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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
24 thoughts on “Media, Money, and Me: The Three ‘M’s of Mock Conservation”
Oh well. I guess I’m not too surprised you deleted my comment – even though I made a point of ensuring all criticism was specifically tied to the content of your article. It’s becoming clear that Project Icarus does not like its position challenged…
I will leave you with a few words of advice – take it or leave it:
– Remember you are not experts. You are activists and advocates – and so is a large portion of your audience.
– Criticizing your position on a subject is not the same as a personal attack.
– If you want to establish credibility, focus on YOUR actions. Spend less time pointing out how others are doing it wrong. Set the example; explain why you think it’s the best way – and move on. (Note: Sarah is doing a nice job with her posts. She has a good balance of fact vs. opinion, and supplies links to credible sources.)
And just for your own research – I still challenge you to find any credible conservation organization – just ONE – that agrees with you and BCR that Kevin Richardson mishandles animals or harms conservation efforts. It’s possible you might even change your mind.
—helping turtles cross the road since before any of Project Icarus members were born.
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Sarah here. Apologies we unapproved your comment. It was merely because we don’t have a lot of internet currently and want to be able to reply properly. I will try and discuss both comments here but apologies if I miss anything. Calling out Kevin Richardson was always going to cause a backlash, but to us the bottom line is that no matter if you believe you have a special relationship with these animals they will always be wild animals. They do not need to be played with by humans, even the lion whisperer. It is not their natural behaviour to have a human riding on their back, even if it is only because Kevin is trying to ‘act like a lion’. They don’t and should not have these kind of interactions. Throughout lion owning history, and big cats, there have been plenty of people who have had ‘special relationships’ with them and it has nearly always ended badly. Often ending in the cat being killed as a result.
I would have also been hesitant to approve your earlier comment as it was personally insulting to multiple members of the team, if it had just been about the article then as you can see we have approved many comments that do not agree with us. There is nothing wrong with having an educated debate. But to say we should stick to face painting etc is personally vindictive and ironically some of the ICARUS members are experts in the field, in relation to another comment. Regardless, even if we were not, Artemis, who wrote the article is a research-a-holic and I stand by her work.
Unfortunately, although it is great to write positive articles about places doing it right, as soon as we do people say we’re sponsored by them etc so there is no winning. Also the people who are abusing conservation and animals need to be targeted and the ones who are doing a good job applauded (like the Hollywood article I wrote, thank you though for your nice words RE; some of our articles).
Despite our agree to disagree views on Richardson I hope your will support the amazing work we are doing in Costa Rica, including the release of a rehabilitated green sea turtle we were a part of recently.
We will continue to challenge the bad behaviour of others despite any negativey because, frankly, we should not just sit back and let bad things happen to animals. That’s kind of what we’re all about.
I agree with Tina. The other posts on this blog by other authors contain a good balance and do not focus on the same content in every post. I do appreciate the opinions of yours, Artemis, but as Tina has mentioned, your group is one filled with scholars and advocates, not conservationists or the like. It is important to remember that in order to criticize one’s work, you must be willing to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. But I do understand why you write about the hands-on interactions. Tina has perfectly summed up what many have said about the interactions on your posts – mainly that comments which offer a different opinion from yours are deleted (or as you have said, not approved). We need to foster conversation about these topics, not mute it. And I’ve never seen anyone on this blog be threatening and so if people are, simply disapprove those comments.
I would be interested in hearing your definition of the word ‘conservationist’. It seems as though you a very narrow view of what constitutes conservation. We have several members in Costa Rica right now actively working with two separate sanctuaries in the field. Besides animal rescue and rehabilitation, they’re also helping with reintroduction of animals, and helping to strategize and implicate responsible conservation tactics within the local communities, some of whom have never been engaged in such a manner before. If that doesn’t qualify as being ‘conservationists’ from your standpoint, I’m not sure what we could do to please you. Advocacy, and scholarship are simply facets on the matter of conservation. You advocate for people to act in a responsible, conservational way, you advocate for animal who have no voice, and you use any ‘scholarly’ skills you have to facilitate the process of engaging people and spreading information.
