Dreamworld fires back after outrage at tiger handlers

Embattled Gold Coast theme park Dreamworld says the actions of two animal handlers who initially appeared to be abusing a tiger were actually required to stop the feline fighting another one.

In the video, one handler can be seen grabbing and pulling the tiger's tail, while another twice smacks it on the face with the back of his hand. The feline can be seen hiding its face to avoid another blow.

The clip was captured and posted on social media by Tongan singer-songwriter Xy Latu, who had been visiting the park.

However, despite an initial negative public reaction to the video, Dreamworld told Newshub its handlers did nothing wrong - and were actually just trying to quell aggression between the two tigers featured in the clip.

"The tigers in this video were showing antagonistic behaviour and needed separating before they had an opportunity to hurt each other," said Al Mucci, general manager of life sciences at Dreamworld.

"Open hand taps to the facial area is the safest way to refocus tigers who are challenging each other and this is consistent with the way in which tigers communicate with each other in similar situations.

"The tiger’s tail is one of its strongest parts of the body. Tigers and handlers routinely play with the tail."

Mr Mucci says the intervention of the handlers didn't cause any harm, and in fact "prevented a situation that may have escalated".

"All our approaches are consistent with normal tiger behaviours and the way in which tigers interact and respond with each other," he explained.

"The media commentary to the circumstance misrepresents the context of what was occurring in the brief footage."

Tiger Island, where the incident is believed to have been filmed, is one of the park's major attractions and part of a conservation push to save the endangered species.

The negative response to the clip will be seen as another blow to the theme park's reputation, following a high-profile malfunction on its Thunder Rapids ride little more than a year ago, which saw four people killed.