Researching Without Results: How America’s ‘Sloth Sanctuary’ Uses Science to Sell Tourism

If you’re at all familiar with ICARUS, and the articles we produce you know about our undying frustration with, and loathing of, groups like Black Jaguar White Tiger, who sensationalize the handling, and exploitation of animals while insisting that they do what they do for the betterment, and “conservation” of the very animals they’re exploiting.

We tend to focus on BJWT a great deal simply because Eduardo Serio, its founder, goes to great lengths to secure contact with popular celebrities, from actors and actresses, to athletes, and the members of chart-toping musical groups, and then uses the photos of those celebrities holding his cats to further the popularity of BJWT on social media. His social media status has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, with little visible, or widespread objection. Those of us who speak out against Serio are few, and when compared to celebrities like Channing Tatum, Paris Hilton, or Lewis Hamilton, very small fish. Celebrity backing is one way that groups like BJWT continue to build their smokescreen of conservation on the backs of the animals they’re exploiting.

But there is another way that pseudo sanctuaries, and pseudo conservationists build themselves up in public popularity while exploiting the animals they claim to be helping. Science. It’s far more insidious than Serio’s overt, and egotistical showmanship, and it occurs much, much closer to home.

Tucked into the primordial forests of northwestern Oregon along the Columbia river you’ll find an exemplary example of both pseudo conservation, and pseudo sanctuaries: The Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center. Also called The Sloth Center. And the Sloth Captive Husbandry Research Center.

Yes, all of those “groups” and titles belong to the same organization. According to their website, all three groups work “hand-in-hand” to support each other. While conservation organizations often work together to support their endeavors into protecting various species of animals, the blurred lines between the ZWCC, TSC and the SCHRC smack more of a shell game than they do of cooperation and alliance. Although this trio publicly present themselves as being wholly devoted to the conservation of the species they house, the truth is somewhat more muddled. It does not help that one of their primary objectives–they say–is researching captive animal husbandry so as to better the practices of keeping captive exotic animals in the future. This sounds very responsible and forward thinking, but under scrutiny, it falls apart into nothing more than an excuse for owning, exploiting and capitalizing off of, captive wild animals.

As of the publication of this article we have been unable to find where any of the three groups has published, or produced any papers, or other representations of their research, as one would expect of a scientific research group. If they are researching captive animal husbandry, they aren’t sharing what they’ve learned, and thus are not impacting the plight of captive exotic animals in any meaningful way.

The ZWCC states on the website’s mission page that the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center is a ‘tiny, intimate, highly specialized endangered and delicate species Wildlife Conservation Center with a primary focus on research and advancement of captive husbandry and viable sustainability of captive populations of unique and endangered species.’

Beneath that, is the statement: ZWCC & TSC is NOT a for public entertainment “zoo” and only offers guests access through seasonal guided educational programs.

It is important to differentiate between the statements of the groups because that attention to detail is how groups like these get around things. While neither the ZWCC or TSC are “for public entertainment” they do offer multiple chances for the public to interact with the animals in their care.

They declare themselves to be a “sanctuary” but let us refer to the term sanctuary as defined by the Captive Wildlife Public Safety Act (the CWPS refers to big cats, but the definition of sanctuary is applicable here regardless of species)

The minimum standards to be considered a true sanctuary include:

Non-profit status;
No commercial use or trade of animals, their offspring, or their parts;
No breeding;
No direct contact between exotic animals and the public; no non-essential direct contact between staff and dangerous wild animals;
Species appropriate habitats and social groupings; and
Lifetime care for all animals.
See, e.g., Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries Accreditation Standards; see also, 16 U.S.C. § 3372.

ZWCC, TSC and SCHRC, as I will explain below, do not meet these threshold requirements. Indeed, they breed animals, sell animals into private ownership, and allow the public to handle animals on the premises. They are not accredited by GFAS.

