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The Big Cat Facts About The Big Cat Public Safety Act

Recently there was great excitement within the conservation community in regard to the Big Cat Public Safety Act, as it was officially introduced into the Senate. There was also a less than enthusiastic reaction from the owners of pseudo sanctuaries who currently possess, and/or display big cats for profit, and/or allow the public to interact with big cats, or big cat cubs.

Then a news report aired wherein Lori Ensign-Scroggins of Safari Sanctuary was interviewed, and wherein she detailed some of the “problems” with the BCPSA. Lori alluded to the possibility that if the BCPSA was passed, big cats who were currently in the possession of private owners would be released into the wild where they would starve, and die, or that they would be confiscated from their current owners, and relegated to a life inside “cement horse stalls” and that “sanctuaries” like hers will go out of business, leaving other big cats in need of rescue to suffer and die.

Such speculations and assertions are designed to elicit responses from both animal welfare groups, who want to protect big cats from such fates, and at the same time, from the public, who will be equalled abhorred at the idea of animals being left to suffer, and terrified of finding a loose big cat in their backyard. And let me be clear that it was Lori Ensign-Scroggins, owner of Safari Sanctuary, not reporter Sharon Phillips, who made these assertions. Lori did so intentionally to try and raise opposition to the BCPSA, and make herself, and the big cats in her care, look like victims.

As the facts of the BCPSA are much, much different from the portrayal offered by Lori, I, along with others, promptly emailed Sharon Phillips, conveying our concerns about it and the inaccuracies with its portrayal of the BCPSA. In my own email, I pointed out the fact that Lori, herself, lost her USDA license back in 2012 due to repeated infractions and failures to comply with the USDA standards for a wildlife sanctuary. There has been at least one fatal mauling at Safari Sanctuary which can be attributed to failure to adhere to protocol.

I received a reply from Phillips in which she asked if I would be willing to speak with her on the matter. I told her I would be pleased to do so, but that she might prefer speaking with Jessica James, the founder of ICARUS, who was part of a team that worked on behalf of the BCPSA bill, and thus was more familiar with it. She said she hoped to make contact with Jessica, but we have not yet heard anything more from Ms. Phillips. Hopefully, we will hear from her, or she will make further contact with others who have participated in the making of the BCPSA, and who can subsequently provide her with correct information regarding it. As of right now, links to the article and video have been disabled with no explanation. We can only surmise that this was done in an attempt to gather more information and then alter the report accordingly.

There is, very unfortunately, a huge pressure on today’s reporters to produce not necessarily the ‘boring’ facts of a matter, but instead, the emotionally galvanizing, and tantalizing stories relating to it. The reporters have no control over the contrived falsehoods offered by their interviewees which are often designed to further the interests of specific parties beyond the control of the reporter doing the interview or spotlight. A little more digging before stories run, however, will usually shed light on the truth of those so eager to go on record condemning bills such as the BCPSA.

So, here are the big cat facts about the Big Cat Public Safety Act.

Under the Big Cat Public Safety Act:

No member of the prohibited wildlife species currently held in private captivity will ever be released into the wild. Nowhere within the BCPSA is there any stipulation or suggestion that any member of the prohibited wildlife species currently held by private owners should be released into the wild. To suggest such would be both unethical, and in direct conflict with the entire purpose of the BCPSA, which is to maintain the safety of both big cats, and the public.

Nowhere in the BCPSA does it state that big cats who are currently in the possession of private owners will be taken from those owners. Big cats born before the bill, and currently being privately held (with certain exceptions, based on situation) will be ‘grandfathered in’ and allowed to remain where they are. Their owners simply will not be allowed to obtain, through breeding or rescue, any new members of the prohibited wildlife species.

Under the general terms of the bill: It is unlawful for any person—
(A) to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase a live animal of any prohibited wildlife species–
(i) in interstate or foreign commerce; or
(ii) in a manner substantially affecting interstate or foreign commerce; or
(B) to breed or possess a live animal of any prohibited wildlife species.

This hardly needs translation, as it means exactly what it says. The general public will be prohibited from owning, or engaging in any of the aforementioned activities with any member of a prohibited wildlife species.

4) There are exceptions to these limitations.
Paragraph (1) does not apply to any person that–
(A) is an institution accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums;
(B) is a facility that–
(i) has an active written contract with an Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan or Taxon Advisory Group for the breeding of prohibited wildlife species; and (ii) does not breed, acquire, or sell prohibited wildlife species other than the prohibited wildlife species covered by a contract described in clause (i);
(C) is a State college, university or agency, or State-licensed veterinarian;
(D) (i) is a wildlife sanctuary that cares for prohibited wildlife species;
(ii) is a corporation that–is exempt from taxation under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and described in sections 501(c)(3) and 170(b)(1)(A)(vi) of such Code;does not commercially trade in prohibited wildlife species, including offspring, parts, and byproducts of prohibited wildlife species; does not breed the prohibited species; does not allow direct contact between the public and prohibited wildlife species; and does not allow the transportation and display of prohibited wildlife species offsite.
(E) has custody of the prohibited wildlife species solely for the purpose of expeditiously transporting the prohibited wildlife species to a person described in this paragraph with respect to the prohibited wildlife species.

This is a long one, but the meat of it is very simple. If your sanctuary is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the BCPSA won’t affect you. Similarly, if you have a contract with the AZA, so long as you do not exceed the boundaries of said contract you are in compliance. If you’re a university, agency or state-licensed vet, you are exempt. Most importantly, you  cannot breed, sell, trade, transport or allow the public to interact with your animals. To recap our recap, don’t exploit the prohibited wildlife species, and you’re in the clear. Easy peasy.

5) Five is really a continuation of four, but I wanted to break it up because four was already pretty long. So 5 or, in the bill as it’s properly listed, (F) is
(i) is in possession of a prohibited wildlife species that was born before the date of enactment of the Big Cat Public Safety Act of 2016
(ii) no later than 180 days after the date of enactment of the Big Cat Public Safety Act of 2016 is registered with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service;
(iii) does not breed, acquire, or sell prohibited wildlife species after the date of that Act; and
(iv) does not allow direct contact between the public and prohibited wildlife species;

Remember back up at 2) where I said that big cats who are currently in the possession of private owners would not be confiscated or–inconceivably–released into the wild? Well, above is the verbatim wording from the BCPSA itself. Anyone who is in possession of a member of the prohibited wildlife species that was born before the date of enactment of the BCPSA, and who registers with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and agrees not to breed, acquire, or sell those prohibited wildlife species after the enactment of the BCPSA will be allowed to keep their animals.

The stipulation of not breeding prohibited wildlife species after the enactment of the bill is vital to stopping the use of cubs for cub petting, which is one of the most prominent exploitations of big cats. Breeding cubs and allowing the public to handle them is never about conservation of a species, no matter what anyone says. It’s about making money by charging the public to handle the cats.

So, if the Big Cat Public Safety Act is passed, no captive animals will be released into the wild. No captive animals will be stolen away from their current owners and condemned to cement prisons. No big cats are going to be left to suffer or languish because there are no longer sanctuaries to rescue them. For as long as there are big cats who need to be rescued, there will be accredited and licensed sanctuaries to rescue them and subsequently house and care for them.

When viewed objectively, the Big Cat Public Safety Act seeks to end the continued breeding, selling, and exploitation of captive big cats, while curbing the illegal trade and trafficking of wild big cats, and eradicating the highly publicized and then instantly forgotten incidents of mauling and fatal interactions between captive big cats and those around them. All of these goals are rational, and reasonable goals.

The only people and industries that will be damaged by the enactment of the Big Cat Public Safety Act are those who subsist on monies derived from breeding, selling, trafficking, and exploiting the animals being protected by the Act.

I challenge anyone reading this article to research any person who has publicly spoken out against the Big Cat Public Safety Act. You will not do so and find a person who is not actively breeding, selling, or allowing the public to handle their big cats. You will not find anyone who has not either lost an USDA license or failed to ever obtain one, or who is already registered with the associations mentioned in this article. The only people who are fighting the BCPSA are the ones who are hurting the big cats now. Yes, there are private owners out there who love their big cats, but those owners are not going to lose their animals. They’re only going to lose the ability to breed or purchase more big cats. This is not a Federal “gun raid” wherein “big government” is treading on fundamental human rights.

