6 min read

Zoo Thinks It's A Good Idea To Let Visitors Enter Lion Enclosure

What could go wrong? 🤔

Walking into a lion cage is generally considered a bad idea — but one park in Europe doesn’t think so.

Taigan Safari Park, in Crimea, is encouraging visitors to not only enter the lion enclosures but also pose for photos with them, pet them and walk around inside the pens. The “walk with the lions” experience is available for guests who pay extra for the special feature.

The zoo’s choice to allow this risky endeavor is one that has stunned animal lovers — especially since a woman was mauled during one of the encounters last July. While posing for photographs with one of the big cats, the animal clamped down on her arm and began dragging her across the enclosure.

Fortunately the woman survived the incident — but experts are calling on the zoo to stop the dangerous practice once and for all.

“The instances where big cats harm or even kill tourists are tragic,” Thomas Pietsch, wildlife expert for Four Paws International, told The Dodo. “And the worst part is that these incidents are completely avoidable. Big cats such as lions and tigers should never be used as tourist attractions, particularly in activities where you can pet, feed, swim or play with them.”

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A zoo guest posing for a picture with a lion | Facebook/Captive Wildlife Watchdog

While reputable sanctuaries and facilities prohibit contact with lions, the park’s owner, Oleg Zubkov, has shared many videos online of himself petting and swimming with the lions there. A video of Zubkov smacking one of the big cats with a shoe went viral last year when a fight broke out among the group of animals.

This is just the surface of the welfare issues seen at the park, which in the past has struggled to keep the lions fed. With a rampant breeding program, Taigan’s enclosures often look crowded, and fighting among males for territory is especially common.

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Two male lions growling at one another through a fence | ok.ru

The fighting also happens between lions who share abutting enclosures; they are often seen growling, snarling and pouncing at one another from behind their fences. Lions in photos with guests, however, seem so calm they nearly look asleep — which could mean the animals are drugged to make them less dangerous to guests, a common practice at some similar attractions.

Given the animals’ reclusive nature toward humans in the wild, combined with the stress of captivity, the constant exposure to people during these walkabouts can cause a lot of stress for the animals, Pietsch said.

“As wild animals, they are dangerous and unpredictable and retain their wild instincts no matter how ‘tame’ they may appear,” Pietsch said.

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Guests posing for a photo with a lion | Facebook/Captive Wildlife Watchdog

That’s not only dangerous for visitors, but also for the lions. In cases where captive animals harm humans, it’s not uncommon for the animals to be put down, even though they’re just acting out of instinct.

“The stressful interactions with people and typically cruel treatment and handling of big cats for public use only exacerbate the problem; this can result in even the tiniest of actions triggering a big cat to lash out, leading to serious and lasting injuries for people, and often death for the animal itself,” Pietsch said.

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The park's owner riding one of the lions | Facebook/Captive Wildlife Watchdog

While the park has garnered plenty of critics, spreading the word about how reckless this is for both people and animals will likely be the only way to deter the hands-on interactions.

“Four Paws urges the public to never participate in shows where you can interact with wild animals like tigers, lions, bears, apes, etc.,” Pietsch said. “Facilities that offer visitors a chance to feed, walk, pet or swim with an animal are in no way beneficial to that animal and pose a serious public safety risk.”

To help protect animals being used in entertainment, you can make a donation to Four Paws. To spread the word about lion attractions, you can share this story.