Tug O' War with Big Cats, Tigers

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Yay or nay?

In Tampa Bay, Florida, visitors to Busch Gardens have a chance to play tug of war with one of the strongest cats on the planet. The interactive exhibit is entitled “Tiger Tug”, and participants, double-fenced away safely from the big cat, ‘challenge’ a 450-pound Bengal tiger in the struggling match as each player tries to pull the rope from the grasp of the other. Many videos exist on Youtube highlighting the experience. The visitors seem to be having a blast. But what about the tiger? The tiger, with no gun or whip pointed to its head, appears to willingly participate. It’s unclear if they have been trained to perform the behavior, yet either way, the animals appear enthusiastic to ‘play’ with the zoo visitors, probably akin to a domesticated dog playing the same exact game with a toy rope.


However, not everyone is so thrilled with the exhibit. While the tug-o-war challenge has been running for a few years now, the staff of Busch Gardens recently posted an invitation to the event on the zoo’s Facebook page, igniting more interest to people previously unaware of it. While many people approved and ‘liked’ the status, I noticed a significant number of comments regarding the exhibit were negative. Not many people explained why they found the images troubling, but many of the comments were similar to each other, and some people felt the demonstration was taunting the animals (we all know that animals never experience any form of frustration or disappointment in the wild).

“I don’t like this 'frowny face'”, “wrong in every way” and “beyond stupid and cruel” were three of them.

Domesticated animals are often 'disrespected' with no objections.
Domesticated animals are often 'disrespected' with no objections.


Is the Tiger Tug ‘stupid’? Sometimes animal-performed spectacles get in the way of what many zoos should hope to achieve: education and appreciation. The problem is very apparent with zoos that engage in mundane and exploitative ‘circus’ acts at the expense of the animal’s welfare (common in some undeveloped countries). It would seem as though playing tug-o-war with a big cat is counterproductive to appreciating them in the wild. Or at least, some people’s ideas of what such appreciation should consist of.


With that being said, I believe those who are objecting to the Tiger Tug are shockingly irrational, and it perfectly illustrates my point about the emotional sentiment people have with wild/undomesticated animals. What’s obvious to me is that the tiger is not being forced to pull the rope, and the tiger is enjoying pulling the rope, so where is the issue? Calling the Tiger Tug cruel is an insult to any person or animal who has ever been a victim of actual cruelty.

Zoo Enrichment

The Tiger Tug provides a healthy source of stimulating enrichment which is imperative to captive mammals of every kind. Most likely no one would object to a tiger yanking on a rope simply tied to a post in its own enclosure. I’m guessing the involvement of the human is what bothers people; it is the emotional and illogical idea of a ‘magnificent beast’ being degraded as they are playing a simple game with a human weakling that is offensive.

That’s nice, but the tiger does not think this way nor do they care or subscribe to the emotional sentiment of humans.

I'm a strong supporter of activities that benefit both the animal and the zoo visitor. Educational or not, one of the best things zoos offer patrons is emotional education. Not many visitors read the little factoids posted alongside the animal's enclosures, but they are learning and appreciating the existence of these animals not only in the wild, but of their complex needs in captivity. And no, playing with a tiger behind the safety of 2 gates won't make people want them as pets, maybe I'm a little naïve here, but people simply aren't that stupid.

If people believe that this form of enrichment with captive animals is cruel just because it is 'unnatural', it’s no wonder I experience such a hard time trying to have sane conversations about the wellness of animals that are in zoos or are kept as ‘pets’ without being blasted and accused of ideas along the lines of cruelly violating nature.

No matter what you do, or what proof you provide, people will see the Tiger Tug (and much of the rest of captive animal situations) this way:

If an animal's needs are being met, cruelty or an unethical act is not being committed, period.

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Comments 8 comments

Ann1Az2 profile image

Ann1Az2 4 years ago from Orange, Texas

Wow, it looks kind of cool to me. I agree with everything you said. I just have one thing to add. I think it might just serve as a for of education for youngsters to realize just how strong these animals are. I think whoever invented the idea deserves a raise from the park. Good hub! Voted up.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 4 years ago from New York Author

Yup, that was something I forgot to mention. It would be a good idea for more zoos to incorporate things like this to help their dwindling attendance. Thanks for your comment.


Shaddie profile image

Shaddie 4 years ago from Washington state

The picture drawn at the bottom is great, haha. I don't understand how people can be so blinded as to assume animals, everywhere, are constantly in a state of emotional or physical abuse... Even when they are enjoying themselves! What is wrong with people these days??


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 4 years ago from New York Author

Haha, thank you. My theory is too much sentimental cartoons. Future hub..


Ann1Az2 profile image

Ann1Az2 4 years ago from Orange, Texas

I agree, Shaddi. I had the huge privilege and I do mean privilege of petting a tiger one time. He was in a cage, so I couldn't get to him (darn), but he brushed up again the fence and let me pet him. What I thought was a growl because I immediately pulled back, the owner said was a purr. I was in awe and to this day, I'm still amazed that such a huge creature would be content with me petting him on the back.

I can't wait to get to heaven where all the animals will be tame - can you imagine petting a grizzly bear or a big old male lion? And there is no telling what kind of animals are in heaven that aren't on earth.


desolatefox 3 years ago

Looks like the tiger is having fun. One of my cats will do the same thing with the feather wand toy. If he manages to catch the feather, I can try to gently pull it away and he'll growl and pull back. He usually wins 'cause I don't want to tear up the toy and have to replace it (again) if I can avoid it.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 3 years ago from New York Author

Yes desolatefox I think so too.


Frida Nyberg 2 years ago

I read this for amusement. Calling tug-o-war with a big kitty "cruelty" is probably the most ridiculous and laughable thing I've ever heard "anti-cap" people come up with yet.

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