tigers swimming

The baby tigers who like nothing more than a daily dip in a swimming pool
with their female trainers

By Daily Mail Reporter Last updated at 10:30 PM on 20th October 2008

A nervous swimmer might scan the waves for Jaws.

In this case, it's more a matter of Claws. But the tiger cubs splashing happily in the water are too busy diving, paddling and having fun to think about hunting.

Keeping their 200lb frames afloat takes quite a bit of effort, which is why their handlers join them in the water to keep a close eye on their progress.

Moksha and Tiger Swimming
Swimming cats: Moksha Bybee swims with Balavan
a one-year-old tiger at the animal park in South Carolina.

Tigers have a natural desire and ability to swim,' said Dr Bhagavan Antle, who set up the tiger pool at his animal park in South Carolina.

It is rarely seen and we wanted to be able to present it to people so they could really get the feel of that incredible beauty and grace that a tiger has in the water.

Tigers have modified webbing between their toes that makes their feet like flippers and they are superior swimmers.

Because of those attributes we thought it was something people would love so we built this custom-made pool to allow people to experience this unique behaviour.

The pool, which is filled with 100,000 gallons of water, has one side made of glass, allowing visitors a close-up view.

Each tiger is introduced to the water a few months after they are born. But with the potential to grow to over 500lb and 8ft long, their time swimming with humans is limited.

Tigers swim
The tigers are drawn to the water and have
naturally webbed paws which help them swim.

By the time they are a year old, their handlers prefer to sit it out on the sidelines.

Together with their handlers, Moksha Bybee and Ragani Ferrante, tigers Balavan, Bali, and Oden display unusually close interaction between man and beast at the park which is called The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, or TIGERS.

There are other pictures out there of tigers underwater but people have never been able to get this close to a tiger because it is so dangerous,' said Dr Antle.

These are the only shots I have ever seen where people are swimming with tigers like this.

Dr Antle has a 25-year career caring for threatened species and has about 200 animals in large enclosures at the TIGERS park.

He said: 'I started swimming with tigers about 25 years ago.

Moksha walking tiger Moksha Bybee leaves the pool after swimming with Balavan.

We found that in the water people and tigers were on a more equal footing when the tiger was swimming around on the top.

As they were floating around we could manipulate them more easily because they don't stand up on their back legs.

When they are younger they love taking baths and then we slowly introduce them to the pool.

Dr Antle and his animal-trainers give one-on-one tuition to each of the animals while they are in the water.

These are hand-raised tigers,' he said.

At the institute we feel that swimming with the big cats gives them a closer bond between the animal and their human companions.

Animal Trainers
Animal trainers Ashley, Moksha, Julia, China and Rajini with three baby tigers in the pool.

'As part of our wildlife education program they are all hand-reared.' But despite the apparent danger, Dr Antle ensures his trainers are never at risk.

There is always a team of handlers in the water at any given time,' he explained.

I don't think many people in the world try to get in the water with a tiger these days. It is all done from the edge when people throw meat and the tiger chases it.

We are playing with the tigers and letting then have that interactive capacity with the handlers instead of allowing them to have meat.'

Although it is only advisable to swim with tigers up until they are a year old Dr Antle looks at each individual case when considering how close his trainers can remain to the tigers.

It depends on the tiger, he said.

I personally have had full-grown 15-year-old adult tigers that I swam with and adult ligers [cross between a lion and tiger]. But that is me and I wouldn't put my staff at the same risk.

We will allow the tigers to swim with the handlers as they mature but we have to monitor each one on its own merits.'

Many of the animals are also trained actors and have appeared in advertisements and films including Forrest Gump and Ace Ventura.