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Selling Utopia: Rewriting The History Of Wolves In America For Public Consumption

I’ve been in this game long enough that I’m always shocked when someone comes to me with a story of animal exploitation that I’ve never heard of. And yet, it happens, far more often I’d like. There is, apparently, an inexhaustible number of people eagerly awaiting their chance to “teach” the public about the animals they’re exploiting. Which brings me to the Great American Frontier Show: Wolves of the World. I had never heard of the show, which was founded by a man named Michael Sandlofer, a number of years ago. Mr. Sandlofer passed away in 2016, so I will be as respectful as possible in the writing of this article. The article will, however, be honest, and forthright.

The Sandlofers have owned and trained captive wild animals for entertainment purposes for decades. They even had performing bison at one point. From as early as 1979, they’ve had animal shows performing for audiences, at a price, while claiming the animals were all “rescues” and that they were “educating” people.

Finding articles about the Sandlofers and their shows was easy, but I quickly learned that none of those articles contained more information than that the show was “educational”. Those claims were accompanied by quotes from either Michael, or Sharon like “Wolves are the most misunderstood animals in the world.” and “If you look at wolves up close, you’ll see that their two center toes are longer than the others,” Sandlofer said. “That gives them better traction when they’re on the hunt.” and this gem “Many just don’t understand the pyramid of life cycle and the part these wolves play,”. That last one got a long snarly breath out of me, because by just a few articles into my research, the doublespeak and incorrect information provided made it clear that 1) the Sandlofers did not, and do not, actually know much about wolves, and wolf biology, and 2) the interviewers and authors of the articles either didn’t know, or didn’t care, enough to fact check the information provided by the Sandlofers.

For example, Michael and his wife are described as “having been involved with animal rescue and conservation for decades”. However, aside from Mr. Sandlofer’s participation in the saving of a beached whale back in 1981 (totally commendable) there are no references to the Sandlofers “rescuing” animals by anyone other than the Sandlofers themselves. And while the Sandlofers claim that their animals come from “an animal rescue organization” I have been unable to find any rescue group who works with them, nor have I been able to find where the Sandlofers have ever named the organization.  At the time of the whale incident, Michael Sandlofer was a deep sea dive instructor and worked with the North Wind Museum, which he founded in 1979. The North Wind ran the “All-Star Animal Revue and Circus” for a number of years.

Most articles note that Sandlofer was “awarded the prestigious Rolex Award” for his conservation efforts. However, when I went to the Rolex site, and checked their records, Mr. Sandlofer is not listed as a Laureate (winner) of any Rolex award, in any year. I did, however, find this write up, which clearly states that he received an honorable mention from the award in 1984. Still noteworthy, and respectful, but it’s not the same as actually being named a Laureate.

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I finally decided it was probably best to just check out actual videos of the Sandlofers’ show. So I spent about three hours, cumulatively, watching Sharon put on the Wolves of the World show. I also watched a great many commercial-style video spots of Michael Sandlofer hocking his show, encouraging fair grounds and entertainment facilities to book them because of the “huge crowds” they draw. The performances I watched ranged from the years 2012 to 2016 and took place all across the country, captured by attendees. At least one was put on by the Sandlofer’s daughter, Benna. Here are some fast bullet points I got from all my screen time, which I’ll explore further.

  • The shows run about 20-30 minutes, but on average, 15+ minutes of that time is spent simply introducing the animals one at a time, or in sets. Many shows state specifically that all of the animals are Eastern Timber wolves.
  • Sharon is the primary handler. Her husband refers to her as the “Wolf Whisperer” *cough* *Lion Whisperer influence* *cough*
  • Both Sandlofers repeatedly use the term “positive reinforcement” to describe what they call their “training method” while also repeatedly stating that “you don’t train wolves”.
  • They call the actions that the animals perform “behaviors” rather than “tricks” insisting that they are all “natural behaviors” while also stating that they “train” the animals “to perform the behaviors for their enrichment.” But each time they say this, they add “but you don’t really train wolves.”
  • About half the meager wolf biology and scientific information provided by Sharon is either wrong, or extremely simplified and misleading.
  • The shows always ends with Sharon offering the audience the chance to (for more money) take photos with “a wolf pup” and “tour their “den” trailer”.
  • Despite that the Sandlofers repeatedly refer to their animals as wolves, and as “the pack” I found no evidence that the animals are ever housed together in a functional pack, even off the road.
  • From 2012-2016 the script of the show remains virtually unchanged, with Sharon reciting the same lines over and over again, almost verbatim, despite that over those years, science’s understanding of wolves has increased and changed. The only real alterations are in the backstories of some of the animals. But the new information provided often directly conflicts with the biographies and information given in previous shows, indicating that the Sandlofers change facts to suit situations.

The main shtick of the Wolves of the World show (aside from being the “Only traveling wolf pack in America”) is that wolves are “the most misunderstood animal in the world”. In addition to being a painfully hackneyed phrase, it simply isn’t true. There are thousands of misunderstood animals in our world. The wolf is just one of them. To describe the wolves and their importance to the environment as being “misunderstood” by Americans is like saying Jews and their importance to humanity was “misunderstood” by Hitler. The hatred and savagery directed at wolves in American history has little to do with them being misunderstood, and everything to do with them being blamed for things they had nothing to do with, and thusly sanctioned for annihilation. And just as with the Holocaust, wolves were systematically exterminated for their perceived worthlessness. Sandlofer, when she does touch on the subject–something that doesn’t even happen in every show–states that wolves were targeted for hunting because “man saw them as competition”. That is, to put it mildly, an extremely narrow and simplistic perception of the matter, and a largely modern interpretation of modern wolf conservation issues, not historical ones.

In the 1700s, explorers were not concerned with the idea that wolves were going to eat all of their deer or other food staples. In the 1800s settlers were not concerned with sharing food with wolves, so much as saving their livestock from the perceived danger of wolf attack. During hard winters, this ended up being a literal danger. In the 1900s, professional wolf hunters were not concerned with how many deer a wolf pack ate, so much as how many dollars they could get for each wolf killed.

The mass extermination of wolves was driven, not by their “competition” with human hunters, but by the desire for cold hard money, as well as old world fears and hatred, which early settlers brought with them from Europe, where wolves had already been effectively exterminated by 1680 in Scotland, 1786 in Ireland 1707 in Switzerland, and so on. By the late 1800s, wolves were all but extinct in most European countries, and those still alive had been driven into Russia.

True wolf extermination efforts in America did not even begin until the 1870s, and that period of violence lasted up into the 1950s. 

To present the idea that wolves were killed by “settlers” because they were viewed as “competition” for a food source, or perceived as dangerous to humans, implants visions such as this into the minds of listeners:

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When in reality, the intentional butchering of wolves is a much more recent event, and one that was driven by outright hatred, monetary gain, and sport. (both historical and modern wolf extermination shown here)

Sandlofer’s noble intonement that “Native Americans were really the only people who truly understood wolves. They thought of the wolf as their brother.” is also an idealistic fabrication of “white thinking” (usually presented while mood-setting Native American pipe soundtracks are played for the audience) The relationship between American Indian Nations and the wolf was, and remains, complex and deep, and not always friendly. Some Nations admire the wolf and respect it, but rather than see wolves as “brothers” they see them as warrior spirits which can be invoked by wearing wolf hides, or tails tied to themselves as they go into battle. The Cheyenne Wolf Warrior society are an example of this.

Other Nations, most notably the Navajo, feared, and continue to fear, wolves, believing them to be human witches in disguise. They believed that a Navajo witch became a wolf by donning the skin of a hunted wolf. Navajo werewolves are, even today, often blamed for murders, mutilated bodies, and raiding graveyards.

Unlike Sandlofer’s presentation of American Indians taming wolves and turning them into todays breeds (it should be noted that there are many dog breeds older than the recorded history of North American Natives) the reality is that bringing wolves into camp rarely worked out, as the camp dogs (which Sandlofer’s timeline insinuates wouldn’t have existed yet) killed the pups, or superstitious tribe members stole them away and cast them out. It was far more common, particularly amongst the Cree, for children to find a wolf den, and approach it, at which time the adults would move away–with no recorded attacks on the children–and then the children would dig the pups out and play with them before returning them to their den, and retreating so that the adults to return.

To get back to the “educational” value of Wolves of the World, Sandlofer repeatedly says that you “don’t train wolves, you ask them to do something and hope they do it”, while at the same time openly giving the wolves verbal instructions, and rewarding them with food when they obey, which is the literal process for training through positive reinforcement. The conflict of her statements is obvious. She is, in fact, training the wolves. Or, to be more correct, the wolfdogs.

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Czechoslovakian wolfdog.

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Image of the Sandlofer’s animals taken from this undated article, where they’re described as Timber wolves.

It’s obvious to anyone with some expertise that virtually every animal in the Wolves of the World show, is actually a captive bred wolfdog, not a full-blooded wolf. Despite that the show describes the pack as “all Eastern Timber wolves” in this 2012 video, none of the animals are full-blooded wolves.

In contrast wolfdogs (as I suspected most, if not all of the Sandlofers animals were when I first saw them) are the product of multiple generations of selective breeding between other wolfdogs in a manner which sustains a high percentage of wolf genetics, but provides a more doglike personality, and tractability. Because domestic dogs were taxonomically recategorized in 1993 as a subspecies of Canus lupus, wolfdog proponents say that they’re no different from other domestic dogs, and wolfdog are now recognized by the UCA. If you follow I.C.A.R.U.S. you’ll know our position on this matter. I have included informational links on wolfdogs to show the definitive differences between them, and captive wolves, for the purpose of this article. And this article is not about wolfdogs, it’s about the misrepresentation of wolves by the Sandlofers in their show.

In order to confirm my hunch about the wolfdogs, I sought out and subsequently secured the expertise of an established professional within the wolfdog community. They were, understandably, dubious about speaking with me, considering I.C.A.R.U.S.’s position. However, when I explained my situation, they were willing to help me, as the misrepresentation of wolves, and wolfdogs, is bad business for anyone devoted to genuine conservation.

My contact was able not only to confirm that at least four of the Sandlofer’s main animals (Cody, the “hero wolf” Phoenix, Cheyenne, and another unnamed animal) are, in fact, wolfdogs, but also that those four animals were not “rescued” by the Sandlofers. They were, in reality, bought by Sharon and her husband a number of years ago. Furthermore, my source was given to understand that sometime shortly after the Sandlofers purchased the animals and began describing them as “rescues” they were approached by the former owner, and asked to refrain from calling the animals “rescues” since they had been purchased.

Yet, in virtually every video, or interview I found about the Sandlofers they steadfastly, though the years, have continued to describe their animals as “all rescues”. Likely, this is because “rescues” are far more sympathetic to the audience than purchased animals. The Sandlofer’s daughter, Benna, goes even a step further in this 2014 video, not only repeatedly calling all of the animals “wolves” but also stating that a number of them are “wolves” people got a pets, and then became afraid of and couldn’t handle. As none of the Sandlofer animals are even full wolves, this is, apparently, another fabrication of fact, possibly to then allow the Sandlofers to “encourage” conservation by suggesting that wolves don’t make good pets. Which is true, but irrelevant, since the Sandlofers don’t have full blooded wolves.

The only bit of truth, it seems, to the Sandlofers’ backstories of their animals, is the rescue story wherein Cody saved a child from drowning. That, my source stated, they knew to be a true story. My contact went on to say that as far as they know, Sharon still keeps her ear out within the wolfdog community for any animals that might be available to secure and add to the show. It is not, my source explained, uncommon for many of the “sanctuaries” which offer “wolf” interactions, to shop around for wolfdogs and wolfdog puppies to purchase for their programs, as wolfdogs are more outgoing, where wolves are incredibly shy, and wolfdogs are much more inclined to follow an established routine, when properly socialized and trained.

This is not surprising for those of us who are aware of the duplicity of pseudo-sanctuaries, but it was enlightening to hear it from the “opposite side of the fence” as it were, and I’m grateful to my contact for all the help they provided to me.

In the 2012 video, the animals Sandlofer refers to as “the boys” are all wolfdogs, bred in captivity and derived from several generations of wolfdogs at minimum. While Sandlofer offers lengthy histories for the other animals, she states that she “doesn’t really know the story” of these animals (there are about five) but that they “came from West Virginia” and that they “desperately needed help and we were there to give it.”

