Humans are caged to see wildlife at New Zealand zoo

Humans are caged, not the animals, at a New Zealand wildlife park. (Source: TVNZ/CNN)
Humans are caged, not the animals, at a New Zealand wildlife park. (Source: TVNZ/CNN)

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND (TVNZ/CNN) - A wildlife park puts the people in cages, giving them a very up-close-and-personal encounter with hungry lions.

While the experience has been around awhile, it's now getting international attention.

News sites around the world, including the U.S., the United Kingdom and India, picked up the story after a tourist posted photos of the encounter on Facebook.

When it's feeding time at Orana Wildlife Park, and before entering the lion's domain, visitors are given a quick technical briefing.

"One end of a lion is very, very sharp, so whatever goes through the wire then belongs to them," lion keeper Rob Cantabrians said.

In a mobile feeding enclosure, the people are separated from the lions by about 10 millimeters of steel.

"This is Kahn, he's our biggest cat out there - you're looking at around the 250 kilo mark," Cantabrians said.

Being this close to the king of the big cats is nothing new to Cantabrians.

Thanks to social media, it has sparked interest from around the world, curious at the park's caged human approach.

"We're just blown away that we've been doing it since 1999 and all of a sudden there's a huge interest in it, which is great," Nathan Hawke, spokesman for Orana Wildlife Park, said.

Canterbury tourism is clawing its way back from the 2011 earthquake. International exposure like this is well received.

"I just think it's fantastic that there's this product that's been going on forever and it's suddenly getting all this coverage and it's such an amazing experience," said Kelly Stock, spokeswoman for Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism.

And it has been going on forever. In fact, when the park opened in 1976 it was quite literally a drive-thru.

Now, you get even closer.

"In an open range (zoo), one of the real challenges is that people want to see animals in big open spaces - they don't want to look at specks in the distance," Hawke said.

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