As I’ve said, no comments have been deleted we’ve just refrained from approving them. And sometimes they don’t get approved right away because part of our group is in the middle of the jungle will little internet service, while the other members have full time jobs, and animals that depend on them in their daily lives. We agree that conversations about differing opinions hold be fosters. However, there is little point in approving comments that slander us or threaten us. And you’ve not seen any threatening comment because they were not posted. We should not have to post threats simply to prove that they were made.
In reference to your section of Kevin Richardson: I agree that the writer of the original article you linked to had a misleading (and incorrect) title to their article. However, you are accusing other media outlets of spreading false information, yet you are doing the same. Kevin did not buy Aslan as a cub. He does not own “dozens” of white lions (he owns four). And his lions aren’t trained for movies (aside from loading into a transport vehicle, which is necessary for a host of other reasons besides filming).
Also, being as though Kevin is not the one producing the video, of course he’s not going to address all the things you wanted him to. If you click on the website at the end of the video, Fixodent has several other videos, one of which Kevin talks about white lions having bad genes (Aslan’s dental issues may very well be due to his inbreeding), canned hunting, and why he purchased his lions (so yes, he makes it clear he bought them). In his personal youtube videos, Kevin does address many of the other things you wanted addressed.
Perhaps you think Kevin is exploiting Aslan and other lions by partnering with Fixodent for the #savingaslan campaign, but I am very thankful fixodent sponsored Aslan’s surgery. Aslan was a VERY grumpy cat before they realized the extent of his dental issues, and after the surgery he is a completely different cat. The demeanor of his entire pride has changed, and it is heartwarming to see how different those boys are these days. Kevin’s sanctuary is not open to the public, so filming helps offset the costs of running the sanctuary and providing great veterinary care. If I had to be a captive lion, there is no where I would rather be than at Kevin’s sanctuary 🙂
I’m not sure where you discovered that Kevin owns exactly 4 white lions. I was not able to find a specific number of white lions, so you might be right about there being only four of them. It’s hard to tell them apart in photographs and get an accurate count. I did, however, find this Q & A page on the website dedicated to ‘Saving Aslan’ which states that Kevin’s sanctuary ‘is home to hundreds of animals, including lions, tigers, cheetahs, and hyenas, among others.’ and I found this article which specifies that there are 26 lions at the park, as well as this one which states that Kevin has known Aslan since he was a cub. Kevin has stated more than once that he’s known ALL of his lions since they were cubs, and that he bought a number of them to ‘save’ them from the canned hunting industry (something he did succeed in doing) so it isn’t unreasonable to count Aslan among those he purchased as cubs or young animals.
As for your assertion that none of Kevin’s animals are ‘trained for movies or filming’ I humbly offer this link to Kevin’s own site under the heading of ‘commercial filming’ which lists why filming at the facility with Kevin in charge of the animals – whether for a ‘feature, commercial, or documentary’ – is ‘truly a filmmaker’s dream’ and how Kevin’s ‘unique ability to do dangerous stunt doubling with lions and working species like hyena and leopard, that not many others can; means that the facility is at the forefront of the wild animal filming industry.’ I’m sorry, but if that isn’t advertising your animals for use in the film industry, I’m not sure what is.
