(WSVN) - A South Florida zoo was featured in a controversial documentary series on big cats, and this summer, the feds hit that zoo with violations involving the handling of animals. 7’s Karen Hensel investigates.

More than 150 animals live at the Zoological Wildlife Foundation in Southwest Miami-Dade. Guests pay to interact with them.

Mario Tabraue, April 2019 interview: “Basically what we do here is give people the experience of a lifetime.”

ZWF says they educate visitors about the threats these animals face in the wild. The zoo and its founders, Mario and Maria Tabraue, were a part of the hit Netflix series “Tiger King.”

But ZWF has faced criticism from animal activists like PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Debbie Metzler, PETA Foundation: “These are dangerous, wild animals. They should not be allowed to have interactions with the public.”

It’s those interactions that led federal regulators to hit ZWF with two critical citations for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Debbie Metzler: “It is noteworthy that it was critical. It wasn’t just a normal violation. It was categorized as something extremely egregious.”

According to a USDA inspection report, a picture in March posted on social media showed “…a guest petting a juvenile lion, over 16 weeks of age. Handling of big cats over the age of 16 weeks pose a risk of injury to the public.”

In October of last year, the report says, “…a guest was bitten by a lion cub” during an animal interaction.

Debbie Metzler: “We’re really glad to see that they are holding Zoological Wildlife Foundation accountable.”

Also last year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued a written warning after a child was bitten by a chimpanzee named Limbani.

In 2017…

Volunteer, June 2017 interview: “When I saw her canine latched into my skin, like, I saw it inside my skin. I was like, ‘Oh, no.'”

7News interviewed a zoo volunteer who was left with a bloody finger after, she says, a capuchin monkey bit down on her and would not let go.

Volunteer, June 2017 interview: “The owner informed us today, now, after everything, after my two months of being there, that the protocol would be to call him, that I should have never left the property. My finger could be super infected, it could be dangling off, and I have to stay at the property to wait for you.”

The FWC said there were no violations at the time, and the monkey could stay at the property.

Meanwhile, PETA continues to document incidents and citations ZWF has racked up over the years.

The Zoological Wildlife Foundation told 7News, “We categorically deny these false allegations.”

Debbie Metzler: “When we do see them cite for something, it actually is a pretty big deal.”

Animal activists want the practice of so-called “cub petting” to be against the law, and they have been critical of the industry for the treatment of the lions and tigers once they get too big to interact with the public.


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