DADE CITY, FL (WFLX) - First, it was outrage over a company offering "gator pool parties" in Florida. Now, another company is making headlines over one its big attractions -- swimming with tiger cubs in a pool.
Tony the Tiger Cub is making quite a splash at Dade City's Wild Things, a private zoo, rescue and rehab center in Pasco County.
At the facility, lions roam, you can interact with monkeys, or swim with the 6-week old Siberian cub. But, critics argue, just like alligator attractions in Madeira Beach, that came under fire for their kid swim parties with gators last month, big cats and kids in pools is just not a safe combo.
"Well, with any animal, there's always a risk," said President and Head Trainer Randy Stearns, it's not like we're gonna 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 says tigers are natural swimmers with webbing between their toes. There are really no laws regulating swimming with tigers. "They're very strong, but they're also very well trained," said Stearns. "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."
To his knowledge, he's got the only place in the U.S. where you can do this. "The tigers, by state law, like Tony here, can only be with the public until they're 40 pounds."
That's with a leash. 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, and all wildlife shall be exhibited in a manner that prevents injuries to the public and to the animals.
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, and even help out with his bottle feeding.
Dade City's Wild Things also offers a program where people can swim with a four-foot gator. The animals' mouth is taped up, and there is a trainer in the pool at all times.