I did not single out Aslan’s tooth video because I found it, specifically, any more exploitive than I find any other of Richardson’s videos. I pointed it out because it wasn’t making the rounds on the internet as a video about a captive lion getting his teeth fixed, but rather was showing up in my news feed repeatedly as ‘a wild lion being helped and then released’. It is the position of the ICARUS group that every video Kevin makes that portrays him directly interacting with his lions is exploitation of those lions, and something that potentially damages and negates every good thing Kevin does for conservation. I’m glad that Aslan got his teeth fixed, and that fixodent was able to assist in that effort. It does not, however, change the fact that Kevin routinely does what hundreds of thousands of people dream of doing, and then looks at the public and say’s but you can’t do this, because you’re not special like me. Kevin himself acknowledges in many articles like this one, that him interacting with animals, and then telling others not to do the same thing is a paradox. He also says that you cannot expect people to follow the rules, because it’s human nature to ignore them. He’s right. No human wants to be told ‘you can’t do this’. In fact, after being told that they can’t do something because they’ll fail, most people will then set out to prove the naysayer wrong. Telling animals lovers that they can never have the sort of relationship with their favorite animals that they believe they can have is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
It is a fact that over the course of recorded history thousands of people have had special relationships with unusual animals. There have been many recorded incidents of lost children living with wolves, or elephant herds, of children in the bush living with animals that should have killed them. In that regard, Kevin really isn’t special at all. The difference is that in this media-mad world, Kevin’s interactions are broadcast around the planet, to hundreds of thousands of children who watch and then think ‘When I grow up, I want to run with lions too.’ This is why the ICARUS group does not support direct interaction. Because we believe that you cannot teach others to ‘do as you say, not as you do’. You must instead lead by example, and show them what they should do. If Kevin interacted with his cats in privacy, and did not make a spectacle of himself, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all because we’d never know he was doing it. So long as he continues to promote his own behavior, though, the ICARUS group cannot support his actions, no matter how much he speaks out for conservation.
Hi, thank you for approving my comment.
I “discovered” that Kevin owns four white lions because I have spent quite a bit of time volunteering at his sanctuary and getting to know his animals. And it would seem that whoever wrote the Q&A for Fixodent’s #savingaslan campaign was never at his sanctuary. He doesn’t own hundreds of animals (more like 50), and there are no tigers or cheetahs at his sanctuary. He only has lions, hyenas & several black leopards. (Totally reminds me of that “it’s on the internet, so it must be true” commercial… using another website as your reference doesn’t mean it’s accurate.)
And yes, he’s known all of his animals as youngsters, but that does NOT mean he purchased them as cubs. Kevin formed relationships with these animals from an early age at his previous job. It was not until many years later that he was able to secure their future and relocate them to his sanctuary.
And finally, yes he advertises filming at his sanctuary; saying that he trains his animals for filming is inaccurate though. I think you are confusing this with Hollywood animal wranglers who rent their animals out for commercials or photo shoots and train them to hit marks or do certain acts on cue. Any filming Kevin does at his sanctuary is based on natural animal behaviors, not training. I have been present for several different shoots and I have never once seen any evidence that they are “trained” to do anything (aside from loading in a vehicle), nor does he try to “command” them to do anything (the most I’ve heard is a simple “Come here boy/girl”). Based on what a production company has in mind, Kevin can pick and choose which lions he thinks will have the highest likelihood of success based on their personalities, but beyond that, it’s up to what the lion chooses to do. For example, a couple of them are very playful and will jump on Kevin any chance they get, others just want his affection and will walk anywhere he goes or run towards him if he is gone. Some seem to love laying down and cuddling with him while others would rather roam; it’s just based on their personalities.
As I mentioned before, filming helps support the sanctuary financially. Having seen it first hand, I personally would’t call it exploitation by any means; the animals enjoy getting out of their enclosures and interacting with Kevin, and the money directly benefits the animals and their care. He tries to give them the most natural life in captivity he can, so I would much rather see him drawing in money from filming than having to open his sanctuary to the public and having hundreds of tourists gawk at and disturb his animals all day long. You can disagree with his methods, but I challenge you to design a plan for a sanctuary that will give the animals as natural of a life possible while consistently bringing in money to cover operating costs and veterinary care. If you surveyed people, I would imagine that the number of people who have watched Kevin’s videos, and then thought “hmm… let me go out and befriend a lion” is immeasurably small. Personally I think he does more good than harm… he’s certainly opened the eyes of many people regarding the plight of lions in the wild, canned hunting, etc.