This is about conservation, and protecting what wild animals we have left, while keeping them wild. It’s about protecting what captive big cats currently exist, and keeping them from being any more exploited than they already are. And it’s about protecting the public, who may not even know that their neighbor owns a big cat, until one day their child wonders next door and never comes home.

So please, do your research, decide for yourself whether or not the Big Cat Public Safety Act (HR 3546 / S 2541) is a good thing. And when you agree that it is, call your local Senator, and Representatives and ask them to support the bill. Every voice will matter, and every voice will make a difference. And remember, if someone is in opposition of the BCPSA, check and see if they’re a GFAS accredited sanctuary, or if they’re someone who actually uses their animals for making money through exploitation. If you need more information on how to contact your local Senator and Representative, check here.

Author: Artemis Grey

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Special Snowflake Syndrome: The Truth Behind ‘Special Bonds’ And How Celebrity Conservationists Build Them On Assembly Lines

People love to witness–or even better, personally experience–a special bond with animals. It’s why we have them as pets, why we devote so much time, attention, and money to them. Spiritual bonds with animals are a very real thing, and they can enrich your life exponentially.

Not all bonds are equal, however.

The differences between how those bonds are created divides them profoundly between spiritual, and ritual. The words, spiritual, and ritual, might sound similar but their meanings are paradoxically opposite.

Spiritual is defined as relating to, or consisting of spirit, incorporeal. Of or relating to the spirit, or soul as distinguished from the physical nature. Closely akin in interests, attitude, outlook.

Ritual is defined as an established or prescribed procedure. A system, or observance of set forms. Any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner.

Scenario #1

The foal of a reclaimed wild horse is intentionally taken from its mother. Trailered hundreds of miles away, the foal, which is not yet even weaned, is placed in a high-walled pen. It can neither see out, nor escape. The pen is dirt, with no grass or water. The foal is left alone, screaming for its mother, for any member of the herd from which it was taken. After a day or two, a man comes and opens the pen. He offers the foal a bottle, but it’s too afraid to come close. The man leaves. By now, the foal has no voice left to scream.

The next morning, the man comes back, and the foal is so hungry and weak that it accepts the bottle he offers it. The milk tastes good, and the foal feels better. When the man comes back, the foal goes to him readily. As the foal grows, and stops drinking milk, the man begins bringing it hay, and water. When the man is not there, the foal has nothing. When the man comes, the foal has food and water and companionship. Eventually, the man puts a halter on the foal, and the foal grows into a horse. To the horse, the man is the entire world. The horse will do anything for him because it has no memory of a time in which the man was not there, no memory of a world in which the man was not the center of its existence.

If asked to, the horse will lie down and allow the man to climb on top of it. The horse will rear, walk on its hind legs, kneel. It will even jump through fire, or allow things that terrify it to happen, simply because the man tells it to stand still and allow it to happen.

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Scenario #2

An adult wild horse is taken to live on a large ranch, turned loose in a large field, with plenty of grass and a creek running through it. Every day a man goes out and check on the horse, sometimes walking very far out into the field to find it. The horse always runs from him, and he never chases it. He walks the fence line, checking it for holes or debris. The horse often watches him, but never gets close. Sometimes he goes out into the field and sits in the grass eating his lunch. Occasionally the horse creeps closer. The man pretends not to notice, but he always leaves his apple core behind, and once he leaves the field, the horse ventures over, smelling the scent he leaves behind. It finds the apple cores, and eats them. Eventually, when the mans appears, the horse will come closer. If he puts an apple down, and backs away, the horse will approach and eat the apple. When the snow comes, the man returns every day and breaks the ice on the creek to make sure the horse can drink. He scrapes snow away from the grass, and leaves hay in its place. The horse watches from the shelter of the trees.