The owner of the show doesn’t know how she ended up with a batch of wolfdog puppies–which she’s introduced to her audience as full-blooded Eastern Timber wolves? How is that even possible? She goes on to say that they’ve had “the boys” since they were babies, and that she raised them herself, which makes them easier to handle and work with.

Fast forward to this video  of the 2016 show, and Sandlofer is now telling the audience that “the boys” are all brothers, about five years old, and all came from the same (undisclosed) place in West Virginia, and she points out that they “look different” because “they’re wolf-hybrids”. Confusingly, however, some articles from around the same still have the Sandlofers stating that “the animals in their show all are eastern timber wolves.”  While other articles quote the Sandlofers as stating that they are wolf-hybrids.

After showing off “the boys” Sharon then introduces three young pups, two boys and one girl, whom she states “have been really interesting” because they’re only a year old, and they’re the first young animals she’s gotten to work with because normally they only get older rescues. So now we have two separate shows performed four years apart both containing young animals that Sandlofer states are the “first” young wolves or wolf-hybrids she’s ever worked with. 

On top of that, Wolves of the World seems to have offered photo opportunities throughout the years, each with a puppy or set of puppies, which, of course provokes the questions where are the puppies coming from? What sort of pups are they? (the Sandlofers refer to a pup named Lobo as half Arctic wolf and half Timber wolf, at one point, then call him a full Arctic wolf in a different instance) And where are they going?

As far as the scientific information that Sandlofer recites for her audience, much of it is misinformation, or fragmented facts.

According to Sandlofer a wolf’s “golden yellow eyes see extremely well”. But the reality is that wolves see, on average, as well as a human during the day (they see more tones of gray, and can detect motion faster than we can, but don’t actually see “better”) and some researchers actually believe that wolves might be nearsighted due to the fact that there eyes do not possess a foveal pit. They have more rods than we do, though, and thus see much better than humans in the dark. In addition, the color of a wolf’s eyes range from gold to amber, brown, gray, yellow and even green. Only blue is explicitly excluded from a true wolf’s eye color range, yet Sandlofer repeatedly describes all wolves as having “golden” eyes, citing it as one of their defining features.

Similarly, Sandlofer describes a wolf pack as being “five to as many as twenty wolves” when in reality, a pack can consist of as few as two wolves, and in some cases, under certain circumstances, as many as 40. In fact, at one point, the Druid pack of Yellowstone (and Sandlofer is quick to liken her own wolves to those of Yellowstone) swelled to 37 animals. During the winter of 2010-2011 there was even an unprecedented occurrence in the small town of Verkhoyansk, Russia wherein an exceedingly hard winter forced multiple wolf packs to merge, resulting in an amalgamation of hundreds of animals working together. Even conservative estimates put the number of wolves at over 200 animals, and in their bid to survive the winter, they wrecked havoc on the agriculture of the small town. A far cry from Sandlofer’s 5-20 animal wolf packs.

Sandlofer states that wolves are unique in the formation of their foot, wherein the two center toes are slightly longer, which “gives them superior traction while on the hunt”. In reality, this type of foot conformation is known as being “hare-footed” and all domestic sighthounds, as well as many other domestic breeds possess the feature. It provides more speed to the animal, but also take more energy within the execution of their gait. Domestic dogs with evenly rounded feet (the result of short third digital bones) are described as being “cat footed”.

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When Sandlofer discusses her wolves which were “rescued” from a Minnesota fur farm, she states that “fur farms are illegal”. Fur farms are not, in fact, illegal. They should be, but that’s another topic for another article. Fur farms in the US are not only legal, but they’re not even regulated at the federal level. Some states may, or may not have specific protections, but that’s no guarantee. The only possible protection for wolves would be the Endangered Species Act, but wolves do not currently have full protection under the ESA, and the ESA does not protect hybridized animals at all. So just as the Sandlofers are presenting their wolfdogs as full wolves, anyone owning full wolves could simply crossbreed their animals, and thus avoid the issue while still harvesting pelts. And since the Sandlofer’s other animals actually are wolfdogs, it seems plausible that the “wolves” they “rescued” from the supposed fur farm are also wolfdogs. Even if someone is accused of breaching the ESA, prosecuting them is an arduous and slow process, which multiple steps. And it’s not always completely successful.

The Wolves of the World show has, according to articles, and reviews, long been seen as an exciting and educational experience designed for family fun, despite that the “education” they offer is comprised of falsehoods, exaggerations, and outright bullshit. With the increasing popularity of “education through interaction” programs and facilities, it’s likely the Sandlofers will only continue to expand their show, misrepresenting wolves in the process. By foregoing honest facts in favor of showy–and untrue–stories and histories the Sandlofers do no service to current wild wolf populations, nor to conservation itself. In truth, the only suggestions for “aiding wolf conservation” that I ever heard the Sandlofers mention was that audience members should “contact their congressman” and either demand an end to wolf culling, or ask that they not be removed from the endangered species list. Genuine issues and information regarding sustainable wolf conservation within wild populations were never mentioned.

The history of wolves in America is a complicated, often sordid affair that swings from utter vilification and near complete eradication, to glorification, and contrived reverence to the point of absurdity. It’s a subject that far outstrips the inane adjectives of “misunderstood” and “competition” used by the Sandlofers to describe the American conflict between wolves and humans. Likewise, the ongoing biology, and science of wolves, and wolf conservation is an ever-expanding realm of study. And it’s one that faces a constant and ongoing war against the misinformation, lies, and exploitation of groups like the Sandlofers. Those of us fighting to reach the public without the aid of flashy shows and routines will readily meet the challenge, each and every time we face it.

If you would like to know more about the true history of wolves in America, the three books listed below are a great place to start.

War Against The Wolf, America’s Campaign to Exterminate the Wolf, Rick McIntyre, Editor

Of Wolves and Men, Barry Lopez

Vicious: Wolves and Men in America, Pro. Jon T. Coleman

For a plethora of scientific articles about wolves, and their conservation spanning decades check out this link.
* The Sandlofers did not respond to my attempts to contact them.

Editorial style illustration of a business man or politician taking an oath. This is a two part illustration.

Momentary Victory In An Ongoing War

At the beginning of 2017, Ringling Bros. Barnum Bailey Circus announced that after 146 years of entertainment with animals, it was closing its doors for good. “Big picture” animal rights groups, who remained fixated on “sticking it to the man on behalf of animals everywhere” instantly declared victory, announcing the vanquishment of the #1 animal exploiter in the United States. Much of the public, and those more capitalistically minded expressed confusion or horror, that there was something wrong with the iconic establishment, or that “animal rights” should be put above the needs and wants of human businessmen.

The remainder of us within the conservation community, those who understood the depths of such an announcement, began poring over press releases and articles, attempting to suss out the long-term plans for the captive wild animals which have long been a staple for Ringling Bros.. We knew, unlike the public–who widely and ignorantly cheered for the “retirement” of elephants from Ringling Bros. Barnum Bailey Circus–that a circus who ceases to use animals in their show, or who otherwise closes its doors, is not going to simply empty the last of its coffers to provide genuine retirement for those animals. Nor is it going to lose money by giving them away to established and capable sanctuaries where they might live out their days. No, the circus is a business, and lack of profit, not protests, is what brought about Ringling Bros. decision to close. Likewise, promise of profit is what will decide where their animals will finally go.

Already the breeding facility owned by Ringling’s parent company, (which is, in turn, owned by Kenneth Feld) has put the “retired” elephants from their circus to work pumping out offspring, supposedly to repopulate the planet. Since bull elephants become virtually unmanageable once they reach sexual maturity, and enter musk, their sole purpose at the Center for Elephant Conservation (Ringling’s breeding facility) is to sire more offspring. None of the articles I found, either those who tout how glamorous a “retirement” the elephants have at CEC, or those who point out the documented issues of CEC  (rampant cases of resistant tuberculosis, calves removed from their mothers by force at birth, etc.) mention the fact that not unlike the milk industry, bull calfs are somewhat of a millstone to be dealt with, and live in complete isolation in individual pens.

What is clear, even this early in the situation, is that Feld–who openly scorns genuine animal sanctuaries–will not simply retire the animals from Ringling Bros. Nor will the closure of the iconic Ringling Bros. have any impact at all on smaller, less well known circuses, who still use animals in their acts. Even if none of the Ringling animals end up sold to other circuses (never mind that their elephant breeding will provide for sales to other circuses) it’s clear that with void left by Ringling has already become a target for every smaller circus to fill. The Melha Shrine circus, for example, did away with its animal acts last year. But ticket sales fell, and customers began demanding refunds once they arrived and realized that there would be no animal performers. So this year, as “big picture” animal rights groups cheered and declared victory over Ringling, Melha quietly contracted with other entities to provide them with a fresh stable of exotic animals, and reintroduced them to the show.

They aren’t the only smaller circuses who are refurbishing and updating their shows, including, animal acts. Not everyone was pleased to hear that Ringling Bros. was closing. Sales for both Ringling Bros. and other circuses have rallied, and even if the influx turns out to be temporary, if nothing else, it is evidence that the public at large is not necessarily in agreement with the idea that animals do not belong in shows. In recent years, there’s been an immense growth in captive wild animal shows and foundations which focus on “education through interaction” which is basically a derivative of “Experiential Education”. The problem is that the latter is a way of teaching people to physically do something by allowing them to do it, while the former (according to its proponents) teaches people not to do something by allowing them to do it. The problem, for anyone not attempting to profit off of animal and human interaction, is obvious.

But for the public, “education through interaction” is a trend that has positively exploded.

The Arctic Fox Centre in Iceland provides the opportunity for legitimate research, but it’s also home to what the founders describe as “sustainable wildlife tourism” wherein it states that it teaches tourists about the arctic fox. This education includes venturing into the field, where tourists can feed foxes who have been habituated to human presence, and are accustomed to being fed by humans.

The Orphaned Wildlife Center, in New York, has gained a considerable following, and news highlights after videos they released of their founder, Jim Kowalczik, went viral.

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Casey Anderson has made a success of his Montana Grizzly Encounter through the popularity of his own interactions with the bears.

 

Wolf Creek Habitat & Rescue allows guests to go into the enclosure with their wolves, for a “minimum donation” of $50.00 or more and has babies on hand as well.

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Wolf Park also offers guests an opportunity to directly interact with their animals. They also offer photography for $200-$300

The Endangered Wolf Center offers behind the scenes tours where for a higher price, guests can have hands-on experiences with the animals.

The Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center allows direct interaction with wolves and other animals. For $200+ you can have their “Interactive Alpha” tour.

The Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center/Sloth Center (they utilize two names in a direct effort to mislead the public about what goes on there) allows touching of their sloths, and even “sloth sleepovers”. They also offer a variety of other animals for handling, and often sell them under the table to private owners.

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Even SA is now debating the matter of cub-petting, with an ever-growing division among conservation groups as to how handling lion cubs under regulation could be educational, and might be a “first step” in stopping the practice of breeding through exploitation. It remains unclear,  however, just how breeding lions in captivity to be handled by tourists will eventually stop the practice of breeding lions in captivity to be handled by tourists. (if you’d like an amusingly egotistical and out of touch version of why people simply “don’t understand why cub-petting works for SA”, check here, and if you want to read the sharply witty and insightful article written in rebuttal to that “mansplaining” tangent, check here).

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The point is, handling captive wild animals a phenomenon that is actually accelerating exponentially, and the driving force behind it is the idea that humans can be taught not to handle captive wild animals by allowing them to handle captive wild animals. Every single foundation or group listed above is advertised as “educational” even though the majority of them breed exotic animals solely to sell and/or allow the public to play with the young. Many also use the tired explanation that they are preserving bloodlines to repopulate the species. Which is also the reason Feld gives for the continued breeding of elephants at his own facility.

Terrifyingly enough the public at large buys into this idea. With the close of Ringling Bros. animal rights groups declared victory. But behind their backs, an ocean of “education through interaction” centers, shows, and entertainment options are increasing in popularity. Smaller, less metropolitan areas, whose populations are not savvy in regard to “conservation vs exploitation” simply don’t realize that the petting zoo where their kids get the chance to pet wolf cubs while hearing someone recite biology facts about wolves is actually part of the problem. If circuses like Ringling Bros. had simply altered their performances to focus on “education” rather than entertainment they might well have never been pressured as they were to eliminate the use of animals in their acts.

The hard reality, however, is that shows like Cirque du soleil is one of the most profitable entertainment companies ever founded. They brought in over $850,000,000.00 in global revenue in 2010 alone, long before Ringling Bros. even entertained the idea of retiring their elephants, much less closing their doors. Cirque has never used animals in its performances, and yet has remained strong, and is steadily expanding its ventures, even now. This is even more evidence to the fact that the closure of Ringling Bros had less to do with the animals, and more to do with the business of making money. It also proves that you do not, in fact, need animals to make your entertainment productions publicly successful.

It is vital, I cannot stress just how vital, for the conservation community to consider the closure of Ringling Bros. Barnum Bailey as only a momentary victory, not a genuine, or permanent one.

We must pay attention not just to who is exploiting animals, but how the public at large is perceiving them. With his foul mouth, and caustic nature, Eduard Serio did not gain 6 million followers on Instagram through his dull wit, or rambling and disarticulated spiels about meditation and “higher existence”. He got that many followers by putting out cutesy videos that make people “feel good” and feel smarter. He got that many followers by carefully marketing the animals he’s purchased as pets, as animals that were “rescued” from various situations. The public’s perception is what has given BJWT the power it has now, not facts, not genuine conservation, but merely the illusion of “making the world a better place”.

These photos depict situations which are easily distinguished by the civilian public as animal abuse.

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CORRECTION Indonesia Sumatran Tiger

But other situations of exploitation are not as readily apparent to civilians. In the wake of Ringling Bros. closure, we must be vigilant in regard to how the public responds. Just as we know the circus is not going to lose money on its animals, we know that at least a large portion of the public equates forcing animals to perform as exploitation, but does not include people who interact with their captive wild animals into the same category. They are easily confused by what is, and what is not, animal exploitation, and we often fail to realize that their ignorance is our enemy. Those of us who deal with conservation in a gritty, boots on the ground, way easily discern between true, ethical conservation groups, but the public–who does not see the inner workings of faux-conservationists like we do–are easily dazzled by basic, even inane or incorrect information, if it’s wrapped up in an attractive and exciting package. The subject is even more muddled when some conservation groups say that handling animals is acceptable sometimes, while others state that it’s never okay to handle captive wild animals.

The public is not stupid, but many of them are very ignorant. The public does not want to see captive animals beaten into submission and trained to perform for profit, but they do want to believe there’s magic in the world, and that such magic is evidenced by “special bonds” between man and animal. The public isn’t opposed to learning about conservation, but they do want to feel good about it, rather than feeling depressed and overwhelmed by reality.

All of these factors coalesce into a perfect breeding ground for the rise of the “education through interaction” crowd. Thus it is imperative that we view the closure of Ringling Bros. as only a momentary victory, not a permanent one.

The end of the circus is only the beginning in our war to protect captive wild animals from exploitation.

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Christmas Is The Season Of Giving, But Reconsider Before Giving Animals As Gifts

Christmas is a magical season. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas itself, the holiday season is always fun, and there’s the winter solstice, the lights, and a perfectly good excuse to eat all sorts of scrumptious treats that aren’t normally around the rest of the year. The holidays are also a season of giving, a time when people plot the perfect surprises for their loved ones.

But the thousands of animals given as Christmas presents each year, which bring joyful ecstasy to humans on Christmas morning, all too often end up suffering the heartbreak of abandonment, themselves,  within just a few months time. Already, the farm postings and Facebook groups are swelling with adverts.

Christmas Pony: Nice little mare, broke to ride. Been sitting in the field for the grandkids to play on for the last few years. Perfect Christmas surprise for that special child!*

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The accompanying photo shows a sweet-eyed mare with a cheerful expression, but who also displays symptoms of obesity, protruding eyes, and irregular “fat packs” which are indicative of cushings disease, or other metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance. Both health conditions are chronic, and can cause worse complications like founder and even death. They require an owner with an experienced  grasp of equine care and management, and sometimes even the best care isn’t enough to get a handle on particularly difficult cases.

The Perfect Christmas Project! Quiet gelding, great for Christmas, just needs some love and attention.*

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The gelding is attractive, and of decent conformation, but the hard edge of his top line, and washboard of his sides, indicate that he’s not necessarily in top form, and likely is in need of groceries, something which can drastically change the temperament of an animal in the long run. Many times “love and attention” can be equated to training, manners, and handling, meaning that the horse might not even be accustomed to grooming, much less riding.

Beneath the adverts for ponies, horses, donkeys, mules, pigmy goats and other domestics come more unexpected offerings. A bearded dragon in need of rehoming, a ball python whose hot room has been transformed into a nursery for the new baby, a sugar glider whose owners have adopted a cat, and can no longer assure the safety of the former. Oscars who’ve outgrown their fish tanks, a scarlet macaw whose elderly owner has passed away, servals, a skunk with its scent glands removed–already litter trained! If ferrets are too average, there are spotted genets. For those with a healthy budget, and a little more room, there are capybaras (starting at around $600) or you can always go for a wallaby ($3,000) and for folks who like to be trendy with their furry companions, fennec foxes are the new hotness these days (less than half the wallaby) at about $1,500, but get on the list of a breeder now, because there’s usually a waiting list of a year or more)

The massively ignored problem with every animal I’ve mentioned (never mind the excruciatingly horrible issues of animal trafficking and captive breeding of the exotic species listed) is that all of them come with baggage. Needs, expenses–sometimes exorbitant ones–and unforeseen complications. Many times those complications are ones which require a considerable amount of knowledge about the animal in question, thus leaving first time owners at a loss as to what to do, and how to care for the now ill or injured animal.

Something as simple as not providing a suitable place for a tortoise to burrow can result in the tortoise becoming egg-bound, a condition which will result in death if it is not promptly treated. That treatment can require risky surgery. Lizards can also become egg-bound. Most types of exotic cats, foxes, primates, and other popular, more unusual, animals, can become aggressive if not appropriately housed, handled, or mentally and emotionally cared for. Some become aggressive even when everything is done to standard protocols.

With normal domestic animals, certain risks remains. Rabbits are prone to coccidiosis, especially when stressed, goats can also suffer from it, and it’s highly contagious. Both kittens and puppies tend to chew things, and can ingest foreign objects. Christmas decorations offer a plethora of options for getting into trouble, and with a house full of holiday guests, new pets can easily do so unnoticed. Many times once symptoms of a problem develop, a bad situation has already evolved into a worse one.

Christmas lilies, or Easter lilies, for example, are extremely toxic to both cats and dogs, and just a fragment of a leaf, once ingested, can cause catastrophic kidney failure. Treatment does not guarantee recovery, and involves (usually) 48-72 hours of continuous intravenous fluids, to flush their system. But forcing so much fluid into an animal has its own complications, and it can cause dangerous imbalances in electrolytes and other minerals, and functions, so constant monitoring is required. Conservatively, the treatment for lily poisoning will run you $2,000 and it can easily cost more. I know this firsthand, because I’ve had to pay it.

Cost of veterinary care is probably the number one reason animals–some of them absolutely beloved pets whose owners are completely devastated to lose them–are surrendered to shelters or rescues. The fact is, it doesn’t matter how much experience you have with a particular breed or species, if they suffer injury or illness that’s going to cost you thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars to treat, and you don’t have thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars laying around in the couch cushions, you’re going to have huge decisions to make. Likely, the choice of giving the animal up to a rescue or foundation which can pay for treatment, or having the animal euthanized to stop it from suffering.

Back in the barn there’s the matter of horses which have been docile while underfed (not necessarily through neglect, but maybe because they just haven’t been getting grain, which offers much higher protein) but who become wild and unpredictable once they’ve got sugars and energy flowing through them. Colic is a constant danger, and no matter how much you know about equines, torsion can strike no matter what. It’s excruciatingly painful, far more so than impaction colic, and this inescapable pain often turns the horse suffering it into a living battering ram. Some become uncontrollable without sedation, and if not sedated will literally beat themselves against the ground until they fracture their own skulls, or break legs. And then, eventually, their intestines rupture entirely, and they’ll die of massive septicemia. But they’ll suffer unimaginable agony first.

These things are terrible, and grotesque to picture, and no one wants to ever consider that they might be facing them when they’re thinking about the adorable animals standing or sitting in front of them that “need a home for Christmas”. The reality, however, is that animals, like children, don’t come with manuals, and no matter how prepared you are to have one, you’ll immediately realize that you weren’t as ready as you thought you were. Even if nothing “bad” happens, you’ll still find yourself in situations you never expected to be in, making decisions you never considered facing, and probably spending money you never accounted for losing from your budget.

And I’m just talking about if you give your own family a live animal.

Imagine having someone else giving one of these animals to your kid, or your significant other without even asking you if you want one.

It happens. Way more than you might think.

Now you’ve got an animal you never wanted (or maybe one that you did, but didn’t expect to get at the moment) and a family member who has, of course, instantaneously fallen utterly in love with that animal (because, really, needy animals, Christmas, you know) and you’ve got whomever gave that animal to you/the kids/your partner who’s all “I did a great thing!”

Just, no.

Don’t do it.

Yes, if your old-enough-to-understand-and-care-for-their-own-pet kid wants a kitten, and you’re prepared, you’ve had cats before, but don’t have any currently (which can be very complicated when introducing a new cat or kitten) then okay, consider getting a Christmas kitten (better yet, a Christmas Old Cat, one which will otherwise likely die alone in a shelter, because, well, nobody seems to like old people these days) This can be applied to dogs and puppies, or other rescue animals, too. If you’re already prepared and were planning to do it anyway.

But do not spontaneously decide without forethought to just “take a pet home”. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured by sales people, or adopters, or your own freaking kids, to “give the gift of love” right there in the middle of the grocery store parking lot when all you went to the store for was a jar of cranberry sauce. No matter how noble, how well intentioned, these acts might be, they will, in the very best scenarios, still cause you a huge amount of stress, and after-the-fact panic when you realize that you’ve just taken on years of responsibility you didn’t intend to. You might never regret it, but you will go through that stress of Will it work out? In worst case scenarios, you’ll go through that, possibly more stress, terror, loss of money, and maybe the loss of the animal you were trying to help by adopting or buying in the first place.

So, this holiday season, please reconsider before choosing to give a living thing as a present.

Thousands of domestic animals are, indeed, in need of homes. The truth, though, is that these animals are in need of homes 365 days a year. If you would not consider adopting or buying a chinchilla on November 13th, don’t allow yourself to suddenly think doing so is a great idea on December 23rd, because Christmas is just two days away, and this adorable chinchilla “really needs a home for Christmas.” The animals who needs a home for Christmas, probably needed a home long before Christmas, and thousands like them will still need a home after Christmas. You can help these animals best (unless, as I’ve already stated, you’ve had family discussions and are going to get this animal anyway, and are just planning to do it at Christmas to be festive) by donating to the causes which are already caring for them. Go volunteer at a shelter, donate to a rescue center.

Be cautious about adverts for the “perfect” Christmas animal. The animals advertised are completely innocent, but the humans peddling them might well be doing so because they know damn well they stand a much better chance of getting shed of an unwanted animal, while also making a tidy profit off of it for no reason other than, Christmas cheer and spirit.

Animals need us, but they need us all year, not just under the Christmas tree.

 

  • I made these adverts up. However, they are painfully stereotypical of what you’ll see in any farm trade classifieds every Christmas.
  • The first photo of the grey horse was pulled from an excellent article pertaining to insulin resistance in horses posted on the blog The Equinist. It’s a great, enlightening read, even if you aren’t a horse fan.
  • The second photo was pulled from Google. The horse is a recently adopted blue roan mustang, who is actually in excellent muscle and body condition for a young feral horse. It does provide, however, a good example of the sort of “sharp” top line and look that a domestic-bred horse who is a “hard keeper” might affect without grain in their diet.

Author: Artemis Grey

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We Are Still Here, And We Are Still Saving Animals

Hello good people of WordPress! Yes, the ICARUS Team really does still exist, and we really are still here! As the main staff writer, our absence from the blog is my failing. I’ve had some health issues, and ended up having to have surgery in October (minor, they just poked holes in me and sent me home with happy pills) and while that surgery was successful (yay for cysts that are no more!) I had recovery, and then right on the heels of surgery travel for my novel writing side of things. Plus, there’s novel writing going on, and it’s a struggle to manage time for everything. Then there was our election… and, yeah, being offline is much healthier for one’s brain right now.

Some of what we’ve been up to while I was failing to get blog posts written and published:

  1. Working on articles which will be posted in the near future.
  2. Traveling (some of us) to places like Chile!
  3. “Blind horse proofing” fields and barns (which includes acclimating the current residents to wearing bells) in preparation for the arrival (really, the homecoming) of a horse recently blinded by disease (uveitis for those interested)
  4. Caring for multiple terminally ill domestic cats.
  5. Helping formulate rehab and release protocols
  6. Helping to organize research bases to perform studies on rehab and release subjects
  7. Moving houses
  8. Oh, yeah, Thanksgiving…
  9. And Christmas shopping…
  10. Holding down full time jobs, some of which are mainstream, some of which are the job of conservation, the travel and such that go with it.

 

I’m going to do my very best to set aside time to get blog posts written and up, so there’s never a wide vacancy again as there has been, so start checking back, and you might find some interesting things to read! Thank you everyone for sticking with us on this journey!

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Mexico’s Harbinger of Stewardship, LIBERO Santuario Silvestre

In my last article, I discussed the disturbing trend within Mexico of “self styled” foundations which utilize social media, flashy photos, and carefully structured facades of scientific importance in order to create a false presence in circles of conservation. These groups, when one looks deeper than their social media personas and self-serving rhetoric, often have little real life experience in the fields in which they claim to be leading authorities. This is something that is usually, and to the detriment of the animals in their care, overlooked or misunderstood by devoted followers and by the public in general. It’s also a driving factor behind the actuality that these well known foundations are simply new age versions of the same old exploitation that’s existed in Mexico (as well as other places throughout the world) for thousands of years.

Part of what the I.C.A.R.U.S. Foundation does is to develop a global network of conservation organizations working together to protect and care for animals, through the creation of new international laws, as well as the enforcement of existing laws. A functioning network of institutes and sanctuaries who can rely on each other for support and the spread of awareness is vital in order to have a beneficial impact on animals and the environment worldwide. Thus, institutions which by design focus entirely on what they do, and the animals they possess and/or take in, and how popular they are, and which imply that they know more, and are better at handling situations than any other organization in existence, (some of which have been around for decades) do not, in fact, benefit animals or the environment beyond the limited scope of their own walls.

Only by working together, toward the same collective goals, rather than toward personal gain and popularity, can sanctuaries and foundations worldwide succeed in giving back at least a small portion of the planet to the animals which are being systematically eradicated from its surface. So what a foundation or sanctuary does outside the gaze of the public eye is just as important as what they do when people are watching. If you are willing to cut corners, endanger both humans and animals, threaten other groups, verbally abuse other humans, lie, and so on and so forth when everyone can witness it, then what are you willing to do to the voiceless animals behind the scenes when no one is watching?

One of my favorite quotes, which is extremely relevant to the current trends of shady foundations and exploitation of captive wild animals in Mexico, comes from Thomas Babington Macaulay.

“The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.”

In this case, the character in question happens to be a woman.

Her name is Maria Garcia Dominguez, and she is the founder of LIBERO Santuario Silvestre.

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Truly the first of its kind, LIBERO is a foundation that, when distilled down to its most fundamental constructs, is a sanctuary in every sense of the term. LIBERO is a an institute that will always do what’s right for the animals, even if no other human is there to witness their actions.

Numerous social media-based groups–like Black Jaguar White Tiger–gratuitously tout the word “sanctuary” without understanding the profoundly hallowed etymology behind it, and without grasping the restraint and sacrifices required to embody that which it represents. In contrast to ubiquitous “social-media foundations”, you will not see LIBERO posting a plethora of vapid updates on their website, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook page multiple times a day, every day of the week. You will not see LIBERO showcasing photographs of cubs being cuddled and played with or celebrity guests bottle feeding them incorrectly, or of foundation workers running around being chased by captive big cats. In fact, you might not have even heard of LIBERO until reading about them in this article.

This is because LIBERO is focused on saving animals, caring for animals, protecting animals, studying them, and rehabilitating them.

They are dedicated to the animals not to social media attention and public popularity.

LIBERO does not participate in conservation in order to gain any sort of recognition. They’re not in it for any sort of admiration. They’re not even in it with a presumption of ever receiving simple gratitude.

LIBERO acts solely in the best interests of and on behalf of the animals they aid.

They have done so, in an individual manner, through the prior works of those who now comprise the human skeleton of the sanctuary since before they ever came together under the guidance of Maria and subsequently formed LIBERO. And they continue to work for, care for, protect, defend, heal, nurture, and exist entirely for the animals with whom they come into contact.

For LIBERO, social media is a tool for education and outreach, not a platform on which to build a celebrity status or cult following.

And that is exactly how a sanctuary should function.

I first discovered LIBERO through my research into sanctuaries within Mexico, or, more accurately, my research into the lack of sanctuaries and the lack of legal outlines and standards for sanctuaries within Mexico. After suffering more than one disappointment and false lead, I feared the worst when I first clicked on the link leading to the LIBERO website. You can check it out here. Maria has even made sure there’s an English option for those of us who aren’t fluent in Spanish. A margin of my wariness faded at just the mere sight of LIBERO’s homepage. Understated and elegant, lacking any pretension or declarations of being the best thing since sliced bread, or other ridiculous claims of intelligence so superior to anyone else that people who don’t agree with them are just too stupid to “get them” and their ideologies.

LIBERO’s site is easy to navigate (not every page is translated, but Google Chrome can do it for you) informative and detailed, captivating for those who already have an in-depth understanding of conservational issues, but also extremely accessible and educational for those who are just learning about conservation. That accessibility and assemblage of information is intentional. Education is something which Maria and her team believe is vital to changing the way in which residents of Mexico (and the world) perceive captive wild animals, and the environmental and conservational issues relating to them.

LIBERO subscribes to the principles of “One Health” which is a concept that dates from the mid 1800s and was far ahead of its time when it was first outlined and described by its creator, Rudolf Virchow. Of his own beliefs Virchow said:

“Between animal and human medicine there is no dividing line–nor should there be. The object is different but the experience obtained constitutes the basis of all medicine.”

I want to stress that the principle of One Health is not the belief that animals should be treated as if they were humans wearing fur, much like Eduardo Serio of Black Jaguar White Tiger treats his big cats, or, as he calls them, his “kids”. Followers of the One Health principles believe that animals are equal to humans in importance, emotional depth, and intelligence, but they do not support the anthropomorphizing of animals. Rather, One Health is the concept that the health of animals, the health of humans, and the viability of ecosystems are inextricably linked. This means keeping animals in their wild habitats, as active participants within the ecosystem, rather than living in peoples’ homes as pets.

Along with a sound system of principles, LIBERO has a dedicated team of professionals and specialists including doctors, engineers, lawyers, and more. You can read their individuate biographies here. Unlike the unseen, or vaguely referenced “experts” of other foundations, LIBERO’s team is forthright with their names, credentials and backgrounds. Likewise, LIBERO is dedicated honesty and transparency in all matters. You can research their financial information on their transparency page, here.

Maria herself has a career within conservation that spans more than a decade. She has worked with groups like The Humane Society International (HSI) World Animal Protection (WAP) and has collaborated on specific cases with Animal Defenders International (ADI) and In Defense of Animals (IDA), among other things. Up until 2013, Maria was a representative in Mexico for The Wild Animal Sanctuary, and was the national coordinators of rescues.

LIBERO is poised to be the harbinger of conservation stewardship in a country where captive wild or exotic animals can be more easily attained than clean drinking water. But unlike fallacious, media-driven institutes such as BJWT and the newly formed JITW, LIBERO does not yet have a fan base of millions to support them. Their refusal to exploit animals via attention grabbing videos, or for heartrending pleas for monetary support means that LIBERO cannot simply start slapping up “cutesy” incentives for people to give them money. They do not have the funds to offer “rewards” for donating to them, or, to start their own clothing line, or to offer, as with some of the foundations I’ve mentioned, “visitation rights” to those who donate larger sums of money. And as LIBERO embodies the very opposite of the exploitation so readily embraced by these well-known foundations, they cannot rely on any support from those institutes. Rather, they face competition from them, for if LIBERO is successful in changing the face of conservation, as they plan to, LIBERO will, in effect, make such exploitive foundations entirely obsolete.

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I have been in contact with Maria, and will be doing an interview article with her at a later date, and I look forward to writing other articles about LIBERO in the future.

As of the writing of this article, Maria was exploring the possibilities of seeking a stipend or other funding from the Mexican government. Supporting LIBERO would be an immense opportunity for current government factions like SEMARNAT and PROFEPA to both acknowledge the deep-seated problems occurring within their country, and to take a step toward the reform so desperately needed in order to begin assuaging the plight of captive wild animals all across Mexico. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, one of the greatest difficulties in seizing and/or rescuing captive wild animals from abuse, neglect, or exploitation in Mexico is the lack of appropriate institutes in which PROFEPA or SEMARNAT can then place animals that were removed from dysfunctional situations. LIBERO can, with monetary aid from government, expand and become the depository for confiscated animals, assuring that they will not be placed in yet another situation of exploitation, like the animals given over to BJWT.

To rescue an animal from one situation of exploitation, and place it directly into another situation of exploitation does not actually address the fact that the animal is being exploited, nor does it do anything to change the public mindset that having cubs run around a private home is somehow beneficial to the cubs and supportive of conservation. Maria and her staff understand that you cannot teach people that exploitation is damaging is by using exploitation as the basis for the lesson.

To this end, LIBERO intends to develop a facility where rescued animals will be housed within the freedom of individual habitats, liberated from human influence, and studied unobtrusively in order to better understand the complications for captive animal husbandry. Any animals which are deemed viable for rehabilitation and release will be appropriately cared for with the most minimal human involvement as possible, and their release will subsequently be orchestrated. Knowledge gained from such rehabilitations and releases will be funneled directly back into LIBERO and used within their educational outreach, furthering the cause of changing minds and perspectives.

Government funding could go a long way in getting LIBERO completely off the ground and flying. Now, more than ever before, Mexico needs a genuine sanctuary. Mexico’s animals need a genuine sanctuary. The question is, do SEMARNAT and PROFEPA–the very agencies charged with overseeing the welfare of wild, and captive wild animals within the country of Mexico–understand just how desperately those animals need a sanctuary like LIBERO? And even more importantly, will SEMARNAT and PROFEPA admit, by helping LIBERO to secure government aid, that it’s finally time for a change in how captive wild animals are perceived and treated in Mexico?

Only time will tell. But for now, I implore you. Follow the links within this article, or posted below, and discover Maria’s LIBERO Santuario Silvestre for yourself. Then share the information and encourage others to share and follow them. Mexico needs a true wild animal sanctuary, and LIBERO needs you to support them so that they can be the wild animal sanctuary that the animals of Mexico need.

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LIBERO Santuario Silvestre

LIBERO Instagram

LIBERO Facebook

LIBERO Twitter

Author: Artemis Grey

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The Troubling Trend In Paradise

Countless Americans see Mexico as the place to vacation and capture a few weeks of paradise. Even with the current political unrest, I’ve had multiple friends and family travel down to all inclusive resorts, and all of them have posted dozens of photos of white sand beaches and beautiful oceans. It seems perfect.

But looks can be deceiving. There’s a very troubling trend in paradise. Just as those all inclusive resorts are usually bordered by razor wire and tall fences in order to guarantee protection to the well-to-do tourists, who know nothing of the troubles which the majority of Mexico is faced with, the rest of the world only sees and understands a glimpse of the genuine problems with captive wild animals in Mexico.

Yes, most everyone has heard how the drug cartels own private collections of exotic animals, and if you’ve read my articles here on the I.C.A.R.U.S. Foundation’s blog, you know that Black Jaguar White Tiger is a foundation that has become a social media icon solely by showcasing captive animals being treated as pets (despite Serio’s incessant use of #notpets as a hashtag). But what virtually no one in America, and most others throughout the world seem to realize is that the cartels with their private zoos and menageries are nothing special in Mexico, just as BJWT is nothing new to the country. As we’ve pointed out before, there are no regulations on breeding big cats in Mexico. And owning one is as simple as filling out a form. Anyone who wants to, can collect animals into private collections. And they do. Some of them even “rent” cubs for as long as they’re small and then turn those cubs in to the breeders only to “rent” new, small cubs back out again.

