But Bass described her experience this way: "The tigers who had been used for petting were being kept in cages with cement floors ... Several of the enclosures stunk so bad I had to hold my breath."
The second time Bass went to DCWT, the swimming-with-cubs exhibit had opened. "It was January or February and even though it's Florida, it can get pretty cold," Bass said. "There were a couple of people who got in the pool with the tiger cub. They were wearing wetsuits. When the cub got out of the water, it was just shivering. No one cared."
In a nearby cage was Leo, a lion cub she had seen the first time she visited DCWT, posing for photos. "Leo was now 2 or 3 years old and they had him in a caged space," Bass said. "It was heartbreaking to see that this cub who had been used for the petting was still there in this little cage."
"Educating" the public
"I want the education part," Stearns said. "I want people to see these animals."
Increasing the captive tiger population is Stearn's goal because, she says, it will help keep them from going extinct.
"There's only a handful of us in the U.S. doing that," Stearns said. "I alternate my breeding stocks because I don't want to keep producing the same bloodline." She says she participates in a genome project that tracks the genetic material of captive tigers.