Dreamworld has been forced to defend the actions of animal handlers at its theme park after footage emerged of a tiger being slapped and its tail pulled.
Park vistor Xy Latu uploaded a video to Instagram of two handlers in the tiger pit: one pulling on the tiger’s tail, the other striking it on the head twice.
“WTF is going on there Dreamworld?” he asked.
Instagram users were quick to jump on board, labelling the incident “disgraceful”, “abuse” “digusting” and showing a “blatant disregard for the life of the animal”.
In a statement to 9News, PETA said, “Pulling a tiger by the tail and punching them in the head is appalling, unjustifiable cruelty”.
“PETA is calling for an immediate, thorough investigation into this video and for appropriate legal action to be taken against the people in this.”
A Dreamworld spokesperson, however, said in a statement to Mamamia that the handlers’ actions were “misrepresented” and were actually “the safest way” to prevent a fight between the tigers.
“The tigers in this video were showing antagonistic behaviour and needed separating before they had an opportunity to hurt each other,” general manager of life sciences Al Mucci said.
“Akasha and Kai are both 100kg plus animals and the intervention of our handlers prevented a situation that may have escalated.
“The handler’s actions to refocus Akasha were explained to guests immediately after the tigers were separated.”
Mucci added the tiger was not harmed by the slapping or tail-pulling.
“Open hand taps to the facial area is the safest way to refocus tigers who are challenging each other and this is consistent with the way in which tigers communicate with each other in similar situations,” he said.
“The tiger’s tail is one of its strongest parts of the body. Tigers and handlers routinely play with the tail.”
He said the “highly experienced” handlers’ approach was “consistent with normal tiger behaviours and the way in which tigers interact and respond with each other”, adding that Dreamworld is welfare accredited.
This controversy comes only days after the one-year anniversary of the Dreamworld tragedy that killed four people on a river rapids ride in October 2016.