Eventually, the horse doesn’t look at the man with suspicion when he comes to its field. Sometimes it follows him as he checks the fence. Sometimes it doesn’t bother to stop grazing. It knows the man won’t do anything to hurt it, because he’s never done anything to hurt it. It understands that he lives here, and it lives here. He likes apples, and it likes apples. It has no herd, but the man is sort of like a small herd. He does things a herd would do. He keeps the horse company, and the horse keeps him company.

One day while the man is checking the fence line, he falls down. He can’t stand up. Coyotes hear him yelling for help. The horse hears him, too. It goes to see what’s happening, and finds the coyotes circling it’s man. It’s herd. Rushing in defensively, the horse fights the coyotes, off, kicking them, and driving them away until they leave entirely. But the man still can’t get up. It’s getting dark, and very cold. The horse stays by the man, making sure that the coyotes don’t come back. Eventually, the man stops trying to move. The horse lies down close to him, and when he rolls up against it, the horse doesn’t move. It lies beside the man for hours, and then as the sun rises, other people appear in the field. There are lots of them, and they’re all yelling. The horse leaps up and runs away, then circles back to watch as the people finds its man and takes him away. The next day, its man returns hobbling on sticks, and he brings lots of apples with him.

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Now, if I were to ask you which one of the men in these scenarios had a spiritual bond with the horse, I have little doubt that you would say the man in #2. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? He’s asked nothing of the horse, and yet when he needs help the most, the horse guards him, and then keeps him warm until he’s rescued.

The baldly honest truth, though, is that a person might foster hundreds of wild horses in exactly the same manner, and no one of them would ever see him as part of the herd, not one of them would protect him from coyotes or lie beside him and keep him warm.

I’ve worked with horses–both domestic, and reclaimed mustangs–for almost thirty years, and there has been only one horse who did literally save and protect me. That’s what makes the special bond special. The fact that it is so rare. Only one horse out of hundreds that I’ve ridden, trained, helped be born, or cared for actually did save me. And in that situation, there was also a newborn foal involved, and the mare saved the foal, too, so that might well have been a situation wherein I was saved by coincidence, not intention.

And that’s okay. That doesn’t mean the horses I’ve cared for and raised didn’t love me.

The sort of spiritual connection that would cause a horse to view you as if you were another horse, is simply exceedingly rare. The sort of ritualistic connection that allows horses to interact with humans with respect and appreciation can be created through consistent, daily routine. That routine might involve depriving the horse of basic needs, so that it has no choice but to accept a relationship, or it might involve the longer process of learning to trust each other. But in either case, the bond is real, it’s just not exceptionally unique.

So, how does all of this relate to conservation and wild animals? It relates vitally if you look at celebrity conservationists like Eduardo Serio and his Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation.

Serio has–as he so often boasts–has gathered almost five million followers on Instagram, and he didn’t do it by rescuing big cats. He did it by posting videos of himself playing with adolescent big cats, and other celebrities holding and coddling newborn big cat cubs.

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Some of Serio’s cats have supposedly come from circuses, but you never see him interacting with those cats because he can’t interact with them. He possesses no “special bond” with those cats because he has not hand-raised them from birth, has not systematically forced them to develop within the conformity of his own expectations. He does not have the bonds he has with his cats because he’s special, he has those bonds because he’s trained the cats to have them.

The dozens of newborn big cat cubs Serio constantly posts videos and photos of, are available to make those videos because they’re kept inside a house, locked in various rooms, and the only interactions they have with the outside world are interactions specifically relating to Serio or his staff. Those cubs–as Serio himself has admitted–are raised from shortly after birth, sometimes from before their eyes have even opened, living in Serio’s closet, sleeping in his bed, and being constantly handled by humans, indoctrinated into the ritual of human interaction. It is literally the only thing they know, the only thing they have ever been exposed to. When celebrity guests walk with the big cats in Serio’s possession, they are not being “brave” or “becoming part of the pride” they’re doing exactly what Serio and his staff have ritualistically done with the animals 24 hours a day, seven days a week since those animals were born. The animals don’t have a choice, they don’t even know they’re capable of refusing the contact.

