Media Misnomer: How Anti-Intellectualism And Misinformation Is Allowing Animal Exploiters to Get The Public On Their Side

Someone tagged me in a shared Facebook post a few weeks ago, about how Anti-Intellectualism was on the rise. It was a very relevant article, and was subsequently followed by several more on the subject. If you’re not familiar with the term “anti-intellectualism” the definition of anti-intellectual is:

-a person opposed to or hostile toward intellectuals and the modern academic, artistic, social, religious, and other theories associated with them.
-a person who believes that intellect and reason are less important than actions and emotions in solving practical problems and understanding reality.

While these articles do not specifically refer to conservation, or captive wild animals, what they say about our society in general is shockingly accurate. In today’s world dominated by social media, people become famous simply because they are rich, and are subsequently given both absolute authority and broad expertise by the masses who adore them. In truth, these people might know nothing about that of which they are speaking, yet their statements, or actions are instantly accepted by their admirers as legitimate facts, made so by nothing more than their position as celebrities. Any naysayers are often viewed as “jealous” or “resentful” of the wealth and position of the celebrity, rather than as having a different, and possibly more educated understanding of the situation.

No one wants to hear a Debbie Downer disagreeing with the Hot and Fabulous celebrity. No one wants to hear that their idols might not actually know what they’re talking about. No one wants to be told that the “cool club” might be totally wrong. All of these things make people feel awkward. And no one wants to feel awkward.

The result is that people no longer want to be intelligent, they want to be comfortable.

Aside from the fact that the public en masse is more concerned with feeling good than facing facts, there is a certain theme of self-fulfilling prophecy with celebrity expertise. If one of your fellow celebrities makes a very public statement supporting something, you, as a celebrity yourself, aren’t likely to cut their legs out from under them and contradict that public support. If you do, you’ll look like an asshole, and other celebrities will remember what you did. It doesn’t matter what kind of celebrity is involved, actor, actress, musician, or one of those “famous just because they’re rich and famous” sorts, that virtually unbroken taboo of “thou shalt not speak out against a contemporary” remains.

The combination of society’s current preference of anti-intellectualism, and abstinence of celebrities in regard to publicly countering each other creates a prime seeding ground for misinformation, usually spread through social media.

A perfect example of this phenomenon is the recent announcement that Ringling Bros. will be “retiring” all of their elephants. The news has spread like wildfire, often with headlines like “Ringling Bros. Elephants Settle Into Retirement”. The problem with articles like this, is that they fixate on the term “retire” which brings to mind old folks taking off across the country in Winnebagos to go sightseeing. The reality is a cramped breeding facility where during a past “court-ordered inspection of the CEC, an independent elephant-care specialist observed that elephants spent so much time chained that they had worn grooves into the concrete.”

These elephants are not being “retired” to spend their remaining days in “relaxation”. They’re being taken out of the public eye and introduced into a breeding facility where they will continue to work and make money for Ringling Bros by repeatedly producing offspring which will be sold to zoos and “educational parks” all over the country. There is, as of yet, no instance–not one single instance–in which an American captive bred Asian elephant has been transported to another country and released into the wild in their natural habitat. There is literally no precedent for it. Yet this is one of the things that Ringling Bros alludes to being involved with when they describe how “retiring” their elephants will “allow us to focus on our conservation efforts and really boost our breeding program to ensure that these guys are around for many, many generations.”

What Ringling Bros means is that they’re going to make sure that Asian elephants are “around for many, many generations” in a cage, zoo, or other form of captivity. But what they lead the public to think is that their captive breeding will somehow cure the conservation crisis of wild Asian elephants. And tragically, few seem to be looking any farther than the bold cheerful headlines containing the word “retirement”. I’ve been tagged about a dozen times thus far by well-meaning folks who want me to see the “success” of “freeing the elephants” and none of the articles I was tagged with mentioned the lingering questions of animal abuse, the accusations of mistreatment, or the unexplained deaths.

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Gone is any recollection of the numerous incidents and documented cases of abuse committed by Ringling Bros against its animals, elephant and otherwise. Out of mind, are the eye witness accounts of brutal treatment, and deaths. And forgotten is the fact that this “retirement” facility has the highest rate of tuberculosis of any elephant housing unit in the country. All the public looks at now, is the word “retirement” and they cheer about the “step forward” in the treatment of animals. They take the statement of a liar at face value and feel good about it. Meanwhile, the elephants they’re cheering for are facing a life of confinement, chained in cement shed rows, forced to produce offspring which will be taken from them at birth to be sold to other establishments. Presuming that tuberculosis, arthritis, or foot disease doesn’t kill them off quickly.

