A zoo is under investigation for charging visitors to pat their rare white lion cubs after a 7News investigation raised concerns.
Tasmania's ZOODOO Wildlife Park near Hobart is one of dozens around the country that offer up-close encounters with exotic animals to the dismay of welfare groups.
The lion cubs attract visitors from across Tasmania and Australia.
For $150 per person, you get to pat, stroke and play with four Lion Cubs.
Animal rights campaigner Donalea Patman filmed a video of the cubs being handled by strangers for nearly an hour at a time.
She says the Zoo has a permit to allow the cubs to be patted for no longer than 15 minutes, four times a day.
"Having that happen every day – and we were there on a quiet day, so imagine what its like on school holidays – is just the wrong environment,” Ms Patman said.
In a written statement, ZOODOO's owner told 7News that they "house their big cats in facilities that far exceed national standards" and that they operate "with the best interest of the animals in mind”.
Questions from 7News have sparked an investigation by the Tasmanian government into ZOODOO for the alleged breach of their permit conditions.
"I think it's a money-making exercise and it exploits the white lions,” Ms Patman said.
Animal encounters are common in Australian Zoos.
For $100, you can get close to three adult lions at Melbourne Zoo.
Taronga's Western Plains Zoo lets you feed a Sumatran Tiger for $59.
At Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast, $60 buys a photo with a Cheetah.
At Dreamworld, photos with a Tiger go for $345 per person or $695 for a group of four.
"I think [for] the money for petting a lion, you could be saving a lion by actually donating to a lot of the very good organisations that either fight for lions, or maintain very good wildlife sanctuaries,” lion campaigner Ace Bourke said.
ZOODOO told 7News the cubs will soon turn nine months old and they will be too big to be patted.
FULL RESPONSE FROM ZOODOO
As qualified and experienced keepers who work with these animals on a daily and indepth basis we are indeed able to observe when an animal is grieving and displaying signs of stress. Anyone who has worked to this degree with animals would have seen an animal at some stage in its life "grieving" and as we have stated previously, this was not the case with Kiara when her cubs were removed to be hand raised. In addition to this, our big cats receive ample daily enrichment to combat stress and behavioral issues.
Offering our visitors the chance to interact with the cubs DOES improve their quality of life in captivity. These animals get regularly vet checked etc and to be able to provide them with this in a stress-free manner without tranquilizers etc is the better option for them. If these animals were potentially returning to the wild we would not raise them in the same way but neither these animals nor their offspring will be released into the wild, instead these animals serve to raise awareness of their wild relatives to bring attention to their plight. Zoo's are at the forefront of conservation.
In some African countries, cub encounters are offered and often their operations are corrupt and deceitful to their visitors. This is a major problem and should be brought to people attention. Having said that, the corrupt operations of other should have no bearing on how we operate our business and raise our animals, instead we can use these wonderful animals to bring to peoples attention the negative things that do go on in other countries and then be able to give them the opportunity to help and make a difference. While there are some zoos that have poor practices, the majority of zoos particularly in Australia run to extremely high standards of animal welfare and are the primary contributors, both of education and monetary donations, to animal conservation causes.
Zoodoo houses their big cats in facilities that far exceed national standards, and this is a choice and expense that is made by the operators with the best interest of the animals in mind.
Our animal transfers have no financial gain, this includes the recent transfer of two lion cubs to a park in the Northern territory.