold and interact with wild animals. It is a money making scheme and purely for profit…. The baby Siberian tiger named “Tony” was brought out and right off the bat forced to sit with us and interact with us. When he tried to get away the trainer often yanked him back by the tail…. The tiger resisted while being constantly forced over and over to sit near us and he continually made sounds of distress…. Tony became increasingly uncomfortable and stressed by what he was being made to do. The way he was handled and presented to us seemed extremely unnecessary. It was not a gentle and relaxing visit observing a baby tiger in close proximity like I had expected, but a very forced and rushed experience for the animal that was not on his terms by any means….
Due to how quickly Tony became agitated within minutes into the visit it was clear that he had been through this many times before and was frightened. Tony became increasingly more stressed and agitated as the visit progressed. He shrieked, cried, hissed and groaned when the trainer grabbed him. What I was witnessing didn’t feel right, although during the visit I wanted to trust the trainer because he constantly gave excuses for why this was good for Tony and that he is fine. The trainer made each member of the group pose for pictures over and over while Tony was held by the neck with the trainer hiding behind us. Tony was then forced into a cold chlorine pool with all of us and made to swim back and forth while we swam next to him posing for pictures. Tony swam desperately and repeatedly tried to escape the cold pool but was pulled back in by his tail shrieking. Tony would cry and gasp as he was barely able to keep his head above water during pass after pass across the pool. He appeared extremely stressed and was clearly being forced to do these things because he was not happy and he was trying to escape. Each time he did this the trainer pulled him back into the water without a break. This activity went on for approximately 15 minutes
When we exited the pool Tony was shivering violently and was dangled by the neck to pose for more pictures. I said that I didn’t want to force him and that I felt bad for him but the trainer said that going from different temperature extremes is good for baby tigers and that he is ok. Tony never stopped shivering while the trainer had us pose for more pictures with him hanging wet and shivering…. After our paid time was up, he was locked up in a little dog kennel and left there while we were escorted away….
You Can Help
Please contact Florida’s state wildlife agency and urge them to stop contact between tiger or lion cubs and the public, to protect public safety and animal welfare. Contact: