We Are Legion… If We Decide To Act Like It

Some of you might have seen the headlines in regard to Lumber Liquidators, and the fact that they have now admitted to importing, and subsequently selling, hardwood which was illegally harvested from the habitat of the highly endangered Siberian tigers and Amur Leopards in the far east of Russia. Since I’m in Virginia, which is where the company is headquartered, I’d heard back in the beginning of October that something fishy was going on, but details as to what, exactly, were not yet available. Then, on October 8th PilotOnline.com ran an article on the matter, which shed a little more light on it. You can read that one here. There still wasn’t much National attention on the subject, though.

Now, that’s changing. Multiple news sites like CBS, CNBC, NBC, and The New York Times, are picking up the story and making noise about it. Their coverage ranges from blurbs, to more in depth information. Overall, most people involved seem to be satisfied with the ‘hefty fines’ that Lumber Liquidators has agreed to pay. But the term ‘hefty fine’ means something different to the lawyers, and judges, than it does to me. Or to Lumber Liquidators. Oh, I’m sure that they’re wailing internally, but let’s examine this ‘hefty fine’ in the format of numbers.

The company will pay $13.2 million dollars in fines. Seems legit. Written out, it looks like this:

$13,200,000

But in stark contrast, the company made about $1.05 billion in profits last year, which looks like this:

$1,050,000,000

So basically, the company is giving up just over one percent of the total profits they received in just one year of existence.

Look at it this way: You find a $100 bill, and your big brother takes it from you and gives you a $10 bill instead. Sucks hind tit, right? Now, imagine that your big brother came into your room, stole a bunch of your super hero figurines that you’d been collecting , sold them for $100, and you caught him, and he said he’d give you $10 because he’s sorry. On a very simplified scale, this is what Lumber Liquidators did.

Between 2010 and 2015 they pulled in roughly $5.6 billion dollars in profits. That’s $5,600,000,000. They’re paying only $13.2 million dollars, or $13,200,000 in fines.

And they only have to do it once.

Next year they’re (probably) going to make another $1,000,000,000. And the year after that. And so on and so forth. If the company only stays in business one more year and does well, it’s still going to make over 7 times more than what they paid in fines. Presuming, of course, that they actually pay the fines now, and don’t drag their feet about it. With a hearing not even set until February of 2016, a speedy payment doesn’t seem too likely. But according to the Justice Department, Lumber Liquidators’ fine is the largest financial penalty ever imposed for illegal timber trafficking, and it is a huge success.

This is one of the greatest, and most heartrending issues within the conservation community. Laws, both those of specific countries, and global, are woefully underdeveloped in regard to the current, and continually growing needs of the environmental world. Humans have been recording history for about 5,000 years, but the first American environmental law dedicated to protecting the environment was passed in 1899. We’ve only been legally protecting our world and the animals within it (in America) for 116 years. Just 116 years out of 5,000. And the number one penalty for breaching the laws we do have, is paying a simple fine, and promising not to do it again. As a rule, there is no loss of business licenses, or jail time given, even to those who made the decisions to break the laws in the first place.

Not only is that just not good enough, it doesn’t even work to penalize anyone. After all, why should companies stop cutting corners, and breaking rules when the only consequence of doing so is to make slightly less profit, when their proft line has already been doubled or tripled by skirting or ignoring those rules to start with? In business (and military) terms this is called Acceptable Loss. The term Acceptable Loss is used to indicate casualties or destruction inflicted by the enemy or market situation that is considered minor or tolerable.

Minor and tolerable. For the company who is making money.

There is nothing minor or tolerable for the Siberian tigers, and Amur leopards who lost thousands of acres from an already dwindling habitat. There is nothing minor or tolerable about the fact that of the just 500 Siberian tigers and 57 Amur leopards left in the wild, a portion of them will likely starve, or die in altercations over the meager, and much too small, habitat they ‘re forced to share. Habitat that is now even smaller.

What our law enforcement groups consider to be massive success stories are nothing more than footnotes in the annals of companies’ histories. Acceptable losses within the churning mechanisms of huge corporations who plow onward in their endeavors, continuing to rake in profits hand over fist. So inconsequential are these payouts that most businesses actually set aside money to be used for them if they crop up. They often pay their own lawyers more to render a settlement on their behalf than they pay in the actual settlements themselves.

But we have more power than any court, or judge, or law enforcement agency in any country anywhere in the world. We can bring these companies to their knees, and we don’t even have to exert ourselves in order to manage it. The only thing we, the people who must live under the umbrellas of these inconceivably colossal  entities, need to do in order to tear them apart, is to not give them our money.

It’s not easy to find out exactly where your food comes from, or where all of the products we use in our daily lives come from. No one has time to google their toothpaste, their rice, or juice, or napkins and see how they’re made, and whether or not the mother company is environmental conscientious. Women, you know what it’s like just trying to see if your sanitary products are 100% cotton, instead of full of chemicals and manmade fibers. It’s incredibly hard to sort out the origin of many of the things we use.

However, it is easy to find out about some of the products we use. The internet is full of farms which focus on producing pesticide-free heirloom fruits and vegetables – more than you would ever imagine, if you google your own area. Small farmers are slowly fighting their way back into the market. Reclaimed lumber is now thoroughly in the mainstream, and many companies focus on using it in their building projects. There are log home companies which specialize in environmentally conscious timbering. Organic dairies are springing up everywhere, along with rabbitries and farms which raise hormone-free beef and even bison. By and large, these products don’t cost more than the conglomerate stuff, they’re just not as ‘in our face’ as the former.

We have the power to choose to utilize these things. We have the power to choose to not use the products of huge corporations. At least some of the time. And you know what? Some of the time beats the hell out of none of the time.

If every single person out there decided that buying a little less of something grown, made, or reclaimed within a hundred miles of their residence, was more important than buying more of something that was imported, or made by a large corporation, those corporations would notice. If every single person who’s never done something like try fresh milk from a herdshare, or rabbit meat (better than chicken) or bison meat (leaner than beef) chose to just try something new, instead of going right for the old stand by microwave chicken tenders, it would make a difference.

A huge percentage of the damage done to the wild spaces we have left in this world, and to the wild animals who live in those wild spaces, is done either to create land which will be farmed by corporations, or to render a ‘cheaper, easier’ product for the consumer. And we keep taking the bait.

These incidents of gross negligence, and the disregard of giant corporations will not be stymied by any law, or fine. It’s like throwing rocks into a swift-running creek. The only way to change the course of that much water is to change the landscape it’s running through. We are that landscape. Us.

We are Legion, if we but stand up and unite.

It will not happen all at once, but it will happen. We have the strength and ability to turn the flow of the consumer river in any direction we want. All we have to do is start.

 

Author: Artemis Grey

Feature Image Credit: Tapiture

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It’s Not About The Person, It’s About The Animals In Their Care

Hands off conservation is one of the fundamental ethical foundations of the ICARUS team.

It’s something we’ve posted about before, and it’s something we’ll post about again. Every blog post which contains certain ‘celebrity conservationists’ and which criticizes the way they treat their animals gets quite a few comments (not all of which get posted, because while we’re open to differing opinions, we’re not going to entertain baseless poop-slinging) and while some of them agree with us, many argue that for *insert whatever reason* it’s okay for a particular celebrity conservationist to pet/play with/hold/whatever their wild captive animal.

Most of the unpublished comments accuse us of being “jealous” of the celebrity conservationist, of being ignorant as to the fact that they’re “special” and thus can do these things without hurting the animal, or that we’re being paid to attack them, or that the attention they bring to conservation outweighs any stuff that they shouldn’t be doing.

Here’s the point all of these avid defenders are missing: It’s not about the celebrity conservationist. It’s about the animals they’re exploiting.

When we name names in our posts, citing how certain people directly interact with the captive wild animals in their care, or how they allow the public to directly interact with them (and subsequently how they cannot attain GFAS accreditation no matter how awesome they are) people rush to the defense of these (or some of these) celebrity conservationists. People get angry when you call out those whom they idolize. While we have yet to get any death threats, we’ve definitely gotten some, colorful, shall we say, comments, in defense of these celebrity conservationists. What these defenders fail to understand is we aren’t after their idols because they’re awesome and we’re jealous, or we’re getting paid to go after them, or because we’re just mean. We’re naming their names because we’re concerned about the animals in their care.

Our number one focus is the ethical and responsible treatment and care of animals. Most specifically wild, and captive wild animals. Our basis for believing in, and supporting, hands off conservation isn’t that we don’t believe you can have a special bond with a wild animal, or because we don’t have access to captive wild animals, so we don’t think others should, or anything else. Our belief is based in science, concern for the animals, and in existing laws, including the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Yes, some of these celebrity conservationists have raised the animals since birth. Yes, they’re experts (self-proclaimed, or with actual degrees) on these animals, and their behavior. Yes, they speak about conservation, and engage the public. None of that, however, gives them the right to treat the animals in their care any differently than they expect the public to treat them. And none of it guarantees that they, or their animals, will not suffer immensely for it in the end.

Let me use myself as an example.

I’ve been riding, training, breeding, foaling-out, showing, and caring for horses for 27 years. Almost three decades. I have more experience than some of those who have served on the Olympic team.

Several years ago, there was a cold born on the farm. I knew his mother, and his father. I personally assisted in his birth. The colt touched me, smelled me and saw me before he even saw his own mother. I raised this foal from birth, worked with him daily, and when he was old enough, began his training. He was a very ‘brain stem’ horse, meaning that he responded to body language, and silent communication more than verbal. I was his boss mare, so to speak, and he was my beta. He submitted to my authority readily, and without any physical domination on my part. I spent hours with this animal every single day.

One day, when he was about three years old, I had him in the crossties for a routine vet appointment. There was another colt in a nearby stall. My guy was fussing, where he was standing in front of us, because he didn’t like that he couldn’t turn around and be involved in what was going on. He was nosey, like most little boys are. I gave him a pat and told him to cut out the complaining. After that, I had approximately three tenths of a second to dodge or otherwise defend myself when the colt threw his hind end into the air, and lashed out with both hind feet.

I was incredibly lucky. His right hind foot hit my right breast, while his left hit my left arm. Less than an inch to one side, and he’d have broken my sternum, bruised or ruptured my heart, torn my descending thoracic aorta or my superior vena cava. Less than an inch the other way, he’d have broken ribs, punctured my lung or ruptured my liver. Farther down, and I’d have received gross damage to my internal organs, and farther up could have broken my neck, caused a depressed skull fracture, torn my lower jaw clean off, or even worse. The fact that I had space behind me, where I could be flung back without absorbing the full force of the kick helped, too. Basically, there was only one or two ways to survive the sort of kick I received, and I was lucky enough to manage one of them.

The really crazy part? That colt wasn’t trying to hurt me. What he did was the equine equivalent of saying ‘Get off my case, lady.’ He was a small, 700 pound herbivore just giving his ‘boss mare’ the brush off. If I had been another horse, I would merely have grunted and bitten his ass to put him in his place. As it was, he got a sound whack, and submitted in apology, and then stood there quietly without further fuss, because he wasn’t being mean, or attacking me in the first place. He was just mouthing off, horse style.

WARNING GRAPHIC PHOTOS taken directly after the incident, then later.

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The colt’s left hind foot grazed my elbow, causing my arm to swing back and hit the corner of a stall. I required X-rays to assure nothing was broken.

IMG_3202.JPGMy right breast, just moments after the impact.

IMG_3274.JPG     IMG_3273.JPGDespite scrubbing the wound immediately with disinfectant from the vet, an infection set up, requiring antibiotics.

IMG_3313.JPGAfter a week of antibiotics, the infection retreated. But the wound took more than a month to fill in.

IMG_3267.JPG My breast required pain meds, and had to be noted in my records, due to the internal scar tissue created which will show up on future mammograms.

I am a professional, and I knew what I was doing, and I wasn’t doing anything inappropriate. Neither was the colt. He was just being a colt. Almost any owner/trainer of captive wild animals will say the exact same thing about their animals after an incident.

However, there are some major differences between this horse and me, and captive wild animals.

The biggest of those, is that even if I’d been killed, no authorities would have shown up and confiscated the horse, and possibly euthanized him. No news crews would have shown up to discuss the problem of ‘captive horses’ being kept in ‘back yard zoos’. Horses and their owners all over the globe would not fall under fresh scrutiny, and there would be no sudden push for legislation to protect horses from being held in captivity.

If the colt had been a captive lion or tiger or other wild animal, all of those things would have happened, or could have happened. Maybe even worse things would have transpired. All because the animal acted like an animal, and I happened to be too fragile to withstand it.

Private owners are killed or maimed by their captive wild animals on a regular basis. This isn’t something new. Celebrity conservationists and animal trainers are also killed and maimed by their captive wild animals on a regular basis. It’s also nothing new.

Yet hundreds of thousands of members of the public continually try to categorize these incidents into neatly labeled boxes like ‘They were amateurs, and didn’t know what they were doing.’ or ‘They mistreated their animals, and the animals fought back.’ or ‘It was just a freak accident, that no one could have prevented.’ or ‘It was the fault of someone else present, not the the fault of the animal, or its celebrity conservationist.’ when the truth and absolute fact is that none of the incidents would ever have happened if someone was not directly interacting with a captive wild animal.

Here are links to just a small sampling of documented attacks and incidents involving captive wild animals with trainers. Here’s a PDF file compiled by the Human Society documenting hundreds of circus related incidents. It happens in the film industry, with trainers who have ‘perfect safety’ record. Even owners who start out thinking that they’ll be able to communicate with their animals, and be successful interacting with them often learn the truth, sometimes, they’re lucky enough to learn it without dying.

The one, single defining fact shared by these incidents, is the direct interaction between humans and captive wild animals.

This is why ICARUS maintains a strict hands-off approach to conservation. When you directly interact with a captive wild animal, it is not a matter of if something will happen, but when it will happen. And when it does, it will be the animal who suffers. There is no free pass for celebrity conservationists. They run the exact same risks as someone who’s raised and trained animals in their backyards. The only difference is in how the public chooses to justify one, while vilifying the other. For the ICARUS group, however, there is no difference at all. Our focus is the well being of the animals, and therefore we will continue to speak out against direct interaction with captive wild animals for any reason beyond rehabilitation and medical treatment.

As gratifying as it might be to interact with captive wild animals, it simply is not worth the risk of what could happen to those animals if something went wrong.

Author: Artemis Grey

Feature photo credit: Peter Lawson

Costa Rica vs Sharks – How government greed is pushing sharks into extinction.

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When you think of Costa Rica people picture expansive, rich green forests, beautiful oceans and an abundance of animal life. All of this is true, but everything is not so sunny in paradise. Earlier we wrote about the effect the banana plantations have on the the wildlife, the human populace and Costa Rica’s lush land and how the government is doing nothing to stop them or protect the country. Even more recently the Costa Rican government made a poor and hasty decision to roll back protection on sharks in their waters if they have a commercial value. Um, WHAT?

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Shark population decline is a serious worldwide issue. Around 11,000 sharks are killed everyday. Many species of shark are either endangered or threatened under the CITES list. In 2013 Costa Rica moved to protect several species of shark and have them listed under CITES protection which was successful. They even banned shark finning and shut down some docks that were frequently breaking the law. Still shark finning remained an illegal activity in Costa Rican waters and 410kgs of fins were exported out of Costa Rica on route to Hong Kong by American Airlines in 2014. The fins came from two protected species and was one of several exports that stopped in the US. This was in violation of both American laws and, supposedly, Costa Rican ones. The shipments, though, were  strangely approved by the Costa Rican government. Thankfully the transport company, American Airlines, has now agreed to stop shipping shark fins, as well as UPS, however the issue of shark finning and killing in Costa Rica remains.

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Upon hearing Costa Rica’s new stance on sharks, which is to protect the fishermans’ livelihood (and not the sharks),  Randall Arauz, president of marine conservation group PRETOMA stated, “[The Environment Ministry] doesn’t care about science anymore. They’ve decided that the traditional knowledge of fishermen is now better than the best available science about what is detrimental to fish populations”.  With this new measure they are also going to ask UPS and American Airlines to change their stance on shipping shark fins. This destroys not only any chance for the sharks to survive but also reexamines catch sizes that are there to protect fish (because, let’s face it, overfishing isn’t a serious issue either.) In addition there are plans on overturn a bill to make shrimp trawling legal again. Remember it’s those pesky trawlers that damage the ocean. And sharks, pfft ….they aren’t important for ocean health and also society has deemed them menacing and dangerous. Why not rid the ocean of them with some ridiculous legislation? As a result we can enjoy all of the fish for twenty years or so and then wonder what happened when there are no fish left in the ocean and the our ecosystem is destroyed. I worry that this isn’t a solid plan, Costa Rica.

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Sharks aren’t just imperative to ocean health, but they are worth way more alive than in a soup bowl. The shark tourism industry brings in around $314 million A YEAR and it’s expected to rise exponentially. However,a kilo of shark fins is worth a mere $650.  Oddly enough that one shark who can produce millions of eco tourism dollars is worth so little as a one time fin experience. Thankfully, the government is getting quite a bit of negative press about it,  but will it be enough to save this ancient species.

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Costa Rica used to be known as the country who cared. A country that proudly proclaimed that had a zero carbon footprint. Now will they become just  another greedy country who cared more about a quick buck then preserving the ocean, and the planet, for future generations? When your grandchildren ask what happened to the sharks will you tell them that governments like this were the ones who pushed sharks to extinction? Costa Rica, it would be shameful if that was your future.

– Sarah

http://aella.org/2012/05/shark-finning-plight-of-the-shark/

http://www.seashepherd.org/requiem/why-we-need-sharks.html

http://news.mongabay.com/2015/04/fracas-over-costa-rican-shark-fin-exports-leads-american-airlines-to-stop-shipping-fins/

http://www.ticotimes.net/l/shark-fin-scandal-in-costa-rica-has-solis-administration-on-the-defensive

http://www.ticotimes.net/2015/10/14/costa-rica-government-will-no-longer-support-shark-protection

http://www.seashepherd.fr/news-and-media/editorial-090618-1.html

http://www.costaricantimes.com/sharks-have-received-their-death-sentence-from-costa-rica/41502

True Facts about the Turtle!

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At ICARUS we are trying to educate and also uncover the awful truths about the interactions of humans with the animals we share the planet with. Six out of the seven species of sea turtle are on the brink of extinction, in fact their numbers have been reduced by 95% in the last 20 years. Turtle poaching in Costa Rica is a serious issue as it has one of the largest populations in the world and their numbers are being seriously diminished despite conservation efforts. Just last week two ICARUS members attended an illegal food market undercover, where both green sea turtle meat and their eggs were being sold every week. We want to help find solutions and help to prevent the green sea turtle from being hunted into extinction. Although it’s our mission to focus on the advocacy and the conservation, we at ICARUS know that you’ll be more inclined to save the turtle if you know about their quirks and habits. One of the best ways to learn is by having a little fun while doing it. So without further ado our humorous and true facts about the Turtle! (original article posted by ICARUS member Sarah here)

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brrrrrr…

1. When turtles are just tiny eggs their sex is determined by the temperature they are incubated at. Warmer temperatures produce more female eggs and the colder it is the more males are born. This sounds a bit like human females who are constantly colder than men, maybe they are just meant to be warm and toasty all the time!

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2. Turtles have favourite colours, which according to research are yellow, orange and red. Most of the people who come in to contact with turtles are divers, who often wear black. So clearly for a turtle if you’re not wearing any of their favourite colours when you’re diving then the turtles are openly mocking you and your fashion choices.

3. Turtles do no have ears but they can perceive low pitched sounds. Often when I’m diving I am constantly talking, singing or shouting at person in front of me who has just kicked me in the face. However you should always remember that the turtles can hear you and they’re terrible gossips.

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“Figaro, Figaro, FIGAROOOOOO”

4. Turtles also don’t have vocal cords, but they can make sounds. You may be unaware but turtles are actually avid opera practitioners.

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“Hey Lettuce, lookin’ good”

5. Turtles select mates by sniffing tails. In fact they have a very good sense of smell, but not so much sight. So if a female climbs over something then the male has often been known to try and mount it. This has been observed in tortoises too as one tried to have sex with a head of lettuce a female had climbed over. Oops. That’s going to be very disappointing!

We hope you have enjoyed our tongue in cheek turtle facts and have picked up some interesting information! We at ICARUS are really passionate about helping to save and protect the turtle. After being part of a turtle release a few weeks ago we can truly appreciate them so much more. We will be releasing a lot more information on that soon, we look forward to sharing the journey with you.

Sarah

Media, Money, and Me: The Three ‘M’s of Mock Conservation

I’ve been very off the radar in the last few weeks. I first went on a two week camping vacation and then needed to deal with some personal things, both sad – the death of a beloved cat – and great – I’ve now officially signed a book contract for my Contemporary YA! While I was gone, the other members of the ICARUS team have done an amazing job of holding down the fort – from thousands of miles away, no less! Now that I’m back, and I’ve attained some semblance of balance, I’m trying to get back into the swing of writing blog posts.

As I was reinserting myself into social media, I found my feed congested with numerous animal-related posts. This isn’t unusual, of course. A number of them had to do with recent developments in the Kristen Lindsey case (you might be familiar with the Texas veterinarian who shot a pet cat through the head with an arrow and then boasted about it on Facebook. If not, a quick Google search will bring you up to date) but a huge number of them were posts I’d either been tagged in by well-meaning friends, or that had been shared by people I follow (some of them Celebs) and who were just trying to share happiness and good feelings.

The problem is, the majority of these ‘feel good’ posts involve mock conservationists who are basking in the limelight of their own proclaimed knowledge and awesomeness. They are not, in fact, people acting in the name of conservation, nor are they acting in a manner that will meaningfully further genuine conservation. The ICARUS group has posted before on this subject, and we’ll post again, unfortunately, because it is a constant struggle to convey to the public exactly why these (many times) adored and revered ‘experts’ are doing more harm than good in the world of conservation. I like to use the 3M system when taking measure of a supposed conservationist.

Media – Just how much media coverage does this person receive? You can’t always control whether or not the media focuses on you, of course, but does the person seek media attention out? To they regularly engage in media outreach by posting videos of themselves working for their conservation? Do they constantly offer professional opinions on whatever animal welfare subjects are trending? And does their professional opinion consist of comparing what they do, to what the subject is, in a fashion that presents ‘their’ way as the ‘right’ way?

Money – Does the person gain money from directly interacting with their animal, allowing the public to directly interact with them, or by exploiting the animals by using them to make movies, or commercials?

Me – Does the person focus primarily on themselves, what they do, and how they do it, rather than the animals and their plights? Another good judge is to look at it from the standpoint of ‘If you removed the supposed expert from the situation, would you still get information about the animals, or would the whole thing be meaningless without the expert?’ If you can removed the ‘main character’ and still walk away with a plethora of information about the animal and it’s plight, then the focus is truly on the animal. If you can’t remove the ‘main character’ and still learn something about the animal, then the supposed conservationists has made it all about them, rather than the animals.

And yes, some of these are folks we’ve spoken out against before. We don’t have any personal vendetta against them, we simply do not agree with that they’re doing, and how they’re influencing the public, and they remain squarely in the spotlight of the public’s enamored eye, thus making themselves a target for us to counter.

The first culprit of these mock conservation articles in my news feed is no stranger to conflict. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle has been at the center of both loving fans, and lawsuits, often in equal measure.

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Since Rolling Stone featured him in a recent article (why, oh why, Stone, can you not grasp the need for research in your articles?) about the death of a zoo worker in New Zealand, the aforementioned article has cropped up in my newsfeed repeatedly, often accompanied by comments along the lines of ‘This guy has the coolest job ever!’ or ‘Sign me up, I want to visit!’ or ‘This guy is amazing! Saving those rare cats!’

This is *the* most difficult things to counter in the world of media. Misinformation. In a world where Google is the go-to answer for everything, the majority of people read an article published by a well known name and then perceive whatever is written within that article as irrefutable fact. Tragically, this is how falsehoods are spread thousands of times over. Rolling Stone portrayed Antle as a boisterous, eccentric, but utterly devoted conservationist, who runs a sanctuary for rare big cats. They smoothed over Antle’s blatantly chauvinistic and arrogant belief that ‘there is no valid critic of Doc Antle’ as a laughable part of his personality. The author of the article did not seem bothered by how Antle likens those who do not support direct interaction with wild animals to ‘jihadists’ who don’t believe there’s any other way to see the world. Within the first few moments of the interviewer’s visit Antle made it clear that he both believes himself to be above reproach, and that anyone who speaks out against him is an extremist bent on destroying him. His business parks (and they are his “business”) are not GFAS accredited sanctuaries, but rather breeding facilities, or public entertainment facilities. In every day social interactions, someone who speaks of themselves in such a way would be quickly abandoned by those around him for acting like a pompass ass. But in Antle’s case, the interviewer only laughed it off as ‘personality’.

