- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

GULF SHORES, Ala. (AP) - The practice of handling tiger cubs during interactions at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores is ending.

The encounters were stopped after the U.S. Department of Agriculture called for an ending of using tiger, lion, and other big-cat cubs as hands-on zoo attractions, Al.com reported (bit.ly/1UYVYWe).

The USDA made earlier this year, and zoo officials this week posted the news on the attraction’s Facebook page.

Zoo officials were glad to be able to provide the encounters when they could, said Patti Hall, director of the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Zoo officials are sorry to disappoint the many people who looked forward to the experience, and that the care and well-being of the zoo’s animals has always been the biggest priority, Hall said.

The USDA this year issued guidance indicating that exhibitors could run afoul of the federal Animal Welfare Act by allowing members of the public to handle or feed infant exotic cats like tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars or leopards, the Humane Society of the United States said in a news release.

“We applaud USDA for taking this first step to put roadside zoos and the public on notice that federal law prohibits using infant cubs for photographic opportunities and interactive experiences,” Anna Frostic, senior attorney for wildlife & animal research at The Humane Society of the United States, said in the release.

The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo opened in June 1989 as Zooland Animal Park, according to its website. It includes a reptile house, petting zoo, and aviary.

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