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Serio vehemently denies “charging the public” to play with his animals. Instead, he offers them the chance to “sponsor” one of his ‘angels’ and with each level of sponsorship the donator receives certain benefits. Originally, and up until the recent spate of articles questioning the activities of Black Jaguar White Tiger, one of the benefits for those willing to donate $1,000.00 or more per month to his foundation, was a two day visit for two people to the Foundation–the location of which remains a closely guarded secret–and while there, handling and taking photos with the animals was part of the fun. Below is that donation page as seen in the ICARUS post titled Escaping the Matrix: Lifting the Veil on Black Jaguar White Tiger’s Pseudo Conservation of Big Cats.

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Now, here is a current screenshot of BJWT’s sponsorship page. The benefit of a two day visit for two people to the Foundation has been suspiciously removed. Is this a response to the recent publicity regarding Serio’s allowance of handling? There’s no way to know. And since Serio refuses to ever admit any wrong doing at all, we’ll likely never know why the terms for $1,000.00 sponsorship were suddenly changed. Just as we’ll never know why he’s suddenly referring to BJWT as a “sanctuary” instead of “the Foundation” when they still are not a GFAS accredited sanctuary.

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With, or without, the enticement to visit the Foundation in exchange for sponsorship, Serio continues to post videos and photos daily of both himself handling his cats, and of celebrity guests handling his cats. And regardless of any recent articles criticizing him, people seem to feel as if Serio is somehow ‘sharing his special bond’ with them by allowing them to participate. Serio’s 4 million+ followers on Instagram readily agree. Anyone who questions the validity of Serio’s ‘special bond’ with his ‘kids’ is cut down with verbal assaults and assertions, often which are nor more than the accusation that these ‘haters’ are simply “jealous” of Serio’s “special bond” because the aforementioned ‘haters’ will ‘never have that bond’.

What these followers fail to grasp is that anyone who purchases wild animals as babies, and keeps them isolated with only the owner to ritually care for them, will end up with baby big cats who excitedly run to them for comfort and affection.

These same blindly supportive fans also help to share numerous videos of interspecies “friendships” without grasping the fact that these “friendships” are nothing by contrived and forced pairings of animal interaction. Yes, it is possible for unexpected bonds to occur between species which otherwise might not interact, but rarely is a camera ever there to document the activity. Only a few times has such genuine and naturally occurring bonds happened, and often they last only a brief time. Videos of orangutans bottle feeding newborn big cat cubs are strictly the figment of one’s imagination. Namely the one creating and posting the video.

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‘Doc’ Antle of T.I.G.E.R.S. is no better than Serio. In fact, Antle is a main source for many of those “unlikely friends” videos so often shared by Serio’s fans.

Antle continuously breeds–and inbreeds–big cats, bottle feeding the subsequent cubs, and hybrid cubs, using food and intimidation to impress show routines onto his cats. By the time they reach adulthood, the big cats are so ritualistically bent to a specific behavior pattern that feeding them milk from a baby bottle is their standard reward for doing as instructed. The public finds this an adorable way of giving the animals a treat, and fail to recognize it as the lynchpin in a systematic conditioning of behavior.

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For Antle, the matter of cuddling his cubs is more a tourist draw, while the training of his animals takes center stage. The principal, however, is exactly the same. Antle prides himself on making the breeding and training of his cats an entire lifestyle. Prospective interns are expected to study Antle himself, and his methods, convert to veganism, they must be single, and change their entire mindset to match precisely how Antle says they should think. It is, much the same as Serio’s followers’ obsession with his “special bond”, simply a forced, and structured, ritualistic pattern of behavior, continually reinforced by how the animals are raised and maintained.

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Similarly, Karl Mitchell has been breeding big cats for decades, regularly charging the public for the privilege of holding the subsequent offspring. Mitchell started out by training a house cat to ride a motorcycle. This is something that thousands of cat owners have done, but in Mitchell’s case, he believed that his success was a sign of his own innate ability to communicate with animals. He became a self-styled “animal guru” claiming to be able to train animals that no one else could, such as zebras and antelope. Eventually Mitchell moved on to big cats, which he insists are trained using ‘love’ as well as other methods he learned from his apprenticeships with various Hollywood animal trainers.

karl mitchell abuserBecause, apparently, feeding animals on your couch is how all the big time trainers do it.