I understand the ICARUS group wanting to take a hard stance on direct interaction, we are all entitled to our opinions. I personally feel that there should not be direct interaction UNLESS it benefits the animal, but we are allowed to disagree. What I take issue with though, is the fact that you have directly criticized Kevin in at least three articles already, and they have all contained false information, thus painting an inaccurate picture of his sanctuary and his methods. Stating things as fact, like he bought these animals as cubs, owns dozens of white lions, trains his animals, etc. is incorrect and irresponsible. With as incorrect as your depiction of Kevin is, how am I to know that the rest you write about other topics is accurate? Since this is being touted as a “graduate research project”, many might assume that what you write is thoroughly researched and correct, when in reality it doesn’t seem to be. Personally, I think many of your articles could be just as effective without bashing individual people. For example, stating ICARUS’ stance on direct interaction, or in this most recent one, trying to convince people to look more into viral videos that are shared rather than taking it at face value… valid points that don’t require singling out individual people or videos. For now, I’m not sure how much I can trust a “conservation” blog that criticizes people trying to contribute to conservation by using information that isn’t even factual.
Thank you for your time.
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Agree to disagree on many points. As far as researching facts about people like Kevin goes, it’s a time consuming, and virtually impossible task, but one to which we apply ourselves diligently. However, people like Kevin don’t actually state a great many facts about themselves, and seem to have little concern for what ‘facts’ are actually endorsed by their own associates, such as with the Fixodent video. If neither Kevin, nor someone with his authority has even perused the ‘facts’ being listed by a company about their own foundation in regard to a campaign that they’re engaged in together, the public (and we at ICARUS are members of the public) cannot be faulted for not knowing the truth, when the truth has never been defined.
That said, we never insinuated that Kevin ever ‘rented’ his animals, only that he uses them for filming, and that by interacting with them directly in these films, he’s exploiting them. Of course sanctuaries must be able to support themselves. That does not have to be done via direct interaction. Kevin chooses to do it through direct interaction, capitalizing on his own celebrity status.
As you are someone who has worked with Kevin personally, and very obviously think that he’s doing nothing wrong, there is little point in trying to convince you otherwise. This is the problem with citing those who directly interact with their captive wild animals. There are thousands of people willing to list reasons as to why a certain person is an exception to the rule, and why it’s okay for them to do things that no one else should ever do. Pretty soon, everyone is an exception to the rule.
We’ll also agree to disagree on what constitutes ‘benefiting the animal’. For the ICARUS group, medical attention, rehabilitation after surgery, etc. benefits the animal. Talking walks in the sunset, rolling around on the ground, roughhousing and swimming do not, in our perspective, ‘benefit’ the animal when the animal is capable of doing those things without a human going with them.
As for pointing out individuals, the ICARUS group cannot see a way to change conservation without actually pointing out what it is that needs to change within our current conservation methods. With thousands upon thousands of videos of celebrities holding and playing with baby big cats at lauded ‘sanctuaries’ and ‘rescue’ centers flooding the internet, along with cable television and social media touting shows focused on ‘gifted’ people and their ‘special bonds’ with wild animals, there is no feasible way to counter the fad other than calling out those who are helping to propagate it. So long as high profile people like Kevin glorify directly interacting with captive wild animals, the public will never latch onto the concept that interacting with wild animals is bad for the animal.
I wish you would focus on other issues that do not revolve around Kevin and the utilization of misguided information to bash him. We’re not saying everything he does is right, but to manipulate information or do inadequate research just to prove your own point or opinion is just the same as a viral video or interview only showing its audience what it wants them to see. This is not the first time this blog has stated misleading and non-factual information about Kevin and it sucks to see so many blog posts supposedly dedicated to conservation which simply act as a witch-hunt to “oust” the so-called exploitation of animals by someone like Kevin.
Is there a reason for the fixation and obsession?
Which ‘misguided information’ are your referring to? And which information do you think has been ‘manipulated’? Kevin is a very high profile person, who romps and plays and directly interacts with his animals, just like every other person who directly interacts with their animals that the ICARUS group has talked about. There is no video of Kevin interacting with the lion which shows the audience anything but a man directly interacting with lions or hyenas. Kevin has purchased some of his animals, a fact which is largely overlooked. Yes he saved them. He also purchased them, which subsequently put money into the canned hunting business. Does Kevin support canned hunting? Of course not. We would never accuse him of supporting things that damage the animals he cares about. We agree that Kevin has spoken out in the name of conservation many, many time. However, his very prominent, and ubiquitous videos of playing with and interacting with his lions does damage the public perception of true conservation. It lends credence to the idea that if someone has enough land they can rescue lions and have a special relationship with them, and do the same things that Kevin does. This only adds to the already huge problem of captive wild animals, so we can not, and will not, avoid calling a spade a spade.
My comments on your blog have been deleted in the past so I am hoping you will at least give this one a chance prior to removing it.
I understand that was your project is doing is working to raise awareness; and yes, everyone involved in your project has their heart in the right place. However, perhaps you need to consider that continuously bashing one individual, like Kevin (especially in several articles) makes it look as though you have nothing else to write about when it comes to interactions. For example, what about Black Jaguar White Tiger? What about other facilites which masquerade as sanctuaries but are actually littered with animals they’ve purchased and lied about rescuing? I do extensive research for any article and/or blog post I write, and when you mention that “why, oh why, Stone, can you not grasp the need for research in your articles?” and state things like “people like Kevin don’t actually state a great many facts about themselves, and seem to have little concern for what ‘facts’ are actually endorsed by their own associates” it evidences that you have not done adequate research. I have been in contact with Kevin and his wife several times; I have read his book, have done research, have looked into his background, his history with lions, etc. Though I don’t agree with his videos on Youtube, you should also consider that many other sanctuaries utilize videos and social media to raise awareness for funding, for certain issues, etc.
One such facility is BCR, which regularly upload photos and videos of their cats, many of which feature up-close photos or video shots which I’m assuming are done via some sort of go-pro contraption. Additionally, I have seen on your Facebook and here on your blog pictures of people holding sloths, feeding them, etc. How is that any different from Kevin rescuing a lion and giving it a save-haven?
You mention that he has purchased his lions. Unfortunately, that’s yet another “fact” you use that isn’t actually a fact. I know of at least 2 lions at his sanctuary who were not purchased, because I worked for the NGO whose memebers helped rescue those two lions from horrid conditions and were able to bring them to Kevin’s sanctuary. Kevin does not purchase every cat he owns, and as others have mentioned here, the cats he did purchase were purchased so he could give them a better home. Most of these cats were not cubs, despite what you state here.
I respect your opinions, but like others I also challenge you to find a sanctuary that can keep afloat without using social media for awareness, or without raising funds in some manner which, yes, does include having the public know about their sanctuary and cats. BCR for instance allows the public through regularly, and all that separates them from the animals is fencing….with Kevin, he does not let the public nor volunteers anywhere near his lions. In fact, from what I have seen and heard directly from volunteers, most of their days at his sanctuary are spent helping with maintenance, etc.
The fact that you have deleted many people’s comments in the past which simply disagree with your opinions, and the notion that using false information and viral videos to prove some of your points when fixating on one specific conservationist, makes me feel very odd about trusting the information on this blog. The project is apparently a graduate project and yet I have not seen the project doing much to raise awareness about conservation in the “real” world, aside from on social media. I would love to see your work with NGOs, NPOs, etc. because blog posts do not a conservation effort make. Though I do agree with some of your points about other conservationists who want limelight more than adequate welfare for their animals. Hopefully this comment will not be deleted, though I’m not sure what the point of having a blog is if you won’t allow people to discuss varrying points of view. Conversation after all is part of conservation.