On their website there are six programs listed that the public can select, each for a price. The Carnivore Encounter, the Primate Encounter, the Join The Pack With 2015 Pups (wolf experience) the I Kissed a Sloth… and I Liked It, the Sloth Sleepover+Seasonal Bonus, and Sloth Feed & Pet Educational Encounter.

Of these, the first three (Carnivore, Primate, and Pack) programs now have a short statement beside them that reads: Due to revised Federal regulations governing guest contact with wildlife species, specifically carnivores, this program is no longer available. Sadly, we foresee these regulations affecting all wildlife species in the very near future. The primate encounter is altered to say ‘specifically primates’ but is otherwise identical to the other two. The ZWCC, TSC and SCHRC are very keen in blaming the Federal government and its unfair oversight on their inability to provide the public with learning experiences, and use the possibility of losing the ability to allow the public to handle their animals as a push to hurry and make reservations while that option is still allowed.

But despite these statements in regard to some of their programs, there has been feedback from visitors left on the ZWCC, TSC and SCHRC website as recently as January 17th of 2016 citing the wolf encounter specifically and touting the wonders of it.

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Whether or not the public is currently allowed to have contact with the carnivores is something we weren’t able to confirm. It is quite possible that the experiences are no longer publicized, but might be offered for an additional fee once a guest is onsite. A sort of “on the sly” offer. Or, in all fairness and objectivity, it might be something that truly is no longer available.

If the ZWCC, TSC & SCHRC really are doing away with their carnivore, primate, and other hands-on activities, it might explain a recent ad, the contact for which is sloth.center@gmail.com, that can be found in Animal Finders’ Guide, Volume 33, Issue 1 of February 1 2016. Animal Finders’ Guide is a publication that, through classified advertisements, caters to the exotic pet trade, canned hunting ranches, and taxidermy auctions. Not the conservation of wild animals, but rather the ownership of exotic animals as privately owned pets, profit-generating tools, hunting trophies, or taxidermy.

From the “about” page of Animal Finders’ Guide:

Animal Finders’ Guide was conceived and started over 30 years ago by my wife, Sharon, some friends, and myself, Pat Hoctor. We started this publication for two main reasons. It was nearly impossible, at that time, to obtain the information to humanely and profitably, captively raise wildlife. The second major reason was the drastic difference in prices of animals throughout our country. This made it hard for breeders to show a profit. We felt that those raising these animals must make a profit so that they might be able to continue.

Since the world is loosing natural habitat daily, it is our belief that the last hope before extinction for many animal species is captive breeding.

We are extremely dedicated to the concept of small, family farms. It is my opinion that this is the “great American dream” – a little place in the country to call our own where you can make a living, surrounding yourself with nature and family.

We believe the most important crop raised on family farms is the children who grow up to become honest, hardworking, caring citizens, loving family and nature more than themselves.
Sharon and I have raised hundreds of exotic cats such as lions, tigers, ligers, cougars, leopards, jaguars, bobcats, servals, jungle cats, caracals, and many others. We have raised several hundred rare sheep such as Shetlands, Black Welsh Mountain, mouflon, and barbados. There have been many other species raised on our farm such as sika, whitetail, fallow and muntjac deer, Sicilian donkeys, mules, and horses. There were belted Gallaway, Scottish Highland, and Irish Dexter cattle. There were many primates such as pygmy and common marmosets; cotton top tamarins; ringtail, brown, and red lemurs; celebese, liontail, stumptail, rhesus, and snow macaques; hamadryas and olive baboons; several types of capuchins; squirrel and spider monkeys; Singalese and greater galigos, and DeBrazza’s monkeys. We have had kinkajous and binturongs, wolves and wolf hybrids, coyotes and fox, llamas and guanacos, pygmy goats, India blue peacocks, swans, geese, ducks, and many types of reptiles, fish in fifteen ponds and lots more species of wildlife too numerous to mention. We have been there and done that!
For several years I acted as a broker and dealer, relocating and transporting animals to new homes from zoos and importers. Thousands of these animals are now happy and reproducing.