Mitchell’s property “The Ranch” has been the host to music videos, magazine shoots, and commercials. Mitchell maintains that he’s sought out by directors because of his ability to get animals to do what he wants, because of his guru-like skill with them. The truth is that Mitchell is a man constantly fighting allegations of animal abuse and mishandling, virtually all of them related to his big cats, and how they are treated.

He also uses The Ranch to allow high paying celebrities to play with his captive big cats.

Karl_ParisParis Hilton just can’t seem to keep her hands off big cats, be it here in America with Karl, or down in Mexico at Black Jaguar White Tiger.

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Bradley Cooper sporting a bad wig, and bad judgement as he coddles a 2 month old tiger cub belonging to Karl Mitchell.

 

Serio, Antle, and Mitchell all claim to have special bonds with their animals. They all claim to be special snowflakes, different from every other person who keeps big cats as pets and allows others to play with them.

*Serio loudly proclaims that most of his ‘angels’ have been saved from circuses or other situations, despite that a huge number of his animals are far too young to have even been in a circus or possessed as pets. He refuses to spay or neuter his animals, and talks about repopulating the wild with his cats. Calls his foundation a “sanctuary” though it isn’t GFAS accredited.

*Antle insists that his breeding, and inbreeding of hybrid big cats, is necessary to the preservation of the species, and says that one day, he plans to reintroduce his cats to the wild. Also calls his businesses “sanctuaries” though neither are GFAS accredited.

*Mitchell insists that his final goal in breeding and maintaining big cats is to return them to the wild, and that he’s currently in contact with sanctuaries in India in regard to reintroducing tigers there.

All three of these men claim to have the exact same goals, the exact same bonds with their animals, and the exact same reasons for allowing the public to handle them. Everything they do, and all the money they make, they insist is for the animals.

They do it all, they say in the name of saving big cats and spreading awareness about the plights of wild big cats.

This is their mantra.

Yet while these proclamations come out of their mouths, their hands are busily handing off yet one more big cat cub to a waiting patron, eager to coddle the kitten and ‘share the special bond’ that its owner has so carefully created via ritualistic training.

By the time that kitten becomes an adult, no longer suitable for handling, another kitten will have been ‘rescued’ or otherwise secured, and will conveniently be available to help share the ‘special bond’ just like generations of assembly line victims of the special snowflake syndrome before it.

And yet millions of people all over the world continue to believe in the fairytale of special snowflakes. They continue to share Serio’s videos, and tout the ‘special bond’ he has with all of his ‘kids’. They continue to believe that people like Serio, Antle, and Mitchell should breed animals so that they can repopulate the wild spaces that currently can’t support the feeble populations of wild cats that still exist.

Until they open their eyes a recognize the ritualistic abuse for what it is, the cycle will continue.

Author: Artemis Grey

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Just Your Average Morning Cup Of Processed Partially Digested Fecal Matter

It’s been a wild couple of weeks, but I’m finally back to a point where I can get some articles written for ICARUS. As I debated what today’s article should focus on, I kicked back in the only chair not occupied by a cat, and sipped on my usual morning cup of processed partially digested fecal matter. I’m not really into keeping up with fads, but I am totally devoted to the bean, so only the best will do. In this case, the best–by current popular standards–means that the ingredients of my hot beverage have been fed to a small animal, partially digested by that animals, then excreted within the feces of that animal, and that feces has then been ground up and I bought it and drank it.

Have I grossed you out yet? Because I’m telling you the truth. Well, not about me drinking the stuff. I don’t get paid enough to afford the $700 per kilogram price tag. But I’m telling the truth about all the rest.

Still don’t know what I’m talking about?

Coffee.

Yes. Coffee. No, probably not the coffee you’re drinking while reading this. But a certain coffee, kopi luwak, kapé alamíd, kafé-laku, it has many names, is made from the partially digested coffee beans excreted in the fecal matter of the Asian palm civet. No, I am not making this shit up. Pun entirely intended.