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The only reason misinformation like this works, is because people choose to embrace it, rather than question it. Many times, the facts are only thinly veiled. Sometimes, they’re sitting right before readers’ eyes alongside the misinformation.

In cases like the Ringling Bros decision to “retire” its elephants, it’s a matter of the public simply seeing and hearing what it wants to see and hear. They want elephants out of the circus, and Ringling Bros says it’s going to “retire” them to a posh 200 acre “sanctuary”. So the public is choosing to believe that a known for-profit animal exploiter and abuser is going to suddenly give up all its profit and essentially hemorrhage money for decades just to allow animals who once made it huge amounts of revenue to do nothing but enjoy life.

In cases wherein celebrities are making public statements, and have vast numbers of fans hero-worshipping them, the reasons behind choosing comfort over reality are often less idealistic.

The vector for the recent very public and painfully immature social media attack against groups like I.C.A.R.U.S. was nothing more than misinformation at its finest. Amidst a childish (to put it kindly) tantrum it was asserted by one of the pseudo-sanctuaries we have discussed more than once, that they were, in fact, a sanctuary, and that anyone who said they were not a sanctuary had lied, and that if those undisclosed groups did not remove their statements from their websites they would be facing “the biggest lawsuit ever”. The accompanying photograph supposedly proved that the facility in question was a “sanctuary”. It was in Spanish, with no translation offered, but the word “santuario” was tantalizingly obvious even to non-Spanish speakers.

Supporters of this pseudo-sanctuary went to war on social media forums, stirred to a frenzy by their self-designed idol-like leader. Death threats were issued by the dozens, names of “haters” plastered across the Instagram account of the pseudo-sanctuary, anyone who ever asked a question, or suggested that they did not support the group in question was thrown into the pit for savaging. Even before any of the groups who had been not-really-called-out-but-threatened-with-lawsuits could discern if they were, in fact, one of the groups being threatened, the crazed followers of the pseudo-sanctuary had sought out anyone they perceived to be a “hater” and begun showering them with explicit language, threats of bodily harm, legal action, and all manner of other attacks.

What ensued was a mixture of calm retreat–the primary theoretical targets of the original threat darkened our sites, conferred with lawyers, and were unsurprised to confirm that we had never done anything wrong–and defensive reactions–secondary groups who agree with our journalism fought back, against the fans of the pseudo-sanctuary, giving their attackers as good at they got on social media.

The irony of all of it, was that the “proof” which was offered in regard to the pseudo-sanctuary being a “real” sanctuary was 1) Not proof of anything aside from a zoo/for public entertainment facility being registered under a name that includes the word “sanctuary” in it and 2) Off point entirely, at least as far as I.C.A.R.U.S. is concerned, because we use the GFAS as our standard, and as of today, the pseudo-sanctuary is still not accredited by the GFAS, which is all we have ever asserted about it as far as its status as a “sanctuary” goes.

Nowhere is society’s current fixation on anti-intellectualism more evident that in the some 2,300 comments on the original post where the threat of lawsuit was made. Despite that the attached photograph (which can easily be translated and researched) contains nothing stating that the facility is a sanctuary–does not even contain the word “sanctuary” in it at all, aside from the name of the facility–commenters obsessively refer to the “ignorance” of those speaking out against the pseudo-sanctuary. Along with the ubiquitous “haters gonna hate” (and more suggestions that anyone like I.C.A.R.U.S. be killed, or destroyed, or shut up for good) “stupid people” “they are jealous” “full of crap” “make up stories” “disgusting information” “idiots” and “shit ton of nonsense” are some examples of what fans of the pseudo-sanctuary have said in regard to anyone who does not agree with their idol.

Perversely enough, the document offered to prove us “wrong”–the one fans are so aggressively defending–actually proves that the facility they’re supporting is not a sanctuary as defined by the GFAS.

The document says directly in its text that the facility with the word “sanctuary” in its title is registered as a zoological park or public entertainment facility. Careful research into the various numerals and citations within the document reveal nothing but references to guidelines such as the fact that animals maintained by such facilities should receive certain rights, that “breeding should be managed” in a manner that is sustainable (but this facility repeatedly insists it doesn’t breed, so that makes one wonder why a specific Article in regard to breeding has been cited…) and that the “exhibition of live wildlife must be done” in a way so as to “prevent” “stress, suffering, trauma” etc. (which, if you follow the sanctuary, you’ll know this is questionably adhered to, at best) and so on and so forth. Again, no use of the word “sanctuary” anywhere in the document aside form the facility’s name. At the bottom of the photo is indication that it is either the second page of two, or that there is a second page following it, but that missing page remains, well, missing, so we have no way to know what it contains.

What we do know, is that the provided page does not, in any way shape or form, declare this facility to be anything but a “zoological park or public entertainment facility”.