The world in general sees BJWT as something “special” or “different” but the truth is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Mexico doing the exact same thing Serio does. Here are a few shots taken from public Instagram accounts involving private zoos or collections, “ranches” as they’re often called. Because these photos came from a civilian Instagramer and at least one contains a child, I’ve hidden the user’s information and the child’s face. It should be noted, however, that this is the person whom Eduardo Serio has tagged on Instagram under photos of the giraffes that he’s gone to visit on numerous occasions.

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Somehow, the hashtag #saverhinos is supposed to indicate that riding one like a horse is beneficial to preserving the species.

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Most often the people involved with these accounts state that they’re “preserving” the species, when, in fact, they’re just breeding them for their own private pleasure, and/or participating in the black market actively making money. A thriving market repeatedly overlooked and ignored by SEMARNAT and PROFEPA.

Unfortunately the trend of private ownership is not something new in Mexico. But here’s something that is. Since the rise of Black Jaguar White Tiger (and for anyone who is confused, or doesn’t realize it, BJWT has only existed for 3 years, and their current popularity is one that’s been bought and paid for by the exploitation of what began as three pets Eddie got for himself, and what’s turned into a rotating circus of babies) other established zoos have noticed how successful Serio has been with social media popularity. And many of them want in on the party.

Case in point: Jaguars Into The Wild.

JITW appeared on our Instagram radar roughly a couple of months ago. They describe themselves as a foundation devoted to rescue, research, rehabilitation and release. Emphasis on RELEASE, in all caps. The photos of their animals (jaguars predominantly) are gorgeous. We followed them with great excitement. Here, it seemed, was finally a group who was truly different.

Then, one of the I.C.A.R.U.S. team, while scrolling through the JITW Instagram feed, discovered a troubling photo of one of the founders out for a walk with two small jaguar cubs.

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It was supposedly an “old” photo of two now-adult cats. Nevertheless, it was concerning that a group who claimed to focus on rehabilitation was actively participating in hands-on interactions with cubs. Especially because they clearly listed the “mom didn’t feed them” excuse that literally everyone claims in regard to why cubs are being hand reared. So we started researching JITW, how they’d been founded, who the founders were, etc.

What we discovered was equal parts confusing and distressing. Instagram is a social media site, and like most social media sites, it intends to ephemeral. It’s not designed to plow through and is often difficult to backtrack as it wants to freeze. However, we soon discovered that JITW really doesn’t go back farther than a year, at best. The foundation literally appeared overnight. And diligent effort started producing more results. Most of them involving both the founders of JITW playing with big cats, training them to interact with humans, and to perform for a public audience. We also uncovered some clashing information about the foundation’s “star” jaguar, Andromeda, the “first to be raised without human intervention” whom they tout as the best hope for a wild release.

It seems that Andromeda is owned by a zoo. The Oaxaca Yaguar Xoo, to be exact. Here’s her birth announcement.

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But, here’s the same announcement, posted on the JITW Instagram feed, claiming that THEY own Andromeda.

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Awkward.

You would think that either one or the other would own the jaguar. But it gets more confusing. Having discovered that a zoo was claiming to own the same cat that JITW claimed to own, I started looking into the Yaguar zoo. It turns out that Yaguar loves to breed babies, and then take them from their mothers. Here’s a video (in Spanish) talking about how great they are, and how many experts they have. Experts with incredibly sticky fingers, it seems, as you’ll notice that every single one of them is holding with and playing with tiny cubs much too young to be away from their mothers in natural circumstances. I warn you, toward the end of the video, one cub is dangled in front of its mother, separated by iron bars, and the mother becomes quite desperate, injuring herself to the point of limping away from her attempts to reach her baby.

Yaguar Xoo also apparently also does a booming business with “interns” and “volunteers” who are allowed to handle and play with their animals.

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The translation for these photos is roughly “Do you like animals? Come volunteer at Yaguar Xoo!

In my research on JITW, I’d checked out the Instagram accounts of both founders, one, Víctor Rosas Cossío, literally just turned his private account into the JITW account. But his co-founder, Andrea, still has a separate account. And when I scrolled through, I found these photos.

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I was, understandably, confused. The co-founder of JITW started out as a volunteer playing with big cats at the Yaguar Xoo? It gets even more questionable. Before volunteering at the zoo and playing with lions and other big cats, it seems that Andrea had no visible association with any conservation or animal group at all. Rather, she was a fashion model. While modeling is a completely legitimate career, most successful models don’t just wake up one day and start founding wildlife organizations dedicated to research, rehabilitation and RELEASE, because, well, you have to know about those things in order to do them.

I turned to the other co-founder, Víctor, and that’s where I found the big cat expertise I’d been expecting. Only, I didn’t find it in the format I would have hoped to find it. (name) apparently worked for the Yaguar Xoo for a number of years, training their big cats to perform for the public.

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A running comparison of the social media accounts of JITW and the Oaxaca Xoo revealed what amounts to a shared presence. Pictures of the same animals on both accounts with both groups claiming to own the cats, the same photos show up in both locations, and most troubling of all, the same “enrichment area” where the Oaxaca animals are forced to perform for the public, are the same areas where JITW’s animals are shown getting “enrichment”. In addition, there is a public pool on the zoo grounds which seems to be the same pool that baby big cats are shown swimming in in JITW photos.

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What JITW is carefully NOT saying on their social media accounts is that the reason they appeared overnight is because they’re really just a new face and branch off of an existing zoo.

JITW presents itself as an entirely new foundation with an entirely new objective, but the truth is that they’re just a perfect example of how to use social media and sleight of hand to make yourself seem legitimate. By following the format created by BJWT (social media presence which is designed to lure in supporters by saying all the right things, and showing carefully orchestrated “awesome stuff” using professional photographers, and references to the future of Mexico’s wildlife) the Yaguar Xoo has, in essence, reinvented itself by creating a supposedly entirely separate entity. The problem is, the zoo shares animals with JITW, the zoo is still breeding those animals, and despite that an inside source told us that one animal had, they thought, been released, that supposed release was well over a decade ago, which would place both of JITW’s founders in their teenage years. Thus, that supposed release had nothing at all to do with JITW as it exists now.

By now, the parallels between JITW and BJWT were truly frightening:

Both foundations appeared overnight, established with hundreds of thousands to millions of followers in less time than it takes most foundations to get a roof over their head.

Both foundations have, and maintain, merchandise lines and/or retailers who are eager to host merchandise the proceeds from sales of which goes directly to the foundations, contacts and luxuries unheard of for most foundations.

Both foundations have private photographers on board, constantly promoting the foundations through art, and the animals, and helping to create merchandise.

Both foundations have already been guests at various exhibitions as “experts” in the field of conservation (despite that neither have actually had any impact at all on wild populations or conservation efforts) and despite that the founders of both foundations are, in fact, not experts on big cats, or are so young they simply can’t have the experience required to truly be an established expert.

Both foundations have been invited to participate in events where their animals and stories were highlighted, despite, again, the fact that they have not yet done anything to help wild populations and have, instead, participated in breeding captive populations.

Both foundations have stated that they are part of a “DNA bank” and mapping endeavor.

But the most damning evidence so far in regard to JITW being an imitation of BJWT, is the fact that, well, both groups are friends on social media. They tag each other on Instagram, the call each other brother, and they openly and publicly support each other.

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Now, JITW doesn’t have to aggressively denounce BJWT and their cub-petting extravaganzas. It’s a small world in Mexico, and professionalism is something I could accept. Formal responses and shows of gratitude would be completely expected. However, calling each other “brother” and thanking BJWT for sending “blue energy” over to heal Andromeda from the tragic and unforeseen Africanized bee attack (truly horrific) denotes a tad more affection than a strictly professional relationship. Never mind that there’s a huge overlap of BJWT Instagram followers and JITW followers, largely due to the link fostered by the two foundations.

Add the fact that JITW is run out of a zoo which participates in cubs petting, and for which one founder worked for years, and it’s too much for me not to form an opinion on the matter. Clearly, Mexico has a problem. Namely one which involves foundations cropping up out of the blue because they’re nothing more than existing groups renamed and revised, or owned by well connected people.

Creating conservation foundations in Mexico is the new “clothing line” of the rich and famous, and just as celebrities tout each others’ newest sweatshirt designs, it helps to be chummy with the other biggest foundation in the country. In JITW’s case, that’s BJWT. So while we’ve been told that at least one of the JITW founders doesn’t particularly like Eduardo Serio or what he does, they apparently like his connections enough to buddy up with him in order to get ahead.

Now, just in the last few days, JITW has announced that they’re working with Discovery Channel and Animal Planet on some kind of project. Frankly, Animal Planet has been dead to me for years. When you host shows like “Call of the Wildman” and “Redneck Zoo” any reputation you had pertaining to actual conservation and animal husbandry is out the window and run over by a semi. But I was sort of holding out hope that Discovery Channel might retain some standards. Alas, they obviously have no more devotion to research and actual conservation than their sister station. Really pieces of work, both stations are. Pieces of fecal matter, but whoppers of the kind, I’ll give them that. Leading the world in misinformation and pseudo-conservation, one fake show at a time.

But back to JITW. It’s unclear what sort of project is being filmed. Nothing has been said about a release date for Andromeda, and as she’s literally the only big cat at JITW that wasn’t hand reared and played with for her entire life, there’s no one else to release. But then, JITW has turned baiting cats for public entertainment into an art form they refer to as “enrichment”. Accredited sanctuaries offer their animals hidden food, or treats, special edible toys (like pumpkins in the fall) or Christmas trees to play with for enrichment. JITW brings their animals from small enclosures into one large one, and then proceed to dangle a piñata full of yummy stuff over a pool of water. If kitty wants the yum yums, kitty’s got to jump and hot dog through the air like an Olympic freestyle skier in order to get them. In front of a crowd of paying guests, of course. So perhaps Discover Channel and Animal Planet are working on a show about flying big cats? Who knows.

There’s no denying that the cats of JITW are beautiful to look at, just as it’s impossible to deny that the cubs, of BJWT are utterly adorable. The problem is, that while the animals of both foundations generate an onslaught of social media, and other media attention, the wild animals continue to suffer without notice. And while private ownership of exotic animals in Mexico is on par with that of the United Arab Emirates, and zoos which allow petting and handling abound, there remains no genuine sanctuary for animals who need to be rescued and then left alone in peace, rather than being exploited for the sake of money.

Or is there a sanctuary out there in Mexico which actually does care about the animal, first, foremost and always?

Find the answer in my next article, where I explore the only sanctuary in the country of Mexico which fits the true definition of the word.

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F.A.R.T.S. Aren’t the Only Thing That Stink…

Sorry for the click-bait title, but it needed to be done.

After our recent article, and the usual accompanying “hysterism” by BJWT in response to it, we noticed a peculiar reaction by all the Eddieites. They went to another organization’s page and proceeded to scream and fuss, name call and make asshats of themselves in general. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to avoid all the trolls, but really? Having an I.C.A.R.U.S. article raise the dust, and then watch another conservation group get all the hate mongering was, well, awkward.

Then folks started contacting us and asking if we had any comment on our “relationship” with BCR. They attached links to their questions, and when we saw where those links went, it all suddenly started to make sense.

Big Cat Rescue Watch is a website run by Juan Garcia* who is devoted single-mindedly to doing anything and everything to destroy Big Cat Rescue’s reputation. Apparently Juan posted an article months ago “rebutting” one of our articles. And when I say “rebutting” I’m being generous. Basically, Juan spends the entire article trash talking BCR, while defending BJWT (no surprise, the website is designed solely to defend BJWT while trashing BCR) and lying about the photos. But it’s the bottom of the article where he really shows that he’s willing to do anything to defend BJWT.

In a screenshot of an unknown page, involving an unknown person (no names or proof that those involved have anything to do with BCR) Juan shows someone–who states that they don’t even work at BCR–saying that “the crew supports them” in response to several questions wherein Juan claims that Big Cat Rescue is somehow responsible for the I.C.A.R.U.S. article.