I appreciate that those who believe in Kevin feel defensively about him. That said, in your desire to defend Kevin, it seems that you have not registered the fact that Kevin has never been singled out to be ‘bashed’ in any sort of personal attack. Rather, he has been included in a group of multiple celebrity conservationists who ALL participate in directly interacting with the animals in their care. Each post in which Kevin has been mentioned, others – including BJWT – have also been mentioned. Some of them multiple times.
As to the facts that you insist are erroneous. We never said that Kevin bought all of his animals, only that he did buy animals. And he has bought animals. Therefore it is a true fact. Information has been pulled directly from Kevin’s own sites. If the facts on his own websites is erroneous, it is his responsibility to correct them.
Never, in any of the posts, has the ICARUS team criticized a sanctuary or group for using videos or social media to help support themselves. We have only criticized those who used videos which celebrate and promote direct interaction. For information on the sloths seen in the photos on our various sites, please check out The Sloth Sanctuary Of Costa Rica. Because of the nature of sloths it is literally impossible to offer medical attention, or rehabilitation without touching them in order to transport them. However, the public is not allowed to directly interact with them, nor are the animals ever played with.
No comments have ever been deleted from our blog that I’m aware of. We have, however, chosen to not approve some of them. That is our prerogative, as it is our blog, and any comment which contains threats, or comments which are nothing more than a repetition of opinions which have been stated in previous comments will not be posted. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and we try to allow for discussion. That said, accusing us of having an agenda to attack Kevin personally, while at the same time stating that Kevin isn’t like other conservationists who directly interact with their animals – even though they all directly interact with our animals – only reinforces the reason behind why ICARUS is so steadfastly against hands off conservation. Because you can’t pick and choose who is allowed to do it, and who isn’t.
I’m curious though as to why all of your articles are about the same thing…it appears as though the only thing to be written about it hands-on contact. There are so many other issues you could be focusing on, and perhaps this would solidify more trust from your readers if you were to cover topics other than critiquing the actions of false sanctuaries. I don’t recall every leaving a threatening or violent comment, so I’m not sure why my others were not approved. However, in saying all of that, I would be more compelled to follow your blog if it contained more valuable information that isn’t reserved strictly to repetitive posts about kevin, bjwt and others. So many people cover these topics and they are repeatedly written about here with the same content. Would you consider covering other topics, such as wild lion population decline, the lion bone trade, the corruption of governments which allow big-cat exploitation, etc? Those topics need and deserve serious focus.
It seems as though you haven’t actually read any of our other posts. As a group we’ve now posted 25 times (we’d like to post more, but with two member in the middle of the jungle in Costa Rica, and the other members juggling full time jobs, it’s difficult) and of those 25 times, only 3 of them name and criticize pseudo sanctuaries who handle their animals, or allow the public to handle them. If you’re referring to ‘your articles’ in the terms of articles written by me, specifically, I’ve written 13 of the 25, and of that 25, again, only 3 of them name names. The other 22 articles contain a myriad of valuable information, some of it gain by firsthand, in the field experience of out team member who are currently in Costa Rica working with two separate rescue centers and sanctuaries. While we have touched on the decline of wild lion populations, that subject, along government corruption, and issues regarding the conflicts between the rights of Indigenous people and conservation efforts and similar subjects will be addressed in future posts. I will gladly add the matter of the lion bone trade to our post list as it is a great suggestion. Like our other posts, these will require thorough research and take some time to put together.
I have read a few of the other blog postd that are not in relation to critiquing Kevin Richardson’s work. However, seeing the misuse of information and sometimes lack of factual evidence has deterred me from reading other material on this blog further. Best of luck to you and your project
Apologies for the lengthy delay in responding, Jacalyn, I’ve been dealing with some serious health issues and have gotten very behind on our blog. You have potential as a writer, yet I feel that you need to develop your conservational objectivity. One of your own articles ‘Walking With Lions For Conservation is BS and Here’s Why‘ is well written and thoroughly details everything that is wrong with the practice of walking with lions and labeling it as conservation.