Again, this is a textbook example of how those in a position to do so manipulate the media in order to use misinformation and their own followers’ preference for anti-intellectualism to throw facts out the window in favor of “feel good” popularity. Often at the expense of the animals in their care. Those of us who use even the simplest of tools in order to educate ourselves in depth about these situations are left high and dry on an intellectual rock, unable to grasp why no one else can see the obvious facts. I often feel like Hogarth in The Iron Giant as he rambles about bullies beating him up for “being too smart” when they’re every bit as smart as he is, they just refuse to do their homework.

 

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Please, for the sake of the animals, do your homework. The truth is not always comfortable or fun, but it’s all that matters in the end. If you’re truly interested in supporting conservation,

Conservation: the action of conserving something, in particular.
◦ preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife.

then please check out this list of GFAS accredited sanctuaries, whose primary goal is to create a  world where no sanctuaries are needed because the animals are preserved in their natural habitats. Also see this list of some of the best conservation groups out there. The word conservation is another favorite often used to lend a group weight and pedigree, but it’s not something that can be taken at face value without further research. If all you can find in regard to a group’s “conservation” activities is where it “donated” money to other groups (many times groups which are actually owned by the same entity that owns the primary organization) or forums where the group discusses conservation, but has no evidence it has ever actually participated in wild conservation actively, chances are, it’s just using the word to sound more legitimate.

Ignorance is a choice. Choose intelligence instead, and help I.C.A.R.U.S. and groups like us defend the animals of the world, both wild, and captive wild.

Author: Artemis Grey

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8 thoughts on “Media Misnomer: How Anti-Intellectualism And Misinformation Is Allowing Animal Exploiters to Get The Public On Their Side

  1. Gabby

    The reason people call you haters and jealous is because a lot of your facts about black jaguar white tiger are incorrect. For example, indira the wolf came with the violet on her ear and he clearly
    States that she came with that in the post and that itnis incorrect. Second, i have a current picture that i posted on the expose bjwt tweet storm fb page that shows cielo clearly ripping at sheets with claws when he brought her over to stage 1 for a few days. Third, you cite 911 animal abuse as a reliable source when jn fact carole baskin who runs the site has done all the things she now talk bad about, she bred, exploited and lied for years and years. Yes, she admits she was wrong, but to rely on someone who expolited animals for soo many years and still lies on her bcr site about the origins of cats , is crazy to me. Alot of info seems hypocritical and one sided. Sooo maybe thats why ppl attack you, not because they are not educated. I know this comment will prob not get posted.

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    1. Hello Gabby,

      Normally we do not engage in “explanations” of why those who support the pseudo-sanctuaries we speak out against dislike us, however, you have actually made a perfect example of the anti-intellectualism, misinformation and confusion that breeds such animosity toward us.

      1) Regardless of whether or not our facts are “incorrect” that would not offer any basis for someone to assert that we’re “jealous” of someone doing something we don’t approve of. You can’t be jealous if you don’t want to do it.

      2) Nothing you’ve offered here proves that any fact we’ve stated is, in fact, incorrect.

      3) Nowhere, in any of our articles have we ever discussed the supposed “Canadian wolf” (other than possibly questioning her interaction with domestic dogs) or the disinfectant on her ear in the first photos and videos of her. There are several disinfectants which are blue, which are not what we would have used, but that is of no major concern. I’m not sure where you saw someone saying anything about the cub or her ear, but it wasn’t us. I’m not even sure what you’re asserting was said about her, but whatever it was, ICARUS was not the one who said it.

      4) ICARUS has never, in our articles ever publicly asserted that Cielo has been declawed. So again, I’m glad you have a picture showing the claws, but we have never stated that the animal didn’t have them to begin with. Someone else might have, but it wasn’t us.

      5) 911 Animal Abuse is a researched and cross-referenced website, and while we might link to it, the facts listed there have also been validated through other research. As far as Baskin’s history of owning cats, it seems petty and irrelevant for you to cite something she did 20 years ago, in an attempt to defend someone who is doing it now. People make mistakes. The difference is in realizing it’s a mistake and changing one’s actions based on recognizing that you’ve made a mistake. Yes, Baskin started out believing that she could help wild cat populations by owning captive wild cats, then she realized that’s not how it works, so she stopped participating and started trying to counter the belief that buying captive animals and breeding them somehow affects the plight of wild populations. BJWT is actively participating in the ownership, handling, and exploitation of captive wild cats, including purchasing them from breeders and zoos, as per Serio’s own words. And as he so recently made clear, Serio does not believe he’s doing anything wrong by handling his animals and allowing visitors to handle them.