Aside from the fact that Juan doesn’t just objectively ask a question, but rather goes into the discussion with his mind made up and directly  asserts from the beginning that BCR is in charge of the article, and despite that the person clearly says “No, BCR wouldn’t have anything to do with it” Juan continues to assert that BCR is in charge of the articles produced by I.C.A.R.U.S. stating that “Maybe Big Cat Rescue has someone writing for them”. It’s not clear why he even included his “questions” in his article when he simply ignored the answer of “NO” and reiterated that BCR does, in fact, have someone writing articles for them under the name of I.C.A.R.U.S.

Despite Juan Garcia’s adorable “disclosure” at the bottom of his blog, his accusations that I.C.A.R.U.S.’s staff writer is “working for BCR” qualifies as libel, because our staff writer has absolutely no associating with BCR, and has never had any association with BCR. By attempting to damage her reputation by connecting her with another unrelated organization, Juan is libeling her.

But here’s the thing, BCRWatch website is nothing more than an illegitimate “shell” site, baseless and without merit. Basically, it’s nothing but a hub for those who support cub petting and places who promote it, where they can attempt to discredit legitimate, accredited sanctuaries and those who are striving to stop the practice of captive exotic animal exploitation.

Juan Garcia calls anyone who takes a stand against cub petting and exploitation a F.A.R.T. and has this, among other similar images, on his site.

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It’s the sort of “clever” humor that Serio of BJWT likes to think he possesses. Not that BCRWatch is paid for by BJWT, or anything. At least, not that we know of. Though, it is sort of curious that BCRWatch reposted his “rebuttal” article, and pinned it to the top of his page at the exact same time that “Papa Bear” was pitching his own tantrum on his live feed about destroying us. I mean, interesting coincidence, you know? Or maybe not a coincidence at all.

 

* We have no idea if Juan Garcia is this guy’s actual name, but it’s what he goes by on social media.

I thought that I’d copy and paste Juan’s disclaimer here. He’s super careful to post it under his rhetoric, I mean, articles, since his site is full of lies, I suppose, in hopes to avoid trouble from lying.

I hold no claims of ownership to the referenced articles, screenshots, or photos that are public information online. All photo references and commentary articles have been carefully researched, reported, and solely intended for criticism, comment, and nonprofit educational purpose to inform the public. Subjects not referenced with facts should be considered opinion. Testimonies from sources/interviews, comments, criticism, and articles are released without malice (i.e., without intent to harm) to any parties and intended solely for educational purposes. If any content herein can be proven to be untrue, incorrect, or illegal it will be corrected or deleted immediately, The opinions and beliefs of the contributors to this website and those of it’s administration are the result of many hours of intensive research and are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Opinions stated here are my own. The information is true to the best of my research and knowledge.

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Cubs Cubs Everywhere, And With Them Oh The Funds We’ll Snare

There have been some exciting things going on over at Black Jaguar White Tiger. Exciting, that is, if you’re a BJWT fan/follower, or, as I’ve come to refer to them, an “Eddieite”.

Eddieite
Ed-ee-ite
One utterly devoted to the preachings of Eduardo Serio; incapable of seeing the fact that BJWT has contributed nothing to the conservation of big cats but motherless cubs, a plethora of hand reared animals, and numerous videos of its founder and his “special guests” playing with his own big cats. Eddieites react violently to any question posed against their adored leader, even in the face of scientific facts, and will often degenerate into sputtering curses and antiquated invocations of plagues, and poxes on naysayers of the “Blue Energy” religion of the BJWT Nation: They’re an Eddieite, they’ll believe anything Eddie says, unfailingly and without question. Synonyms: BJWT follower, celebrity conservationist, pseudo-conservationist, willfully ignorant lover of exploitive animal videos and pictures.
Origin: 2013-2016; Observations of an active animal cult.

But enough of the modern slang dictionary. We have more important things to discuss.

It’s Cub Season at Black Jaguar White Tiger!

Thus far we’re up to five “mystery boxes” the first four of which have contained one or more big cat cubs. In a June 25th “Pillow Talk” Serio stated that box 5 contained “monkey and a (unintelligible)” but we did not actually see these animals so I have no idea if those were the species, or names, or what. Then in another “Pillow Talk” on June 29th, we got this 2-frame glimpse into an otherwise ignored box in the “cub room”.

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All the other cubs were present and accounted for, but that’s no monkey lying there. The Eddieites following the feed certainly seemed to think it wasn’t a monkey, and offered up comments like:

“I saw box #5… its something black”
“Ohhhhhh I saw the black jag”
“There’s something black in box #5”
“What was black in the box?!?!”
“Saw something black, what did we see?”
“#isawnothingblack”
“Baby black jag????”
“A baby black jaguar (heart emogis)”

Excitement excitement! But we’ll just have to live off the thrill of not knowing, until Serio offers an official reveal.

There has been a small setback in the annual unveiling of Cubtopia, as one cub is already dead. (pesky inbreeding!) But it’s okay. Serio made up for the one cub dying by dubbing the surviving cubs the “Shakira Pride” after another jaguar who recently died (in a tragic Africanized bee attack) at Jaguars Into The Wild. So we’re good. Blue Energy all around, and no one’s getting dragged down emotionally over that little dead guy. Onward and upward!

For anyone who’s “sarcasm deaf” I’m dripping sarcasm at this point. It’s hard not to with daily videos of tiny, screeching big cat cubs trapped in cardboard boxes.

If you’re a regular reader of I.C.A.R.U.S. articles, you’ll recall that in other articles I’ve mentioned the fact that BJWT has a cycle as predictable as the tides of the ocean. A group of cubs arrive at BJWT with variations of the same three or four stories: Mom rejected them. The Mexican government confiscated them. Serio “saved” them from a “bad home”. Or they were taken from a zoo or circus. Recently, Serio has also started saying he’s “rescuing” cubs from canned hunting, something very peculiar, as there are an extremely low number of “trophies” exported from Mexico every year. But we’ll come back to that canned hunting thing later.

For now, the important thing to remember, is that every time a “pride” gets too big, they sort of just fade into the background, and new babies arrive, most of them so young that umbilical stumps are still raw. They are subsequently divided and put together in new “prides” and plastered all over social media for several months. Just in this year, we’ve had the Steve Jobs Pride, the Starving Union, Gustavo’s Pride, Tommy’s Pride, and most recently Shakira’s Pride.

In the three years since BJWT was founded, there have been three distinct sets of prides, some of which are now full blown adults, like The Big Pride, others which are 3/4 grown, like Cheyenne and the Super Pride, others which are half grown, like Lewis and Nicole, and then we’ve got the new babies. In all, tens of animals which all started out has bottle babies or young animals which were specifically hand reared.

Full disclosure, I might have left out some prides, and I might have accidentally named one pride by two names. It’s impossible to track each group when names are sometimes changed and there are no firm records.

Should any outsider ask where these cubs come from, Eddieites will immediately leap to the defense, insisting that Serio “rescues” the cubs and brings them to his “sanctuary” from places where they aren’t wanted like zoos and circuses, often while telling them to do “a little research” before asking stupid questions or saying stupid things. Those of us with questions find this instruction particularly amusing when there is no documentation to research, and those who ask questions are systematically blocked and called haters, something for which Serio is inordinately proud:

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The “rescue” proclamations of Eddieites are followed by avid claims that the cubs can never be released into the wild “because they were born in captivity” so Serio’s giving them the best life possible at his “sanctuary”. Or, in some cases, supporters claim that eventually BJWT will “repopulate the world” with their cats (despite that they supposedly don’t breed them).

As usual there are potholes in these claims that are large enough to blow the tires on a tractor trailer rig.

  1. Zoos, in particular, value cubs more than they do adults, it’s laughable to think that the dozens of cubs that have appeared at BJWT over the last three years were all cast out by their entertainment owners, when those same groups might well have made tens of thousands of dollars off of the cubs, had they retained them. The only way they’d let go of the cubs is if the government seized them.
  2. Felid wild reintroduction is in its infancy. There have been a very few genuine success stories. However, for there to be any hope of pursuing reintroduction, the cubs must be raised with as little human contact as possible and raised in an environment that properly mimics their natural habitat. If you keep them in cardboard boxes in your closet, handle them constantly, and consistently reinforce a personal and intimate relationship with humans, then you guarantee that they can never be reintroduced into the wild.
  3. According to I.C.A.R.U.S. contacts who are familiar with laws south of the border, there is no registry for big cat sanctuaries in Mexico. There aren’t even any outlines for sanctuaries in that country. The only two ways in which you can register the ownership of exotic big cats, is as either a zoo, or a private collection.

What does all of this mean?

It means that while Serio claims to be a sanctuary and obsessively refers to BJWT as a sanctuary (though this is a recent development that has occurred in the past months, after articles criticizing BJWT began to appear. Before that, he called BJWT a “foundation”) it’s only a word in the name of his registered zoo. Serio stomps around threatening to sue people who suggest BJWT is not an accredited sanctuary, and he uses the term “sanctuary” gratuitously in an effort to garner sympathy and legitimize the foundation.

But the title listed on zoo registration papers does not actually make BJWT an accredited sanctuary. It just means that BJWT is a zoo registered with the word “sanctuary” in its name. This is where commercialism comes in. You can name a company anything you want, but you can’t register it as an institute which is not recognized by the government with which you’re registering it.

BJWT literally cannot be a registered sanctuary under Mexican law, because there are no outlines, bylaws, or terminology to define and regulate sanctuaries within the existing Mexican environmental laws. There is, according to the Mexican government itself, no existing sanctuaries for exotic animals in the country. There are only PIMVS institutes or privately owned collections.

This is one reason that Mexico desperately needs to update, refurbish, and create laws that will clearly define the difference between a zoo, a private collection, and a sanctuary. Serio adamantly (as evidenced by recent legal attacks) defends BJWT as a “sanctuary” insisting that he’s met all the requirements outlined in order for it to be so. The problem is, he’s leaving out the fact that Mexico doesn’t actually have guidelines for sanctuaries for him to meet. They only have guidelines for zoos and private collections. And we don’t doubt that BJWT meets all the standards required of it by Mexican law in order to retain it’s operating permit as a PIMVS. That doesn’t mean it qualifies as a sanctuary as defined by GFAS.

On BJWT’s own FAQ page:

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Nowhere does it say “YES we are are registered sanctuary” because they ARE NOT a registered sanctuary, they are a registered zoo.

But back to the cubs and to the trillion dollar question: Where do all of these babies come from?

We know that at least several in “Shakira’s Pride” actually came from a zoo bought and owned by one of Serio’s friends, because Serio himself has said it on social media sites. That’s after he spun a tale about how he “didn’t have space to save the moms from the zoo, so he took the cubs to save them” leading the public to believe that it was a case of saving the animals from imminent death. Then he later admitted that his friend had bought the zoo, and all of its animals, which means that there was no need to remove those cubs from their mothers.

But moving on. That only accounts for a few of the new cubs, and the others remain a mystery, just like most of the cubs BJWT hosts. He says that the Mexican government confiscates them and gives them to BJWT, so it’s likely that some come from the government. We know that Mexico’s current system is grossly overburdened with animals, and there’s nowhere to put ones that are seized, so BJWT being the biggest name around, it’s perfectly likely they get the majority of cubs that are seized. And do at least some of them come from situations of abuse? More than likely, considering how many have arrived. But we also have videos wherein Serio admits that some of the cubs come from “private zoos” and “important people” who apparently own scads of big cats. It also bears pointing out that in the early days Serio referred to the cubs as “being adopted” but slowly began saying “rescued” later on.

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The fact that Serio recently began claiming that he was saving cubs from the canned hunting industry struck those of us who keep tabs on such things as very odd, considering the low numbers of trophies exported from Mexico, so I decided to dig a little. What I discovered was an underbelly of the exotic animal trade unlike anything I’ve experienced so far. As we know from articles like this one that owning big cats is considered a grand pastime for drug lords and wealthy individuals with too much time on their hands. And the very government groups like PROFEPA whom Serio proudly posts photos of himself buddying up to

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regularly turn a blind eye to all of this trafficking, so it makes one wonder how “valid” their regulation of groups like BJWT can be. But we know about this corruption, it’s documented regularly.

What I didn’t know, until very recently, is that the breeders who supply these sellers and private owners with animals often also run what amounts to Rent-A-Cub programs. For a one time fee, someone can “adopt” a cub, and take it home. Once the cub gets too big to handle, or starts causing problems, they can then bring the cubs back to the breeder, and return them in exchange for much younger and smaller cubs, and start all over again. Really, it’s the perfect scheme. You get all the cuteness, and none of the issues.

