A zoo has been blasted for allowing children to play tug of war with lions and tigers as part of a ‘human v beast challenge’.

Children as young as eight can take part in the challenge, which launched at Dartmoor Zoo earlier this month.

The game sees four people pitted against one of its big cats in an activity zoo keepers have said the animals find ‘enriching’.

The experience costs £15 per person and is set to help create the ‘best welfare possible’ for the animals.

In an advertisement for the experience on the zoo’s Facebook page, it says that ‘this type of enrichment is very important to keep the cats fit and healthy’.

Animal rights groups have hit out at the zoo and have said the experience has ‘no respect for the animals’, while others branded the organisers as ‘morons’.

In a tweet to Datmoor Zoo, The Born Free Foundation said: “@.DartmoorZoo to offer ‘Human vs Beast Experience’ this February half-term. Is a tug of war game with a lion or tiger really the way to inspire respect for these animals? RT to urge the zoo to rethink this! #Don’tBuyCaptivity #KeepWildlifeinTheWild.”

Competitors can take on either the zoo’s male tiger Dragan or its male lion Jasirir.

Meat is attached to a rope to bait the animals and when it picks it up the participants, which are on the other side of the fence, take up the other end of rope for a tug-of-war.

Speaking to the Daily Star, senior zoo keeper Simon Moore said this sort of experience is ‘essential’ for the animals.

He said: “In captivity, its essential for us to try to mimic the behaviours to create the best welfare possible.

“We do a lot of enrichment for the cats and this is just one type.”

The zoo’s CEO Benjamin Mee said the activity is common across other zoos and wildlife parks and that ‘the lions like it’.

“The public like it and it’s working well. It is regarded as really good enrichment for the animals, whether the public are involved or not”.

Social media users also aired their frustration at the activity with one user saying that the zoo was ‘shameful’.

Jo Hollis said: “Dartmoor zoo should be ashamed of themselves. Please explain how this is conservation allowing people near WILD ANIMALS. It’s not! It’s a money grabbing scheme at the animals expense.”

Twitter user @paulwrites said: “Are they living in medieval times? Whoever thought of this and backed it should think very carefully about demonising animals as commodities for profit.”

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