One of the greatest travesties of the conservation movement is the fact that a large portion of those involved are actually failing in their endeavors. Some of the most acclaimed rescue centers provide opportunities, to select members of the public, to play with and hold big cat cubs – something that in itself feeds the vicious cycle of captive breeding of big cats to be used in pay-to-play exploitation schemes. Videos of elephants dancing on command gain thousands of shares across social media by animals lovers who do not understand the abuse those elephants endure off camera. Radical reality shows such as Whale Wars gather thousands of viewers, yet convey no digestible information to the public on how to affect the change needed in order to stop whale hunting. Actions such as these have twisted the public’s understanding of what true conservation is all about. ICARUS wants to change that.
In addition to going to the leading animal conservatories, and conservation centers, the ICARUS team will also visit and study the worst conservation centers, and rescue centers. By doing this the team will experience firsthand not only what works and why it works, but also the parts of the system which are broken, and how those continue to avoid taking responsibility for those failings. The ICARUS team will travel to different countries, visiting these centers and gathering information that will then be utilized to establish an infrastructure for dealing with native wildlife and exotic foreign animal conservation within the United States as well as being shared with other countries. Only through international communication can we globally change the ongoing conservation crisis that is present in every country in the known world, to a greater, or lesser extent.
The struggles of both native wildlife conservation are largely seen by the American public as something that happens in other countries. Places like the Tiger Temple, or the Indian Elephant tourist trade make the news, and while disturbing, the plights of the animals remains safe ‘over there’. Few Americans realize that for first responders, the chance of encountering captive exotic animals while aiding the public is an everyday possibility. With an estimated 10,000-15,000 captive big cats and an estimated 3,000 captive great apes, in the United States, the risk of first responders facing them while serving the community is higher than ever before.
The estimated number of private big cat ownership varies widely because there is little to no oversight. Laws change by state, and papers are easily forged Many times the existence of privately owned animals remains unknown until they’re discovered by first responders, or escape and are subsequently seen. Despite recent widely-reported events, such as those in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma, the majority of the public does not realize how many captive native wildlife and captive wild exotic animals reside within the U.S. Nor do they understand that virtually every zoo participates, to a greater, or lesser degree in the practice of canned hunting by quietly selling overflow animals to private brokers who then resell the animals to canned hunting outfits right here on American soil. The devastating recent events surrounding the death of Cecil the lion have drawn the eye of the world toward international conservation, and there has never been a better time to make forward steps in creating a global network to help prevent similar tragedies form happening in the future.
In the last century alone the world has lost 70% of the African Lion population. Some subspecies of lion have as few as 250 members left in their gene pool, which means that unless fully 75% of those 250 members is save, there will not be enough animals to grow their population back to a sustainable level. Cecil’s loss has become a world-wide incident, but an average of two lions die every day in South Africa alone. The numbers of lions killed within the United States cannot even be estimated because while huntings lions in Africa is a known sport, the world of canned hunting on U.S. soil remains an insidious subculture, hidden from the public eye, and government regulation.
The ICARUS team has already begun to line up a travel itinerary for conservation centers and sanctuaries starting in South Africa with Panthera Africa and The Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica. Both centers are very excited to be working with the ICARUS team and are eager to share their experiences with us. However, by helping the ICARUS team in their research, these centers will be giving up time and housing dedicated to volunteers, so in order to work with these centers without burdening them, ICARUS must be able to compensate them for their aid in our project. Their bottom lines benefit the animals first, and thus avoiding infringement of those bottom lines is of paramount importance to ICARUS.
Project ICARUS will help to usher in a new era in native wildlife and foreign exotic animal conservation. By showing the American public that these conservation issues are not merely the problems of ‘other places’ but are, instead, also a problem in our own country, then we can provide the public with a nexus of information regarding what can be done to effectively change the situation of native wildlife foreign exotic animals in our country, ICARUS will provide pathways to meaningful change in the way that such animals are guarded from exploitation.
ICARUS is the next logical step in the evolution of conservation. Humans are the primary cause of wildlife decimation, but humanity is the only global solution. We hope you will join us in our journey toward a better future.
Authors: Jessica James, Artemis Grey, Sarah Kennedy, Margaret Morales