However, you then come to our blog, and vehemently defend Kevin Richardson – who publicly walks with and plays with his own lions, often in the name of conservation and spreading the word about the plight of wild lions. No, Richardson does not allow the public to interact with his lions, but by walking and interacting with them himself, he sets an example to others that it is *possible* to do this without damaging the lions. ALERT and its ‘walking with lion tours’ were established in 2005 as per your own article, and Richardson’s first documentary ‘Dangerous Companions’ which focuses on him, and his bond with the lions in his care, and shows him walking with them was released the same year. ALERT and it’s ‘walking tours’ have literally grown in size and publicity directly alongside Kevin and his documentaries which highlight his own walking with lions and playing with hyenas.
Your lack of objectivity toward Kevin clouds your efforts in conservation, as it presents a hypocritical position on the subject of walking and interacting with lions. You highlight one group, ALERT (which ICARUS firmly agrees with you on them) and then turn around and accuse the ICARUS group of ‘misusing information’ and ‘lacking factual evidence’ in our articles about Richardson. You infer that we have some sort of vendetta against him simply because we do not believe that Richardson’s interaction helps conservation, but instead believe that they only highlight the romanticism of walking with and interacting with lions and other big cats, and in the same breath you imply that Richardson is somehow exempt from hands off conservation but offer no reason as to why it’s acceptable for him to do what you, yourself have touted as ‘BS’ in you article about ALERT. You also in another comment said that it is ‘no secret’ that ICARUS ‘has ties to BRC’ (or so you’ve ‘heard’) which is hardly researching and verifying a fact. Rather, you’re using hearsay as an inflammatory note within your argument.
As I said, you are a talented writer, and someone the ICARUS group would love to continue working with, and supporting (and having the support of) in the future, but we will not exclude Kevin Richardson from our list of people who damage conservation so long as he continues to publicize his interaction with the animals in his care.
I apologize for how quickly things turned into a petty argument. Wether convos instigated it or not ,Artemis and I should not be so easily angered. Honestly, I felt like you said some rather unkind things previously on our blog. You were very quick to judge. I remember shouting to the rooftops when I read your article and I even drafted an email to invite you to come and report on the summit and meet all the amazing conservationists I worked so hard to get there. And the when I realized you had frequented our blog , how quick you were to judge and how unkind some of your statements were my heart fell. You refuse to even acknowledge the other articles posts on sharks, banana plantations , circus cruelty, canned hunts and our field work in Central America. Everyone in ICARUS is a volunteer, we full time jobs, families, homes , responsibilities and some of us are in school ( I’m in a PhD program focused on wildlife crime) and it’s very hard for me as the founder to juggle all if this. I do it because it’s my passion and my life’s work , but I’m sure you know conservation is a thankless and underpaid ( or not paid at all ) job. I don’t think as a young woman who gets paid to fight the good fight, which is awesome, that you understand that there are many of us doing good work as well, even if we must try harder to balance it. We just can’t spend every second responding. I’d frankly rather be in the field working or something that Utilizes my time more effectively. I spent my life savings to work in Costa Rica and ICARUS is my baby. I hope in the future we’ll both remember that we are on the same side more or less. I maintain that you wrote an amazing article and truly no one begrudges you the recognition . I did not intend to throw around that I paid to promote your article. What I was trying to convey was that I felt so passionately about your work that I was willing to sacrifice valuable ICARUS funds ( i.e.: my hard earned money) to share its important message. Simply put, I was willing for your message to put my money where my mouth is. We support the article (and several others you have written ) fully and continue to talk about its incredible value in taking down BJWT. Good luck. Peace 🙂
I fully understand the message you are trying to convey to the public. I have always had mixed feelings about those who claim to be conservationists and exploit wild animals for publicity, fame and profit. There is an organization called Big Cat Rescue who shares your philosophy. They do not promote interaction with big cats or any other wild animal. Dave Salmoni is another example of someone who has caused a great deal of controversy among conservationists. Granted, he operates a big cat sanctuary but he also owns his own production company and has filmed shows such as, Living With Tigers. Having friends in South Africa and learning the true meaning of conservationism I can honestly say, they are completely against any type of interaction and exploitation of any animal. The majority of sanctuaries do not promote any type of interaction and are not looking for fame. I understand some of this may bring attention to the plight of wildlife but I also understand it does send the wrong message about conservationism. True conservationism is the preservation of our wildlife in their natural habitats without human interaction and exploitation. Again, my conservation friends in South Africa are completely against this interaction and fame these celebrities have garnered for themselves. Their goal is to bring as much awareness to the plight of wildlife as possible not celebrity status. Unfortunately there will be many who read this blog and feel as though you are only attacking celebrities when in fact you are trying to make people understand the true meaning of conservationism.
