This question is asked daily to our Cheetah and Carnivore keepers. Children and adults alike ask it, some with hesitation, and others with excitement. However, the answer is always the same: “You may not pet the animals.”
“Why am I not allowed to pet the animals but you are?”
In reference to the lions, tigers, and bears: they have large teeth and claws making it dangerous to touch the animals. Keepers practice “protected contact” with these animals, meaning there is a barrier between us (the keeper) and them (the animal) at all times.
In regards to the cheetahs, we are “free contact,” meaning that we can go in with these wild animals. We are able to do this because cheetahs run away from danger instead of challenging danger. However, the only cheetahs you will see the Cheetah and Carnivore keepers petting are our hand raised ambassadors. This is to help strengthen the bond between keeper and cat since the ambassadors must be comfortable with them.
“I have been to a place where the keepers go in with their lions, tigers, and bears.”
Places that do not have protected contact with their large carnivores are unaccredited institutions. Wildlife Safari is accredited through AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) which is designed to hold zoos and aquariums to the highest standard of animal care, safety of the animals, guests, and staff.
“My friend got to hold a cub when she was at another zoo.”
This is an example of unaccredited institutions using people’s love for animals to their gain. Cubs can be adorable and it is overwhelming for us to touch and cuddle them. However, these cubs are taken from their mother at a young age which stresses both mother and cub. These cubs are then held for up to 12 hours a day during their time of crucial development. After these cubs get too large to be held they are sold to private owners, hunt ranches, or onto the black market. Some of these cubs end up at certified sanctuaries but will not make their way into accredited facilities because most cubs are mixes of multiple subspecies. Accredited facilities are unable to accept mixed subspecies to be apart of the captive breeding population.
It is tempting to want to pet wild animals that are cute and rare. However, in the case of large carnivores, it is simply not a good idea for the animal or human. Instead, try transferring those affections to your domestic doggie or kitty at home or donating to reputable conservation organizations.