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The article went on at length, covering Antle’s background and early years, detailing how he first purchased a tiger cub from a friend with ‘zoo connections’ (likely this cub was a victim of the breeding-for-public-attraction at zoos) and how after training it to sit still, he got the idea to charge people money to have their photographs taken with it. Oddly the article fails to mention that when Antle left Virginia he also left a number of animals (primarily fowl and deer) abandoned in their enclosures on his property. There was also concern involving a possible tiger bite at that facility, but as it occurred in 1989 records about it are difficult to find. I live not far from where he was located, however, and everyone knew about ‘that crazy moron with all those animals who fancies himself an expert’. Then one day, he was simply gone, and the county was left to clean up the aftermath, and re-home the animals.

The article also failed to note any of almost 40 violations registered by the USDA alone (there are other charges or violations from other groups) that Antle has managed to collect over the decades that he’s been breeding and mishandling wild animals. Many of these involve inadequate housing, or enclosures, failure to provide appropriate feed, actual escapes of cats and apes, and at least once incidence of attack on a model being used in a photo shoot. In that case, Antle vehemently insists that the model cut her head by falling off a platform, despite that the treating doctors documented the injury as a big cat bite, and the model underwent the rabies vaccination course.

Doc-Antle

Antle’s list of violations is a matter of public record, but continues to be overlooked by the media who offer up stories of his supposed efforts in conservation. Here are two links highlighting how what Antle does is damaging, and his USDA violations.

Next on the list of mock conservationists is also someone we’ve talked about before, and someone who has a throng of followers and fans. I’m sure posting him here will be met with defensive comments. I give you my word, I’m only including him in this post because stories featuring him have shown up in my feed multiple times in the last week. Kevin Richardson – often referred to as the Lion Whisperer – is known across the globe for ‘being accepted as part of the pride’. The problem is, the ‘pride’ is an artificial one comprised largely of animals that Kevin himself bought (arguably to keep them from being used in canned hunting, but by buying them, he still put money into the canned hunting industry) and hand raised himself. Objectively, his ‘acceptance’ by this pride is no different from the ‘acceptance’ of any backyard owner who interacts with their captive exotic cat.

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Kevin puts out videos quite often, all of them featuring him interacting with his lions, sometimes outlandishly riding them like ponies, or roughhousing with them. He has trained a number of his animals for movies, and has used them for such. In this case, the video was shared by multiple people, showing up repeatedly in my feed as ‘He releases a lion back into the wild, but then something amazing happens’ or some version of that. I recognized Kevin immediately, so I knew it was false. I did read the article, and watch the video, however, so I could say that I had. You can find the article and video here. Both the ‘bait tag’ and the title of the article state clearly that a lion is getting returned to the wild.

The truth, however, is that this is a lion Kevin bought as a cub, and then hand raised, and it is not being released into the wild – and has never even been in the wild. The author of the article clearly has no idea what’s actually going on, and has even tagged the post with hashtags like #wildanimals.

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Throughout the video, Kevin interacts with his own lions, yet he never talks about wild lions, their plight, or anything conservation related. He never makes it clear that he bought the animal in the video, or that it is a captive animal, or that it’s going to remain captive. He gives the viewer no objective, tangible information at all on lions. He discusses the lion’s unusually white coloring, but does not explain that he owns dozens of other white lions, instead, leaving the viewer with the sensation that this lion is somehow special. Besides stating ‘I don’t ever think for one moment that they’re domesticated’ Kevin does not address the fact that he’s playing with wild animals, nor that by doing so, he’s endangering both himself, and the lions. Instead he says that the reason he can interact with them is because ‘I have a relationship with them.’ This is – verbatim – the exact reasoning that every private big cat owner uses to justify the fact that they choose to keep a wild animal captive as a pet.

Richardson’s videos are perpetually shared, and touted as amazing feats of relationship between a man and his animals, and more often than not, they are portrayed incorrectly as animals being released into the wild, or ‘rescued for conservation’ when, in reality, he uses them to make movies and television shows, documentaries (which focus on him and his animals, rather than wild animals) and youtube videos showcasing both him and his lions and hyenas. While Richardson has spoken of conservation, and participated in conservation efforts outside his own sanctuary (which is not GFAS accredited, because, in part, of his direct interaction with his cats) he remains most known for all of those videos and movies which feature him playing with his own captive lions. Even the video I’ve linked to is basically a six minute commercial for Fixodent. It is undeniable that the selling point, and what viewers will remember most, is Richardson playing with the lions, and by using the lions to sell a product, Richardson is exploiting them.

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The last two people I’m going to talk about are not unlike Richardson.

The first as been around for many years, but I hadn’t heard of him until one of his videos appeared in my feed. The video itself is quite old too, and with 38 million+ views on youtube, I’m amazed I haven’t seen it before. His name is Sulo Karjalainen – the Bear Man of Finland – and his videos are featured on websites like ‘cute overload.com’ The one that showed up in my feed can be seen here, and had a catch phrase like ‘Only one man dares swim with a polar bear’.

