By Tom Mendelsohn

A POWERFUL tiger launches itself at its keeper - before the pair make an almighty splash into a swimming pool

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Videographer / Director: Ruaridh Connellan
Producer: Mark Hodge, Nick Johnson
Editor: Jack Stevens, Ian Philips

A white tiger becomes airborne while playing with its handlers

Staff at the Out Of Africa wildlife park in Arizona allow themselves to be ‘hunted’ by the big cats as part of the ‘Tiger Splash’ show, which sees the animals interact with their keepers as they would with their prey.

The adult Bengal and Siberian tigers have all of their teeth and claws. But despite the danger the bond between the humans and animals stop the brave keepers from being mauled to death.

The deadly predators grow to nearly 400kg and 11 foot in length and many of the staff are scarred from playful bites and scratches.

Leap of Faith: A huge tiger jumps into a swimming pool

The famous show is purely improvised and brings out the playful side of the magnificent beasts.

Park owner Dean Harrison said: “The tigers have to make a decision whether they are going to hunt us and eat us or whether they are just going to play with us as a companion.

“Play is an instinct. The play instinct is the primary instinct for hunting.

Big Splash: Three handlers play with the tiger in the pool

“You don’t want to hurt the ones you love so therefore the objective becomes to love those who are around you, so that you can actually play with them.

Meg Ruff, one of the park coordinators, said: “This is a show where the cats are there to have fun and basically we use our toys and our bodies to trigger natural instincts in the tigers.

The tiger shows surprisingly good form while diving into the pool

“We are able to do this because we have interactions with them daily.”

“From time to time we get injured.

A wildlife handler uses some balloons to make the huge cat leap into the air

“The cats have all their teeth and all their claws.

“When interacting with all dangerous animals we operate between the instincts of love and fear. The idea is to operate in the love portion of our instinctual programs, so that the relationships can be formed.

An Earful: Dean gets his ear licked by one of the park's wolves

“The fear part of the journey is when the animal becomes defensive or perhaps overly offensive. That’s when they want to eat us.”

It’s not just tigers that the caretakers at Out Of Africa are bonding with either; they’re also trying to become part of the park’s wolf pack – with great success.

Park owners Dean and Prayeri Harrison poses for the camera with a lion

Prayeri Harrison, who also works at the park and is married to Dean, said: “They would defend us with their lives if they felt they needed to.

“As we lay with the wolves and we are there for them in their lives, they end up loving us automatically. And then we don’t offend in any other way. We become friends.”

The animal-loving couple pose with one of the huge tigers

Ultimately, the Harrisons say, many mammal species want to play with humans who afford them the proper respect, and who can bind with their social orders.

“The play instinct binds us together,” said Prayeri. “Those who play together, stay together.”