Zoo under fire for letting eight-year-olds play tug of war with 350lb lion

Zoo under fire for letting eight-year-olds play tug of war with 350lb lion

A zoo in England has come under fire for its decision to charge visitors $20 to play tug of war with a lion.

The "game" involves placing a large chunk of meat attached to a rope inside the animal's enclosure. Visitors, headed by a keeper, then hold onto the other end of the rope from outside the enclosure and wait for the animal to take the bait.

To see the battle that ensues, check out the video below: 

The experience is available at Dartmoor Zoo and has been dubbed the "Human vs Beast" challenge. Children as young as eight can take part. The only limitation is that no more than four guests can play at a time.

According to the zoo, the lion, Jasiri, and the tiger, Dragan, always win - even when pitted against a rugby team, The Telegraph reported.

But because the zoo is charging to taunt the animal with food, as some have interpreted the challenge, it has faced harsh opposition from animal rights advocates. In fact, it's incited so much outrage that a petition has been set up to have the primal game canceled.

The petition's creator, a woman named Sue Dally, wrote that the zoo was "acting more like a circus":

"It's cruel and shows a total lack of respect for these beautiful majestic wild animals.

"The zoo claims it's to give the animals intellectual exercise and fun, but it comes across as putting profits before the animal's welfare."

She was not alone in her outrage either, and when the clip above was posted to Twitter by a participant, he was slammed by other users of the micro-blogging website for taking part in what they deemed an act of animal cruelty.

The zoo, however, has defended its decision to offer the experience and claimed that it is a replication of the type of behavior that lions would enact in the wild.

Benjamin Mee, chief executive of Dartmoor Zoo, issued the following statement about the "Human vs Beast" competition:

“People are making a fuss about nothing. I think this is 100 percent the right thing to be doing; the lion loves it. One of the problems people have potentially raised is the lion doesn't get fed unless he wins, but obviously, that isn't the case.

"In the wild, the level of force a lion puts its whole physique through is considerably more than we can replicate."

The RSPCA, England's most prominent animal charity, has said that while it recognizes the need to stimulate the animals, it should "not be marketed for public entertainment" and that "this activity does not promote respect for animals."