For anyone who has never heard of this type of coffee, don’t feel bad. Kopi luwak, or civet coffee, has been around since the early 18th century, yet it’s also something that only devoted coffee connoisseurs would be familiar with. After all, not even the most ornate marketing can make up for the fact that you’re drinking something made from poop. That said, you might be shocked to know just how many people will happily pay $700 for a kilogram (just over two pounds) of these mysterious beans and kopi luwak is second in price only to Black Ivory coffee, which brings in $1100 per kilogram.

I know, now you’re thinking ‘Okay, gross, but whatever. What does this have to do with conservation? If people want to drink poop-coffee, let them do it and weed out the crazies via natural selection.’

But it’s not that simple.

Let me give you a brief overview of kopi luwak history.

In the early 18th century, the Dutch were ruling the coffee roost from their position in the Dutch East Indies islands of Java and Sumatra. But since coffee was special, the Dutch forbid the native peoples–including plantation workers and coffee bean farmers–from using coffee fruit themselves. Wanting to know just what their Dutch masters cared about so much, the native peoples got the idea to follow Asian palm civets–a smallish obscenely adorable mammal indigenous to the area–and collect the civet’s feces, knowing that the civets ate the coffee fruit from the plantations, and that the seeds (the coffee ‘beans’) would not be digested, but instead would pass through the animals and could be found in their droppings.

Asian Palm Civet
Asian Palm Civet

So by collecting civet poop, gathering the coffee beans from within it, and then cleaning the beans and grinding them up, the naive peoples were finally able to taste the coffee beverage so coveted by their masters. You’d think this would be the end of the story, but according to accounts, the aroma of this ‘civet coffee’ became renown, eventually drawing the attention of the Dutch plantation owners, and it quickly became their favorite type of coffee. Of course, due to the fact that one had to follow palm civets around and collect poop for days in order to gather enough beans to make even one serving of coffee, the ‘civet coffee’ was just as expensive during the colonial period as it is today.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and kopi luwak is still coveted.

The natural process of making civet coffee is slow, and, well, natural. Civets, which are frugivorous, meaning that they primarily eat berries and pulpy fruit, such as figs, palms and coffee, eat only the tastiest coffee fruits. They then defecate in order to mark their territory (they are solitary animals aside from the mating period) and subsequently leave the undigested coffee beans behind. One must go around collecting the feces, sort through it to find the beans, and then gather them. Because the civets select only the best coffee fruit to eat, this selection process is valued by coffee connoisseurs as part of what makes the coffee so special. Problem is, you’re limited on how much you can profit because you’re reliant on following wild civets around waiting for them to eat coffee beans and poop them out.

Enter the idea of civet farming.

Why go around following wild civets, who may, or may not have eaten coffee fruit, when you can keep them locked in small cages and feed them nothing but coffee fruit?

Civet farms have now become the norm, with tens of thousands of civets being kept in cages and fed almost exclusively coffee fruit. Wild civets are captured using box traps, snares and hunting dogs. These methods often result in injury to the animals, and cause the animals immense stress. Kept in small cages similar to what you’d find in a puppy mill, or chicken battery, and forced to eat an improper diet, many animals die after only a few years in captivity. Others live on, bearing self-inflicted wounds, or old injuries leftover from their original capture. Offspring are forcibly removed from mothers, only to be put into their own cages and started on a coffee fruit diet.

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Via The Guardian

The most shocking and disturbing factor of civet coffee, is that we know it’s going on, and yet we keep buying the damn coffee. Investigations of animal cruelty have been reported and written about since 2012. Time Magazine ran an article in both 2012 and one in 2013 highlighting the documented abuse of civet farms. The New York Times touched on the subject back in 2010, though its article did not seem to consider the backyard pens of cages to be abuse.

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Via Gotham Coffee

Disease, self-harm, and capture related injuries are commonplace.

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Yet the exposure provided by articles about civet coffee only seemed to fuel interest in the coffee, rather than in the abuse and cruelty utilized to make the coffee. Harrods of London originally offered civet coffee for its most discerning clientele at a whopping £70 (about $105 USD) per cup, as well has offering packaged ground beans. They withdrew the product after being petitioned to do so, then began selling it again, claiming to work closely with their suppliers to assure that only ‘authentic wild’ civets were used in production. Now, they’ve removed civet coffee from their roster entirely. Following Harrod’s lead, several other leading stores have also stopped selling the coffee. Which is a start, at least.

