There’s a very clear reason why most zoos keep their tigers in a cage. But one private Florida zoo is pioneering a new trend in how visitors can get close to the animals. At Dade City’s Wild Things, you can get in a pool with one big cat — who happens to be quite small right now.
It’s an experience that will set you back $200. But that’s a small price to take a plunge with a 6-week-old Siberian tiger cub named Tony, ABC News reported.
You’ll have to act quickly if you want the 30-minute experience. The price isn’t going up — but Tony’s weight is. State law prohibits the public from swimming with Tony after he reaches more than 40 pounds. He’s still got some growing up to do, though, tipping the scales right now at just 8 pounds. When the cub weighs 25 pounds, he’ll have to wear a leash when interacting with visitors, according to the New York Daily News.
(WATCH: Why Tigers Make Lousy Pets)
So what are the perks of the attraction? For starters, you’ll have a great party story. “If you come and encounter little Tony now when he’s a baby, you can come back in a few years when he is full grown and tell people, ‘I swam with that guy,’” Randy Stearns, the president of Wild Things, told Bay News 9.
The attraction, which also includes the opportunity to bottle-feed and cuddle with the tiger, has drawn visitors from around the world, even Iceland, ABC reported. “I never thought I’d get to touch one, much less swim with one,” Bertha Cruz, who took a dip with Tony, told ABC.
Stearns told FOX affiliate WSVN-TV the opportunity is uncommon because many parks aren’t equipped to handle cub interaction. “They’re very strong, but they’re also very well trained,” said Stearns, adding that tigers are natural swimmers thanks to their webbed feet. “That’s why a lot of other facilities don’t let you interact with the cubs because they don’t have the staff or the knowledge to do it.”
The zoo also offers a $100 swim with Ally, an alligator whose mouth is taped shut, Bay News 9 reported.
The animal swims are facing heat from critics, though, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is investigating the 20-minute alligator swim at Wild Things. There are other gator encounters offered in the state, including the Madeira Beach Alligator Attraction, which the FWC has already investigated, according to Bay News 9.
Bob Barrett, who runs Alligator Attraction, even started a business that brought the reptiles to kids’ birthday parties. “It just took off like wildfire,” Barrett told ABC. “Everybody loves having the gator pool parties.” But the FWC decided Barrett’s business was illegal, so it shut down early this month, ABC reported.
Wild Things owner Kathy Stearns is confident her zoo’s animal encounters will remain open. She told Bay News 9 the tiger and gator swims are “perfectly safe and perfectly legal.”
“We make sure all of the things are in line, plus a keeper is always present within reach at all times,” she said.
And the price is comparable to swimming with dolphins — markedly tamer animals. Though the therapy you might need after being in the pool with a tiger could set you back a lot more.