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A celebrity in his homeland because of the ‘special bond’ he has with his bears, Sulo seems to interact with them on a daily basis, and has taught many of them to do tricks. He’s been featured on various sites. He first began by raising orphaned cubs, and if they couldn’t be released into the wild, he kept them. Currently, he owns six bears, and a number of lynxes, housing them at the Kuusamo Large Carnivore Centre.

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As there is a language barrier on many of the websites, it is difficult to find a great deal of information about Sulo, but it is clear that he considers conservation to be his main goal. Even though videos of him playing with his bears continue to crop up.

Similar to Sulo, Shaun Ellis the ‘Wolf Man’ of the US, supposedly shares a ‘special bond’ with his wolves. Though Ellis started out researching wolves, he soon fell into the roll of ‘special expert’ and began actually living with the wolves and interacting with them daily.

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After becoming a household name through several documentaries – all of which focused on Shaun living with the wolves and being ‘one of the pack‘ in a mirrored wolf-version of Kevin Richardson and his ‘pride’ of lions, Shaun has since relocated to the UK where he runs a center that offers courses on understanding wolf behavior, and dog behavior, and bizarrely enough, encounters with the wolf hybrids that Ellis breeds.

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The fact that he actively breeds wolf hybrids alone is a testament to how damaging his influence is. Ellis claims that the hybrids are ‘used extensively in his research‘ though it’s not clear how breeding and studying hybrid animals can actually benefit wild wolves. Despite that he makes money off of allowing the public to play with his hybrid animals, and even offers courses in learning how to interact with them the way he does, Ellis is regarded as a hero for conservation, something that boggles the mind when one considers that he propagates the crossbreeding of wild and domestic animals for profit. Obviously, neither of these facilities are GFAS accredited sanctuaries.

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I’ll end this post with probably the most recognizable group on the Internet today, the Black Jaguar White Tiger foundation. With over 4 million followers on Instagram, Eduardo Serio’s questionable ‘rescue’ foundation has become a social medial monopoly. They post thousands of videos portraying rampant mishandling of the animals in their care, do not believe in spaying or neutering their cats, and claim that ‘all is possible if you simply love each other’.

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Their foundation page hosts a sponsorship section in which you can choose to donate anywhere from $25.00 t0 $1,000 per month in exchange for rewards ranging from a simple certificate saying that you supported the foundation to a photograph of your ‘sponsored baby’,  bracelets, FaceTime calls with ‘your baby’, a free t-shirt every month, a cast of ‘your baby’s’ paw print, and a 2 day visit for 2 guests to the sanctuary that includes hotel and meal expenses.*

Startlingly, there is never a shortage of ‘babies’ to be sponsored.

To date Eduardo claims to have rescued near 200 big cats–primarily from circuses or places that wanted to use them as ‘photo props’ and insists that he’s given them the best life possible. Oddly, Eduardo does not seem to connect his own continual rotation of celebrity visitors, all of whom are allowed to hold, feed, play with and coddle his cats in return for donations and media exposure with the ‘photo prop’ life he ‘saved’ them from.

In addition, he cannot explain how nearly all of the ‘rescues’ are cub small enough to be held and played with, though they supposedly came from circuses, which arguably have no use for such young animals. There is no transparency to Black Jaguar White Tiger in any area of the foundation and thus it remains virtually impossible to discern what, if any, of Eduardo’s claims are true. Yet through the venue of social media, BJWT continues to rake in huge amounts of money through donations and backers, despite that the foundation itself consists of nothing more than a house and somewhere between 8-100 acres of land, not nearly enough space to proprietary house 200 big cats. Though the foundation is apparently registered as a “sanctuary” by Mexico BJWT is not a GFAS accredited sanctuary.

 

Unfortunately, there are many, many more ‘experts’ who exploit their animals even as they’re revered for their conservation efforts. I merely listed those who showed up in my newsfeed recently under the guise of releasing wild animals, or setting examples as to what we should all strive for in matters of conservation. For me, the opposite is true. They all set an example of what you should never do in the name of conservation.

I understand – before anyone comments in defense of anyone – that once a video is out there on the internet, it’s impossible for those in the video to monitor exactly how the public shares it, and the articles to which it might be attached. This is precisely why it is so very vital for those experts to be extremely cautious in what sorts of videos are released, and what sort of example they set.

So the next time a ‘feel good’ animal video or article pops up in your news feed, remember the Three ‘M’s of Mock Conservation. See if they apply to the article or video. If so, then think twice about sharing it, and instead consider leaving a thoughtful comment under it, urging people to dig a little deeper into the motives behind that video or photo. Remember, the more times a video or photo is shared, the more the lies within it are propagated and the longer they will endure.

Author: Artemis Grey

*This offer has been removed from the foundation’s website since the publication of this article.

 

An ICARUS Undercover Investigation: Egotourism – Are we the true poachers?

