First gators, now swimming with tigers? - FOX 13 News

First gators, now swimming with tigers?

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DADE CITY (FOX 13) -

How would you like to swim with a real tiger cub? There's a place you can – right here in the Bay area.

Recently, there were concerns about gator pool parties. So, is swimming with tigers opening up a new chapter?

We checked out Tony the tiger. He's an adorable cub kids can swim with by reservation, but is it appropriate?

Tony is making quite a splash at Dade City's Wild Things, a private zoo, rescue and rehab center in Pasco County, where lions roam. You can interact with an African monkey named Baxter, or swim with a six-week old Siberian cub.

But critics wonder, just like alligator attractions in Madeira Beach, which came under fire for their kid swim parties with gators last month, are big cats and kids in pools an appropriate pairing?

"Well, with any animal there's always a risk," said Randy Stearns, who is president and head trainer at Dade City's Wild Things. "It's not like we're going to just throw you in the pool and say, here's the tiger. You're in there with at least one of the trainers actually in the water with you."

Stearns said tigers are natural swimmers and have webbing between their toes. There are really no laws regulating swimming with tigers.

"They're very strong, but they're also very well trained," he said. "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."

And to his knowledge he's got the only place in the U.S. you can do this.

"The tigers by state law, like Tony here, can only be with the public until they're 40 pounds," said Stearns.

And that's with a leash. Florida State law says it's OK for big cats 25 pounds or less to be handled with only a trainer's restraint, but a trainer must be present.

All wildlife shall be exhibited, according to the statute, in a manner that prevents injuries to the public and to the animals.

But swimming with Tony is not cheap. You sign a general release, and for $200 you can frolic for 30 minutes in the water, on the lawn, or even help out with his bottle feeding.

Tony's a growing boy, too. He gobbles down about four bottles a day.  He's only at 8 pounds now, but fully-grown he'll end up like his dad Roy, who is well over 1,000 pounds.

You can also swim with a 4-foot gator there, too. Her name is Ally. Her mouth is taped-up for her pool encounters and you can join her in the pool with a trainer.

"We don't take it to other places. We actually use our swimming facilities here," said Stearns.

Keeping and caring for big cats is a hot topic in Congress, where there are two pieces of legislation right now. If passed, the bills would prohibit the private possession and breeding of big cats.

Only zoos, licensed sanctuaries, and conservatories would be allowed to own and breed large cats. We'll let you know if it moves through Congress.

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