Why does an ad in a magazine that peddles exotic pets matter? Because this is the header of the ZWCC, TSC & SCHRC’s main web page:

‘In an attempt to curb daily emails asking: ZWCC & THE SLOTH CAPTIVE HUSBANDRY RESEARCH CENTER DOES NOT SELL ANIMALS TO THE PUBLIC AS PETS.’

Notice that the Sloth Center is not included in that statement? There’s a reason for that. Each of the “groups” have their own statements, and there is a carefully structured safety net, if you will, in doing that. The email address in the Animal Finders’ Guide ad is sloth.center@gmail.com. This is also the email address for The Sloth Center, which is convenient because that group is specifically not listed in the header declaring that no animals are sold to the public. But it is also the email address that appears when one clicks the “email us” button on the ZWCC Facebook ‘”about” page.

Is this “splitting hairs”? Perhaps. But in a court, splitting hairs is often the difference between a fine, jail time, license suspension, or any legal retribution at all, and no action being taken against a group.

Below is a screenshot of the ad as it appears on page 4 of the AFG. I will attach the entire issue of the AFG at the end of this post in a PDF format. The ad is in the bottom righthand corner, and lists several animals–including unfixed pairs and  “proven” pairs for breeding. There is nothing to link the ad to the ZWCC, SCHRC or TSC aside from the email address, sloth.center@gmail.com. That is the nature of those who traffic in exotic animals. Names, or real names, are never provided, little traceable information is exchanged. Often, payments are made in cash.

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Listings show that the facility is seeking from $2,000 to $12,000, for a variety of species, including primates, exotic cats, and bears. This is blatant evidence that at least one of the three groups associated with the address 74320 Larson Rd, Rainier Oregon is actively advertising multiple exotic animals for sale to the public. And it’s not the first time there have been accusations of the ZWCC, SCHRC or TSC selling their animals. At least on reviewer claims he bought an animals from them, and here is an article citing the estate sale of Wayne Newton in 2013. At least 280 exotic animals which comprised the estate were sold to the ZWCC “for rescue”–but two of them were two toed sloths which had originally come from the ZWCC and somehow ended up in Newton’s private zoo. It was not made clear whether Newton had purchased those sloths, or how they had come into his possession. But it is an acknowledged fact the they did belong to the ZWCC originally, and they got into Newton’s private zoo somehow.

Above and beyond this gross negligence and blatant exploitation of animals in a for-profit venture of breeding and selling them, they are duping the public into believing that it is a legitimate sanctuary doing important species conservation work.

If those facts alone aren’t enough to make you reconsider America’s “favorite sloth sanctuary” we’ll leave you with a few photos taken directly from the ZWCC Facebook page. Because we’ve taken the photographs from the ZWCC’s public Facebook page, they cannot claim any expectation of privacy. However, we have blocked out the faces of those within them to maintain their personal privacy. Several of the photos are of underaged females, and their privacy is of the utmost importance to us, even as the photos reveal the true nature of the ZWCC, SCHRC and TSC, and their “conservation” practices.

10500524_872507502769495_2602698300153564263_n“Join the Pack” and spread zoologic diseases between species while you’re at it.

11235386_994425650577679_3736939526438241436_nNothing says “conservation” like a serval wearing a purple collar in someone’s bed.

10547636_805336456153267_8625327752912117838_nExtra snuggles for (actually) highly endangered snow leopard cubs!

10897820_981064495247128_6296909500943637704_nBecause there’s no chance that an animal capable of killing small deer could in anyway be a danger to a child.10407919_881852988501613_5252432919095967240_nMore people becoming one with the pack.

1970650_991816970838547_917313978964930368_nEvery tamandua should know how to walk on a leash.

984151_805337812819798_2278425590563656177_nMeet and greet with predators.

10563048_872508022769443_9008729720241816778_n.jpgTeaching children where wild cats belong. On leashes and as pets!1503882_878683995485179_1233431292548673741_nOr lounging in living rooms, because that’s totally similar to the Himalayan mountains.