You have targeted the wrong person for your article. Black Jaguar White Tiger are exactly what you describe. Go to his Instagram account where you will find all the amunition you need to support your opinions. I dare you too. Warning though., whereas Kevin is a humble gentleman Eddie has a vile vitriolic mouth and I’m sure you will be hearing from him and his many vapid groupies that know nothing about the “hands off” approach to conservation.
Thank you for suggesting that we check out Black Jaguar Whit Tiger. If you notice, we have, in several posts, directly called Eduardo and his actions out, and we will continue to do so.
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I just have one thing to say. I don’t agree with you at all on your argument against media. Social media is incredibly important to any company, organization, or individual trying to spread a message, promote a cause, sell a product, etc. This is why NASA is so heavy on social media now, as well as Oceana, as well as National Geographic, and more. As someone who writes for a blog I believe you would realize this, as you are using this platform to spread your ideas and opinions. So an organization seeking out media attention or posting heavily to social media on a daily basis doesn’t say anything to me about how legitimate or not it is. To me, that shows they understand the opportunities that technology is offering and how it could strengthen their cause and that they have a good grasp on the importance of marketing. Just as businesses use it to strengthen their sales.
The purpose of this article was not to argue against all media. You’re completely right that media is a vital part of conservation and raising awareness (now, in the social media age, more than ever) My stand against media here is in how the media is used by certain groups or people to gain attention to themselves, or their pseudo sanctuaries. Sometimes, as I said, you don’t even have control over how your or your group is presented by an outside entity within the field of media, but many times, as in the case of groups like T.I.G.E.R.S. or Dade City Wild Things, or possibly the worse offender, Eduardo Serio and his Black Jaguar White Tiger they use media to serve themselves, not the animals. These groups intentionally use the media to further themselves and their own interests, rather than actual conservation awareness or laws that might protect animals in the future.
Outstanding members of the conservation, environmental and animal protection movement like Jane Goodall laud social media, and use it to help raise awareness about all sorts of environmental and conservational issues. The key is in using the media to focus on problems and their possible solutions, not people and their individual actions. Eduardo Serio argues that he’s ‘raising awareness with his angels’ but studies show that by habituating humans to direct contact with captive wild animals, you actually create a sense that those animals are not, in fact, endangered, but are instead available for purposes such as the direct interactions. Here is a very interesting article by a Duke University Masters student on the obsession humans have with direct interaction with wild animals. Serio, and those like him, use social media to exploit the perverse quirk in human psychology, making themselves, their own direct interaction with captive wild animals, and the possibility of others being allowed to share that interaction the center of attention in their media presence. Nothing in their media presence directs attention to the problems associated with wild animals, or their conservation. Rather, it promotes captive breeding, and even insists that captive breeding is a good thing that can somehow solve the problems associated with wild animals, which is simply not true.
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