Orana Park big cat encounters challenged

Following in the footsteps of Wellington Zoo's personal encounters with cheetahs, Christchurch's Orana Park has begun inviting people into some of their big cat enclosures. Visitors can now get to experience the zoo's pair of Sumatran tigers, Sendiri and Dumai as well as their cheetahs Gizmo and Gemma. Visitors pay for either the experience of handling and patting the animals or entering the big cats's den area so they can view the animals from behind a mesh fence.

In an article in the Christchurch Press, Orana Park chief executive Lynn Anderson cites conservation as the main motivation for launching their new close encounter experiences. Meanwhile, SAFE campaign director Hans Kriek said these encounters are an accident waiting to happen.

"If something went wrong and an animal became frightened or if something unexpected were to happen the animal could only flee or attack," he said.

Hans said SAFE did not agree with the view asserted by the zoo that allowing people to have direct contact with the animals would help raise awareness of the plight of that species.

"Do you have to pat the animal to understand how it lives in the wild? It is little more than a money-making exercise. SAFE is seeing animals being treated more and more as something commercial."