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It could be any sleepy Caribbean town, swaying palms over sandy beaches and a strong Jamaican influence, and it is. But is there a dark side to this tranquility? Living off the land/the ocean is something that has been in existence for hundreds of years in Costa Rica, a simple way of life. Unfortunately though it is still a culture that is poaching turtles, iguanas and other outlawed animals. Now we at ICARUS can agree with culture to a certain extent and it certainly isn’t the locals catching the occasional turtle who are the real issue. The real problem lies with the mass industry of fishing trawlers, with poachers who are doing it to more than one turtle in their droves to make an easy buck and also, as it turns out, tourists visiting this country and exploiting its cultures.

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Now we are not here to name names or get people in trouble, firstly getting someone thrown in jail for a few weeks for poaching hardly solves the problem, secondly it’s not exactly safe to do that either. Conservationists have often been murdered for standing up for the wildlife here (and the government doing jack all to help their countries animals). One of the most important things we want to do here on our return is education. That is the only way that you can help to change a practice that is only harming rather than doing any good for the community. One of the things we are fundraising for is to start a community outreach program, one that isn’t patronizing as they often are, but helps the community, teaches the children about their wildlife and why it’s so important, and most importantly, helps find solutions.

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Recently two ICARUS members went undercover at an illegal food market that happens every Saturday in a town in Costa Rica. We were told that every week there is turtle meat, eggs, iguana meat and others, all highly illegal. This is the story of that day and what we discovered, all names have been changed.

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We met Henry outside the house where the meat was cooked every week, we did not have the opportunity to go inside with him but he went for us and purchased us a meal of turtle stew, for $10. We waited in the car while he did this and then drove to a nearby beach to meet with a friend of his, Abigail. Abigail is Dutch and is ironically doing a thesis on ‘ethical tourism’, it is clear she is not doing the same as us and getting information but does this every weekend with Henry, an American. We all sat in a boat and ate our relevant meals, all turtle, except for Henry who, after being berated by ICARUS member Jess about eating turtle, feels guilty now. Wonder how long that will last. Turtle for the record, tastes EXACTLY like beef, we were told Iguana tastes like chicken. The mass farming industry is a travesty but when you are eating endangered animals that have no difference in taste to easily accessible animals, and legally, it does make you wonder. We were eventually joined by ANOTHER American, in her 60’s who came to Costa Rica to do yoga, called Diane. We recorded the entire event and I have scripted below the more pertinent parts of the conversation:

Henry: (opens a box) this is turtle, this is for you.

(passes the box to us)

Henry: I’m sad there are no eggs, that’s like the best part to try

ICARUS 1: This does taste exactly like beef, it’s kind of like a beef stew

Henry: I’m just upset there’s no eggs, I really wanted you to try the egg

ICARUS 1: Well thanks for arranging this Henry

Henry: No worries, it’s a good experience for you to try

ICARUS 2: Have you eaten Iguana before?

Henry: Oh yeah

ICARUS 1: It tastes like chicken right?

Henry: Similar

Henry: I went hunting with some friends for them, we knocked it out the tree. You just shoot them and they fall out

Abigail: (points to something in her turtle meal) what’s that?

Henry: I think it’s like the tripe, from the turtle’s stomach

Henry: I feel bad I can’t get hold of my friend

ICARUS 1: What did you get her?

Henry: I got her turtle also

ICARUS 2: Do you know what kind of turtle it is?

ICARUS 1: I was going to say that, there are so many different species

Henry: Green turtle

(Diane arrives)

ICARUS 1: (to Diane) have you tried it before, the turtle?

Diane: Yes I have, in Florida. (to Henry) Is this a river turtle?

Henry: No, ocean

Diane: What kind?

Henry: Green

Diane: Wow that is good (the food)

ICARUS 1: What was the name of that gerbil thing you said they cooked too?

Henry: Agouti

Diane: They do this every week?

ICARUS 1: I think every Saturday

Henry: But it’s a secret ya know (sic)

Henry: It’s illegal

Henry: I didn’t eat turtle today because I kind of felt bad, I already ate it twice. I’ll let you all do the bad part

(after some more general conversation we all went our separate ways)

All in all we were together with the group for forty minutes, the food is cooked by a local’s mother and although I’m sure that the locals go to get food for lunch etc it was incredible that all of the people we ate with and who go regularly are foreign. As I mentioned previously these recipes have been in Costa Rican culture for a long time, it is not surprising that they still exist. The shocking thing though is the tourists and ‘gringo’s’ who are exploiting those cultures to have a ‘fun experience’ in Costa Rica and they can go home and tell all their friends they ate turtle. Frankly that is pathetic. I am all for experiencing culture. I LOVE immersing myself in the culture of another country. These kind of egotourists though, who are only in it to have a cool activity, and not actually contribute anything to the society that they want to experience are incredibly selfish and ignorant. Not only that but they are causing actual harm, they are funding illegal activities that hurt not just the turtles they are eating but also the country and it’s people. It’s because of these horrendous individuals that our planet is entering the sixth mass extinction, all thanks to the human species. One day we can look back and blame people like the ones we ate with for the reasons the green sea turtle no longer exists. And personally I find that completely unacceptable.

What would you rather out of the two below images?

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The green sea turtle, poached into extinction

or…

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The green sea turtle, thriving and free

We know what we would prefer, To Be Continued…