Dade City zoo faces serious federal complaint about 'tiger swims'

'Wild Things' complaints date back to 2011

DADE CITY, Fla. -
The main attraction at Kathy Stearns’ Wild Things Zoo in Dade City are its tiger swims.
 
"The reason we like to do swims for the benefit of the animal, it's hot. Have you been outside? It's hot. You want to get in the pool. We want to get in the pool. So it's a really great time for the tiger to have fun,” Stearns said.
 
You can pay $200 to swim for half an hour with a tiger cub.
 
Wild Things is facing a complaint from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency that issues the zoo's license. Animal advocates told ABC Action News by phone Thursday the complaint is serious.
 
"According to the USDA inspectors, these tigers become visibly stressed. They attempt repeatedly to get out of the pool and are made to stay in the pool or pulled back into the pool,” Humane Society of the United States spokeswoman Lisa Wathne said.
 
The complaint says tigers were kept in pools multiple times in "obvious discomfort." It also says one zoo owner pulled a tiger's tail and held the animal aloft by the neck.
 
The USDA also alleges the zoo exposed "young or immature tigers to rough or excessive handling."
 
"To subject them to this constant public handling and especially to the point where they're so stressed they want to stop and are not allowed do so, that further compromises their immune system,” said Wathne.
 
Some of the complaints date back to 2011.
 
Stearns calls them harassment. She even says Wild Things doesn't make much money off pay-to-play swims.
 
"Well, we're really not. The money's going back into the zoo along with a lot more of my money,” said Stearns.
 
But a Humane Society spokesperson tells me it supports taking away Wild Things' license to operate.
 
"Are you worried about being shut down?” I asked.
 
“No, no, my attorneys, I mean, everything here is fluff,” Stearns said. “No one's gotten hurt.”
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