10801777_881852898501622_5218732272384675764_nWhen stalking and preparing to attack prey is just too cute to ignore.

There is no way for us to know exactly when these photographs were actually taken. It’s possible that some of them were taken before the recent edition of the “Federal changes say we can’t let you touch animals” alterations to the listed programs. However, the very fact that they were taken, is irrefutable evidence of how much emphasis the ZWCC, SCHRC and TSC puts on the handling and exploiting of the animals in their care, which directly contradicts their statements that they are not about entertainment and public interaction.

Animals are, apparently, regularly handled from birth to adulthood, allowed into occupied dwellings to interact with domestic animals and share the space with humans, trained to walk on harnesses, and handled by children–despite the grave and inherent risk in allowing top tier predators–even small or young ones–in direct contact with humans. This is what the ZWCC, SCHRC and TSC is all about. Not research, not conservation, and not public education. Unless, that is, you find teaching the public erroneous information to be education.

Eduardo Serio claims that his own interactions with his big cats, and the fact that he allows the public to play with them, is simply a way of “raising awareness” about the plight of wild animals. Many pseudo sanctuaries, and pseudo conservationists, use this declaration of “raising awareness” as a shield against their exploitation of animals. What does it matter, they argue, if one does things that are not a great idea, if those things grab the public’s attention, and “gets them involved”? In reality, experts have found that exhibits that facilitate close or direct contact with exotic and endangered species actually lessen public interest in conservation because they send the message that animals are easily accessible and not seriously imperiled in the wild.

It makes one wonder how those pseudo conservationists would feel if they were injured and called 911 only to find out that their First Responders didn’t *actually* know lifesaving first aid and rescue techniques? What if, in an effort to “get more people involved” and to “raise awareness” about how to respond to medical emergencies, we put on camps and educational seminars wherein the attendants were taught how to perform CPR just like the actors on their favorite hospital sitcoms? Or how to rescue people trapped on mountaintops just like their celebrity heroes in the movies? Instead of how real paramedics, firefighters, and doctors do it?

Don’t roll your eyes. This is exactly what pseudo conservationists are teaching the public about wild animals everywhere. In the world of conservation, we, the public, are the first responders when animals are in trouble. It is our responsibility to care for them in a respectful and conservational manner, and to, when needed, contact professional rescue groups, or sanctuaries, to help in the rehabilitation and release of animals back into the wild.

But instead of teaching the public, and younger generations, true “life saving techniques” pseudo sanctuaries and pseudo conservationists like ZWCC, SCHRC and TSC, and Eduardo Serio at BLWT, and every other direct-interaction place, is teaching the public and younger generations that it’s okay to have wild animals as pets, that it’s okay to keep them in your homes, and that it’s okay to treat them like they’re oversized domestic animals–as long as you claim that you’re doing so to “raise awareness” or “get other people involved” or “to research captive husbandry”. It doesn’t matter that the only way in which all of those “other people” will get involved is to go buy their own wild animals to keep as pets.

In some instances, it’s unavoidably necessary to maintain captive wild animals, but with millions of exotic animals being kept as pets in the United States alone, and with the exotic pet trade bringing in billions of dollars each year, the last thing we need are “conservation” groups who openly breed and then secretly sell more exotic animals into the system.

Please, no matter how popular a tourist destination involving animals is, do a little research on them first. If they allow direct interaction between the public and the animals in their care, if they actively breed and sell animals, they are not a group with conservation in mind, no matter what they might say.

Here is the PDF file of the Animal Finders’ Guide.

Volume 33 Issue 1

You can read a full version of the Captive Wildlife Safety Act here

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4 thoughts on “Researching Without Results: How America’s ‘Sloth Sanctuary’ Uses Science to Sell Tourism

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  2. Pingback: Why The Word Sanctuary is Just a Word – Project ICARUS

  3. Pingback: Momentary Victory In An Ongoing War – I.C.A.R.U.S Inc.

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