Now, Eddieites will vehemently defend BJWT and Serio, insisting that all of his “Angels” are still at BJWT, but we have very little proof of that, at least by way of social media. The cats might all be there in cages, or maybe they’re not. We see cubs, and then we don’t see them until they’ve grown considerably, so it’s often impossible to recognize them even if they’re shown again later. We just don’t know. We do know, however, that to start with, Serio always referred to cubs as having “been adopted” from people, often people his own cousin had contact with.

The same cousin who seemed to be the one selling the first cat Serio ever “adopted”.

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Of course, the story of Cielo has changed numerous times, each evolution making Serio’s procurement of her more and more heroic. This is one of the many issues with the lack of transparency associated with BJWT. In addition to the fact that the origins of the cubs is never properly and objectively documented, we have their use by Serio as a constant draw for support. Despite his own haughty (and often childishly tantrum-like) attacks on those who claim that he exploits his animals for the purpose of making money, he continues to put the animals front and center and use their likeness to sell BJWT merchandise.

Eddieites angrily defend Serio’s use of his cats for “advertising” claiming that BJWT needs funds in order to survive. Some even point out the need to fundraise so that “Stage 3” can be built. Never mind that Serio has been claiming that “Stage 3” is going to be completed “in a year” for the last three years.

Apparently, no Eddieites have ever been taught how to use a calculator, and think independently.

Here’s a little breakdown of things that BJWT followers clearly haven’t considered. Everything is in USD, as that’s how prices are listed on Boycott Circus.

Two weeks ago, BJWT posted new ball caps on their Instagram page (they were pretty fly, we admit) There are seven styles. Within two hours, at least one style was completely sold out. Now, we don’t know precisely how many hats BJWT had in stock, but let’s presume they started with 1,000. After all, they’ve got over 5 million followers on Instagram, it’s safe to think they’d stock new products in increments of at least 1,000 for something that only comes in one size like a hat.

The hats sell for $33.00-$36.00. So going with the less expensive hat, and presuming they had at least 1k to start, BJWT made $33,000 dollars free and clear in just two hours.

But paying for all of the “Angels” is expensive! Supporters say.

Okay, that’s true.

If just 50,000 supporters (out of 5.4 million) donate $100 dollars over the course of 1 year, BJWT makes $5,000,000.00

If just 10,000 (out of 5.4 million) supporters buy 1 $68.00 sweatshirt, BJWT makes $680,000.00

If just 100,000 out of 5.4 million) buy 1 $25.00 T-shirt, BJWT makes $2,500,000.00

If every Instagram follower buys just 1 T-shirt over the course of 1 year, BJWT makes $135,000,000.00

Ignoring that last number, and just going off the others, we’re up to $8,213,000.00 in one year.

Basic food, medical, maintenance costs for one big cat averages about $8,000 a year. Multiply that by 220, and you’re looking at $1,760,000.00 (and that’s paying for the food, while Serio has posted on Instagram boasting about how he gets the best deals from the biggest meat processors in Mexico) which is, admittedly, a lot of money.

But out of our theoretical merchandise money we’ve still got $6,453,000.00 leftover.

Then there’s staff and expenditures, etc. The fact that they’re building Stage 2B, 3B, etc. or what have you. But if, donations are coming in, it shouldn’t be a problem. Again, we don’t know because there’s no running tab posted anywhere.

Remember, I’m just throwing numbers around. I’m saying that it’s possible to make this much on merchandise and donations. I mean, come on, with 5.4 million followers, you just need them to donate $1.00 a year in order to make $5.4 million dollars. What I’ve listed here is just one possible donation, and just THREE products out of the available 69 products on BJWT’s swag site, which is devoted solely to selling products for them. And 100% of the proceeds rendered from sales on Boycott Circus go to BJWT.

And none of this includes any funding BJWT might receive from the government for taking animals if he has, as he’s said he has. It doesn’t include any donations, aside from the one reference.

And those donations do occur far more often that Eddieites seem to think. For example, last year, Hublot held a benefit brunch for BJWT that cost people between $500.00 and $1000.000 just to walk in the door.

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BJWT made $200,000.00 during the event.

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Then Ronda Rousey, whom Serio still talks about, made $23,000.00 for them by auctioning off items online.

With Eddie just posing with a new $4,000.00 “gift” from Hublot founder a few weeks ago, it’s safe to assume that the majority of the companies who donate to BJWT do so more than once. You can’t post photos of all of these supporters, and not have people expect them to be, well, supporting you. But without any financial transparency, the public has no way of knowing where any of that money goes. Eddieites presume–and insist–that it goes to the cats, and a portion of it surely does. But where does the rest go?

We don’t know. Not entirely.

But at least some of the funds raised by BJWT’s considerable efforts at selling merchandise and kickbacks from all the social media advertising (remember, people get paid for social media, too) seem to go to some pretty strange places. Like animal cloning companies who work with Korean firms to clone dead pets.

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PerPETuate’s founder, Ron Gillespie says that cloning will be the future of “building” the perfect animal, and that instead of accepting the death of an animal as part of the cycle of life, he can “offer hope” to people by using science to “bring these animals back”. It does put Serio’s mantra of “Karmis Forever” into a whole new light. Never mind the fact that in this blurb, Karma is described as a pure African lion, and this version of Cielo’s story has Serio saving her from certain death after her mother perished in childbirth, none of which has ever been mentioned elsewhere.

But back to the mind boggling issue of BJWT having stored Karma’s DNA for cloning. The cloning process is not cheap. Cloning averages around $100,000.00. And that’s after the preliminary costs of having the DNA stored and cultured, and the annual costs of keeping it banked. It should also be noted that on the website, it says that the best time to harvest cells for banking is while the animal is alive and healthy, as harvesting after death would allow for cell deterioration. So that suggests that at least a little planning went into this.

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Now, we have no way of knowing how any of this cockamamie stuff was paid for, because Serio has never mentioned the fact that he ever did it at all. For a guy who takes his Facebook live feeds to the bathroom with him when he has to pee, it seems a little shocking that he’d choose not to let his adoring fans know that “Hey, Karmis Forever is legit literal, we can bring her back whenever we want to.”

But in complete and utter fairness, maybe Serio paid for all of this out of pocket just because he loved Karma. I mean, he is pretty fast to say that he’s got “unlimited money” with which to sue people, and he claims to pay for most of the foundation himself, despite all of those merch sales and donations from supporters. It’s totally possible. Stranger things have happened, I mean. Okay, saving DNA to clone an inbred lion you “rescued” from a crappy breeder is pretty strange. But Serio could have paid for it without using BJWT donations, is all I’m saying.

And frankly, here’s something incredibly important to note, which I’m sure will go entirely unregistered by Eddieites, in favor of hating us for the article in general, but which I’m going to say anyhow.

WE DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH BJWT MAKING MILLIONS A YEAR.

What we have a problem with, is a nonprofit 501(c)3 bringing in large amounts of undocumented donations and income, when by United States 501(c)3 regulations, nonprofits must document and make public EVERY donation they receive, as well as where that money is spent (not just photos of something with the word “fiscal” in it, but no breakdown of money coming in and going out) Now, BJWT’s 501(c)3 document (so angrily posted by Serio on social media) is dated January 18th of 2016, so a full year hasn’t passed yet, and I’m not clear on precisely when they need to post their financials. Different companies end and begin their fiscal year at different times. It’s possible that BJWT is not required to post their financials until the end of this year. Which is fine, as long as they’re complying with the law.

However, Serio very publicly attacked and led a campaign against a conservation writer (whose name I will not post here because she has no personal stake in this article) who stated in a January 2nd 2016 article that BJWT was not a registered 501(c)3 company. Serio called this writer a liar, stated that he would sue her, and through various threats eventually forced her to remove the article in question.

But here’s the thing, the article stating that BJWT was not a 501(c)3 company predates the officiation of BJWT as a 501(c)3 by more than two months.

So the writer was correct, and BJWT was not a 501k company at the time of the article’s publication. The 501(c)3 document posted after the fact by Serio is dated as having been received for consideration on January 18, 2016, two weeks after the article was published. And it took another two months for BJWT to officially receive 501(c)3 status. On their website, BJWT claims to be a 501(c)3 since January 11th, 2016, which doesn’t coincide with stamp clearly visible on the documents posted on Instagram. However, even being lenient, and going with the 11th as the official recognition of their status, it still means that at the time that the article in question was published, BJWT was not yet a recognized 501(c)3 company. And furthermore, the author couldn’t have possible known that BJWT was even in the process of attaining a 501(c)3 status.

Companies change and evolve. That’s fine. What’s true about a foundation one month, might not be true the next month. But the fact that BJWT is now a 501(c)3 company does not make it acceptable for Serio to have threatened and publicly attacked someone who correctly stated that BJWT was not yet a 501(c)3 company at the time that she wrote an article about them.

Serio’s hyper aggressive actions toward anyone who questions him raise serious questions about his honesty in regard to the running of the foundation. He uses his followers as an army of rage, unleashing them on anyone who questions BJWT, and often using violent outbursts and threats as a distraction to allow him leeway and time in which to alter either BJWT’s website (so he can later claim people are lying about BJWT, as was the case when BJWT had personal visits listed in exchange for monetary donations) or change the way in which something is referred to. He also has a history of lying about what’s been said about BJWT, misquoting whomever it was that said, or suggested, something he didn’t approve of, and instead of gathering information independently, Eddieites simply repeat whatever Serio says, and then proceed with attacking whomever has questioned him. It’s all a carefully orchestrated system of misinformation.

Which leaves all of us wondering where the cubs come from, where the money goes, and if we’ll ever get an answer that’s not shrouded in hateful vitriol, rageful threats and condemnation for having asked questions in the first place.

* Addendum. 5 hours after this article was published, Serio has revealed “Box 6” which holds yet another tiny lion cub.

 

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Reflections of Change

Part of the I.C.A.R.U.S. crew has been MIA the last few days. That’s because they have family and friends in Rainelle, West Virginia, in one of the areas directly hit by the “1000 year flood” that struck between Thursday June 23, and Saturday June 25 of 2016. At this time, we still don’t know that all of our friends and family are safe.

What we do know, is that it’s going to be one hell of a clean up, all across the state.

You might not have even heard of the flooding if you’re not in America (many news stations persisted in focusing on Brexit, and did not cover the flooding events as they took place, and are only now beginning to offer stories about them) but I can assure you that it’s been indescribably devastating. I know, you’re thinking “Okay, yeah, but why is I.C.A.R.U.S. writing about it when it’s a humanitarian issue, not a conservation one?”

Here’s the thing, this “1000 year flood” has also devastated, and will continue to devastate, local wildlife populations, and will have an impact on the environment that will be felt for decades into the future. Several indiscriminate assholes have already posted on Facebook pages dedicated to providing information to flood victims, and families of flood victims, about how “West Virginia brought this flooding on themselves with mountaintop mining”.

  1. West Virginians did nothing to “bring this on themselves”. Most of them have no control over what massive mining companies choose to do.
  2. Many West Virginians have fought for decades to stop strip mining, and mountaintop removal mining, or MTR.
  3. Despite that West Virginia is known for coal mining, the towns most affected by this flooding don’t necessarily have anything to do with it. They could be located miles–and counties–away from actual mining sites.
  4. Anyone commenting with rhetoric on how victims caused their own tragedies, on public forums where people are looking for lost loved ones (human and animal) who were swallowed by floods in the middle of the night, is an asshole.

All of that said, these blame-posters aren’t wrong about the fact that MTR can make flooding worse. Who these commenters need to be blaming, however, are not the victims of the floods, but rather the government entities and agencies who create, and maintain, environmental laws, and regulations in regard to mining.

This has been a struggle that stretches back decades, and one in which success for the people and the environment, has remained elusive.

West Virginia has long been the butt of jokes (in America, anyway) for being filled with inbred hillbillies, who don’t possess enough intelligence to come in out of the rain. The truth, is that the state is filled with, and has produced, some of the most intelligent, self-reliant, and capable humans anywhere in the world. These are not folks who want to be in the middle of an environmental war. In fact, most of the folks in the hollers and vales of West Virginia just want to be left alone by mainstream America, just as the folks of Appalachia have wanted to be left alone since the rest of the world discovered them. There is a long and sordid history of the people of Appalachia being forced from their homes (starting with the tribes of indigenous peoples living there when Europeans arrived and continuing into the 20th century with the forced removal of people from what had been declared National Park lands) and that history includes wars over the plundering of environmental coffers like coal and timber.