A movement to use only wild civets has been gaining steam, but with little oversight in the industry and virtually no legal guidelines, fraudulent claims of ‘wild’ civet production are rampant. Just as the term ‘cage free’ chickens is often accepted as meaning that the chickens roam freely on vast acreage, the term ‘authentic wild’ civet is accepted as meaning that the animals are free and wild, and existing in their natural habitat. In reality, ‘cage free’ chickens might well indicate chickens which are kept tens of thousands of animals crammed into a small shed–unconfined to cages, yet still unable to move more than a few inches in any direction–and ‘authentic wild’ civets might be authentically wild-born civets who have been captured, and are now kept caged. It’s all an insidious word game, one in which the public ignorantly allows themselves to become pawns.

Hand-in-hand with the word games of marketing and advertising, comes the peculiar sort of peer pressure of the jet-set. There is a bizarre prestige associated with, and a desire to mindlessly agree with the status quo. A pressure to be grateful for being offered something so rare and expensive that the majority of the population will never be able to afford it.

How it’s portrayed:

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If someone stopped you on the street and offered you the chance to drink a beverage derived of animal feces, you would likely provide your choice explicative, and keep walking. But change the setting to a high end venue like Harrods, and have the person offering you the poop beverage be a millionaire jet setter, and suddenly if you refuse, you feel like an uncouth and ignorant pauper, part of a crowd wherein only the uncivilized would fail to appreciate the rarity and fabulousness of such a beverage. So you drink it, because really, who says no to a millionaire? And so the cycle continues.

How it’s actually made:

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It’s a cycle not unlike that which surrounds the pseudo-sanctuaries such as Black Jaguar White Tiger, and their high end celebrity benefactors. If you actually are an established actress/actor or celebrity, you risk status-suicide if you criticize your contemporaries for their exploits in cub petting at *the* premier ‘it’ place to be seen holding baby lions and tigers. And if you’re just a common person, you risk being called jealous, ignorant, and worse if you have the balls to call out celebrities for their actions in supporting the abuse of such animals.

Civet coffee remains one of the most expensive and sought after coffees in the entire world. A coffee made from poop. And yet the adoration of it keeps growing. In a perverse modern interpretation of the Emperors New Clothes, the hype surrounding the flavor of kopi luwak has attained such mass that one who has never tasted it is subsequently obligated to support the claims of its taste, or be ostracized for being too uncultured to recognize the delicate flavors. Never mind that the difference in taste between civet coffee and other types of coffee is something still being debated. Just as if you’re a celebrity invited to romp with the animals of Black Jaguar White Tiger, you’re faced with accepting the invitation, and joining the ranks of the touted, or speaking out against them and being publicly placed into the ‘haters’ category.

Poop coffee and coddling wild animals. Neither one seems like a good idea, and yet thousands of people participate in both, and millions more ignorantly support the ideas. Why? Because it’s what everyone else is doing, and no one wants to be the squeaky wheel. No one wants to be the uncultured one, no one wants to be in the hater category. Thus, the animals continue to suffer.

So, as I finish off my second cup of non-civet-poop-coffee, I challenge you to be the squeaky wheel, the hater, the one with the balls to stand up for the animals. Tens of thousands of civets are suffering at this very moment just so someone somewhere can pay a $100 to sip coffee made from their poop. Tens of thousands of more wild civets are at risk for exploitation. Wild populations of civets have not yet been damaged enough to fall within the ranks of conservation status. But that will change in the very near future if the drive for civet coffee remains as it is. Between the continually expanding civet farms used for coffee production, and the encroachment of civilization, the civets face imminent loss of habitat. It’s going to take a lot of squeaky wheels to change the status quo, to stand up and say that no supposed flavor is worth the torture and abuse of animals.

In a world full of celebrity-enamored doormats, be a squeaky wheel.

Author: Artemis Grey