Devon

Dartmoor Zoo's lion and tiger tugs-of-war criticised

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Media captionA video shows staff at Dartmoor Zoo demonstrating a tug-of-war with a tiger

A zoo that has claimed tug-of-war contests between a lion and humans is an "enrichment activity" has been criticised by animal rights groups.

Dartmoor Zoo in Devon is charging visitors £15 to pull a rope attached to meat in the mouths of big cats.

The RSPCA said the tug-of-war "doesn't promote respect" for animals, while Born Free called the practice a "money-making gimmick".

The zoo claimed it is "essential" to mimic conditions in the wild.

Before the tug-of-war begins, a piece of meat is attached to a rope and dragged through the enclosure, where the cat chases and bites it.

From the other side of the enclosure fence, visitors pull on the rope, attempting to pull the meat out of the animal's mouth.

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Media captionThe footage shows Plymouth Albion rugby team in a tug-of-war against Jasiri the lion

The tug-of-war was introduced at the zoo on 6 February, with local rugby team Plymouth Albion invited to take part in the launch.

In a video that has since been removed from the Plymouth Albion Facebook page, five members of the squad compete against a lion called Jasiri.

The club said it had placed its trust in the zoo after being told it was "an activity that was safe and would improve the animals overall wellbeing".

It said team members were asked to pull in "short bursts" - between three and five seconds long - to encourage the animal to respond, and "engage their natural instinct to hunt".

'More like a circus'

An online petition to stop the contests has received more than 2,000 signatures in six days.

The creator Sue Dally said the zoo was acting "more like a circus" and turning the animals into "a novelty play thing for tourists".

Dartmoor Zoo said it alternates tugs-of-war daily between its lion and tiger, and added the cats are "not forced to participate in any way".

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