Mountain Top Removal Mining, or MTR has been an issue against which most West Virginia, and Appalachian residents have fought. The industry has done little aside from destroying their way of life, and leaving them with a damaged and looted environment.

Through force, or bribe, coal mining companies often skirt what piddly environmental standards or regulations are in place. Never mind their history of killing their own employees for profit. In most recent years, the term “reclamation” has been added to coal mining endeavors, often with the spin that the companies are somehow “reclaiming the environment” after they extract the coal. It’s a lie so thin you could make a window out of it, but it’s one they continue to peddle, and use in order to gain access to land they otherwise would be banned from reaching.

The point is, West Virginians did not cause the 2016 flooding that has destroyed entire communities.

A history of environment abuse–often allowed by government institutions for the benefit of massive conglomerate companies–has systematically damaged the ecology of West Virginia, while impoverishing the communities therein. The misnomer is that West Virginians somehow “want” coal mining, when all they want is a way to make a living. In contrast to public concepts of the issue, West Virginians, and others in Appalachia, are actually the most damaged by the coal mining industry.

But back to the current flooding crisis.

The death toll continues to rise, and people are just now beginning to assess the damage, and begin the recovery process. Something that might be derailed almost before it starts by more incoming storms and rain. In places like the tiny town of Rainelle, population 1500–a place where survivors have reported hearing desperate cries for help from elderly neighbors which eventually stopped one by one as those people drowned in their own homes–as many as 15 people have died, and others remain missing.

So far, news reports have focused on the human impact of the floods, but humans aren’t the only ones suffering. Animals, both domestic and wild, have been ravaged by the floods as well. Animal Friends is one of the groups moving to address the issue of displaced and needful domestic animals. Other private groups, some of them having been born in Rainelle, one of the towns hardest hit by flooding, are raising funds to purchase items for both humans and animals in need.

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The environmental impact, has yet to be estimated, or formally reported on by news media. With the state still counting its dead, it would feel caustic to the public for cries of “but what about the environment” to be made. However, images like the ones that follow, are a testament to the very evident and catastrophic damage done on an environmental level.

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Trout and other fish swept from the rivers and left to die in yards. Trout fishing is an important, and sustainable industry in West Virginia. But it faces an unknown success this year.

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Millions of tons of trash and waste, including chemical and industrial solvents have now been introduced into the watershed by the floods. Safe removal of the garbage could take months, and the damage will last for years. Plastics have long had damaging effects on the environment and been a focus of groups such as The Plastic Pollution Coalition, Plastic Oceans and Plastic Debris Rivers to Sea. Add to the plastic itself, the fact that many of these containers and pieces of garbage will not only remain for hundreds of years, if not removed, but will also leak chemicals, pesticides, poisons and other contaminants into the environment and watershed. Clean water in West Virginia is something that the West Virginia  Highlands Conservancy has fought for vehemently. Along with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition they have taken coal mines to task for their pollution of the rivers and waterways. Now both institutions are facing the nearly insurmountable task of cleaning up both millions of tons of debris which includes huge amounts of plastic, and leaking contaminants from both plastic containers, and other storage vessels. The recovery of the watershed, something that has already suffered due to mining pollution, despite the effort of local groups like the Sierra Club, will take years, with lasting effects that will be seen in generations of wildlife in the future.

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In places like Rainelle where the above photo was taken, virtually no part of the town was left unscathed. With many residents being elderly, and/or on fixed incomes, and unable to physically help, cleanup will take even longer to accomplish.

While the mainstream media focuses on the horrendous human loss, and devastation, it’s up to groups like I.C.A.R.U.S. to insure that the environmental damage, while no more important than the loss of human life, is also conveyed. Not only have entire communities been demolished but the very face of the mountains and waterways has also been irrevocably changed.

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With new storms scheduled to hit the same areas, and places like the Summersville Dam dealing with historic high water, the changes to the environment will undoubtedly continue. At the time of the flooding, water was entering Summersville lake at over 100,000 cubic feet per second, seven times higher than the highest speed possible through the release valves at the bottom of the dam. Should the dam be breeched during future rains, the loss of life for both humans and animals would be inconceivable.  All we can do is raise awareness, offer links to information, and pray that Mother Nature gives West Virginia a pass on rain for the next few weeks.

But these tragedies have offered a mirror reflecting the measurable changes caused by human impact through mining, and other industrial endeavors. Endeavors which often profit the few, and malign the many, as is the case in West Virginia right now. This flooding is a wake up call, in some ways, for making positive changes in environmental law which may, in the future, help to assuage flooding that occurs due to natural rain fall.

Resources For West Virginia Flood Information For What’s Going On And How To Help:

http://www.smokingmusket.com/2016/6/25/12028884/west-virginia-flood-disaster-relief-information-greenbrier-kanawa

http://wvutoday.wvu.edu/n/2016/06/24/wvu-mobilizes-efforts-to-help-wv-communities-devastated-by-storms-and-flash-flooding

http://www.herald-dispatch.com/_recent_news/relief-efforts-underway-around-the-region-to-help-wv-flood/article_562b76da-3add-11e6-aa98-87044a1cb4db.html

http://abcnews.go.com/US/flood-stricken-west-virginia-counties-federal-disaster-designation/story?id=40125270

http://www.wsaz.com/content/news/Groups-helping-animals-displaced-in-West-Virginia-flooding-384381221.html

Private Relief Effort by Former Citizens devoted to supplying needs for animals and humans alike.

 

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“Not To Hurt Our Humble Brethren Is Our First Duty To Them;” Pope Francis Should Have Brushed Up On the Teachings of His Namesake

I was Christened Catholic. It doesn’t come up much, but I was. And I grew up around devout Catholics. Mass several times a week, Catholics. They were my Great Aunts. I still have crucifixes that belonged to them, and various icons. They instilled in me, a love for the Saints, if not for the Church. The Church can be twisted into all sorts of things, to suit the ideals of whomever is in charge. But the Saints? Well, they were just people who lived life as thoughtfully as they could, and became so renowned for their own lives that they were later canonized. Some of them might seem silly, but to my great aunts they were all important in their own ways.

St. Francis was always my saint. He was the one I’d mutter prayers to while trying to climb a tree and return a wayward baby bird to its nest. St. Francis was the one I invoked when I was silently begging for an opossum or turtle to make it across the road, back when I was too young to do anything else about it. St. Francis was my go-to guy whenever shit hit the fan and an animal was in danger, or when a lot of thankless work needed to be done for nothing in order for an animal to be properly taken care of. It was St. Francis I beseeched to look over animals that were beyond my aid, animals who were suffering and dying, or had already died. All too often because of human abuse, or ignorance. Suffice to say, I rely on St. Francis a lot. Daily, and sometimes, multiple times a day, if it’s a particularly shitty day for animals.

St. Francis saw animals as his brothers and sisters, he saw them as equals, and he believed it was our responsibility as humans to respect them and treat them as we would other humans.

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.
All creatures have the same source as we have. Like us, they derive the life of thought, love, and will from the Creator. Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them; but to stop there is a complete misapprehension of the intentions of Providence. We have a higher mission. God wishes that we should succour them whenever they require it.”
–St Francis

Since I consider St. Francis to be my personal patron saint, I was keen, in an abstract and outsider sort of way, when the latest Pope chose his name after, and in honor of, St. Francis. And as far as leaders of the Church goes, the Pope has been a pretty open and understanding Pope, straddling that awkward and constantly wavering line between the Church and everything that doesn’t fall under the Church’s “acceptance” or “ideals”.

That all changed for me this afternoon when ICARUS founder, Jessica James left me a voicemail telling me to check out Youtube and what happened at the Vatican today. I dubiously did as suggested and I couldn’t have been more shocked and disappointed at what I found.

Pop Francis–who named himself in honor of St. Francis who saw himself as the caretaker of all God’s creations, no matter how lowly–was smiling and laughing as he watched a captive tiger paraded around on a chain choke collar and leash. He even engaged in petting the captive tiger, an action which leads to the suffering and death of thousands of captive big cats all over the world every year. There was photo of Pope Francis also petting a very small black jaguar cub. A cub that looked too young to have properly developed its immune system.

The visit, described as a “jubilee for traveling circuses” was intended to celebrate the treatment of “the most needy, the poor and the homeless, prisoners and disadvantaged kids.” to whom the traveling performers often open their shows. While the treatment of their fellow humans is commendable, the treatment of their animals is another matter.

Has the Pope read none of the teachings of his own namesake? That he seemingly condones the use of captive animals within circuses, the continued breeding of them for the sake of providing cubs to be constantly exploited, the violence used to force them to perform, is heart wrenching. That he would actually partake in glorifying such abuse and exploitation while bearing the name of a Saint who would have–and did, during his lifetime–condemn such transgressions, is utterly unconscionable.

“This too, is mercy–to sow beauty and joy in a world sometimes gloomy and sad.” The Pope was quoted as saying, in regard to the kindness of the circus performers.

But the circus is a world that is always gloomy and sad for the animals trapped and abused within it.

Contrastingly to the Pope’s happy embracement of animal exploitation, his namesake, St. Francis said,

“We are not God…. we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the heart justifies absolute domination of other creatures.”

And,

“Every act of cruelty towards any creature is contrary to human dignity.”

St. Francis went so far as to say, in the face of the Church, that,

“An inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology gave rise to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world. Often, what was handed on was a Promethean vision of mastery over the world, which gave the impression that the protection of nature was something that only the faint-hearted cared about. Instead, our “domination” over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.”

The word Stewardship is defined as: the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.

“Responsible overseeing and protection of” doesn’t quite jive with “beating into submission, forcing to perform, denying medical care, abusing, exploiting, and breeding for profit” yet that’s precisely what circuses do with their animals. It’s what’s been happening to animals since animals were first captured and used in the arenas of the Gladiators.

It’s what’s been happening to animals for thousands of years, and what’s still happening to animals today.

But it’s not how St. Francis believed animals should be treated, and it’s not what he taught, or how he lived. Pope Francis clearly needs to brush up on his studies of his own namesake, because I doubt that St. Francis would be honored by how the Pope has acted today.

The captive breeding and exploitation of big cats is a phenomenon that is actually increasing, despite the best efforts of groups like ICARUS. Despite that many circuses have announced that they will phase out elephants in the use of their shows, most still use big cats in their performances. Despite that questions are being raised about such pseudo-sanctuaries as Black Jaguar White Tiger, T.I.G.E.R.S., Dade City Wild Things, and others who promote pay to play cub-petting schemes, and who perpetually produce captive bred big cat cubs to be used in those schemes, the social media presence of these exploiters continue to grow in popularity.

In my last post, I covered the recent worldwide celebration of a staged video showing Eduardo Serio playing with one of his jaguars, pointing out that while he and his followers considered it a triumph for them, it really did nothing but peddle the idea that big cats make cute pets.

Now, the Pope, whom millions admire and look to for examples of how life should be lived, has, knowingly or not, publicly condoned the exploitation, abuse, and suffering of captive exotic animals everywhere.

Pope Francis has, by example, condoned the belief that animals exist solely to provide us with entertainment, something his namesake, St. Francis, spent a lifetime trying to counter. A lifetime that was so revered after the fact that he was canonized, his name forever linked to the ideals he worked to foster while alive.

I might not be a practicing Catholic, and I’m sure that Pope Francis could care less about my opinion of him, but St. Francis is my patron saint, and I’ve done everything I can to fashion my own life after his.

Today, Pope Francis disregarded the very deepest beliefs that his namesake, St. Francis held most dear, what he prayed to God daily for, that he would have the “grace to see all animals as gifts from You and to treat them with respect for they are Your creation.”

For shame, Pope Francis, how could you so willingly embrace and participate in the exploitation and abuse of God’s creatures for the profit and amusement of the human race?

“The Lord bless thee and keep thee. May he show his face to thee and have pity on thee. May he turn his countenance toward thee and give thee peace. The Lord bless thee.”

–Blessing of St. Francis

Artemis Grey