      If you had read our articles, you would know that we have never said the very things you’re citing as the reasons people call us “haters and jealous”. But you apparently haven’t read our articles. You’ve read something somewhere you didn’t agree with, and simply stated that we’re the ones who said it. As for being hypocritical, in order for that term to fit, we would have to privately own big cats, and allow visitors to play with them and then say that BJWT was wrong for doing the same thing. We don’t own big cats (or any exotic captive animals) so it’s not possible for us to be hypocritical in saying that what BJWT does is wrong. And I’m not sure how “one sided” our positions can be, when our position is simply that captive exotic animals should not be handled by anyone, since that position does not allow for it to be “okay” in any circumstance other than the rendering of medical aid or rehabilitation.

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      1. Gabby

        The world is an ugly place and far from perfect. Pretty much my whole
        Point is these animals can be in a lot worse conditons, with a hell of a lot worse people. So i dont understand why the people that have a lot of followers and blogs like you have and jaclyn beales dont focus on the real “shit” of shit animals are in. I.e. The roadside zoos where real abuse has surfaces (i.e. actual beating cubs on film), the lion walking places in africa. I just cant understand why sooo many ppl focus on bjwt when there are ppl and places chaining animals in concrete cages, expoliting, beating and torturing animals. Bjwt isnt perfect but like insaid his animas are far better off with him than where they were or other they could have been with/

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      2. Hello Gabby,

        Again, we strongly suggest that you actually read our articles. In doing so, you’ll find that we do focus on the “real “shit” of shit animals are in”. Our articles cover numerous pseudo-sanctuaries and situations of abuse. What the ICARUS teams does not do, is make excuses for one poorly run institute while pointing out the issues of other poorly run institutes. We simply discuss poorly run institutes.

        I find it very curious that you insist animals which are being raised in closets, passed around on tv talk shows, living in cardboard boxes, and used as toys for celebrity guests are somehow “better off” than lions which live on preserves and are used for “walking with lion” tours.

        ICARUS believes that both are exploitation and mishandling of big cats, and thus we do not condone either situation. As for your assertion that the animals of BJWT are better off at the foundation than where they were, or could have been, since few of them are properly documented, and many have multiple background stories–including that of the cat that “started it all”– it’s impossible to say that they’re better off now. Especially since a huge number of them seemed to “arrive” at the facility with umbilical cords still attached, and only days old.

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  2. Junada Pusey

    I read your article went and viewed the BJWT page and also brought up that image posted of the registration… let me say I’m Jamaican (I now live in the UK) and frankly we don’t have lions and tigers exotic big felines but I do get the do your research and know whats what concept, but I do think “Gran Santuario Mexicano Jaguar Negro Tigre Blanco does translate into “GREAT MEXICAN SANTUARY JAGUAR BLACK, TIGER WHITE’ (MI ESPANOL ES NO MALO) I also looked at the lists and the word Icarus and conservation was used in the same sentence (indicating to me that either Icarus has/is a conservation or is apart of one… no??) is that what the donation is for?? (the conservation) then is the Icarus conservation accredited by the GFAS? (donate to help right??) Is there a website of said conservation like the others?? Personally I’m not defending or discrediting any sanctuary cause the sanctuaries I know are the ones I worship in(Amen) and frankly I don’t see why the blasting of any one as long as the animals are being taken care off. If it is that he is gaining fame from advertising his animals and if what I have read about BJWT here is true where visiting and hanging with the felines are based on the deepest pocket then thats wrong but that is yet to be proven. Also I think Profepa has accredited this man based on Mexican regulations(guessing your home work wasn’t as thorough as you taught). I’m not a journalist but rather a Programmer (I could be wrong), but I did take your advice and looked into things and translated his document.

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    1. Hello, Junada,
      Thank you for reading our article and looking into things for yourself The ICARUS project is not a sanctuary, but rather a group working within the field of conservation. (we are also not associated with the Icarus website you asked about in your other comment) While we focus on many areas of conservation, one of them is sanctuaries, as well as the pseudo-sanctuaries which use misnomers to further the exploitation of the animals in their care. This is why we use the GFAS guidelines as our standard for sanctuaries, because they prohibit the handling of wild captive animals. It is the constant handling of animals–and the popularizing of said handling–that damages the efforts of wild conservation. This is why we are so firmly against hands-on interactions with captive wild animals. Because if one person “justifies” it, then there is no way to tell anyone else that they can’t justify it as well, which leads to anyone and everyone deciding that they can own and handle captive wild animals so long as they say it’s for conservation.

      As far as the people visiting BJWT and playing with the cats in exchange for donations, that isn’t something that still needs to be proven. Serio has posted multiple photos of celebrity visitors playing with his animals and thanking them for their contributions and support. In addition, until just the last few months–after articles were written pointing out this feature–there was a section on the BJWT website that clearly listed visitation to the sanctuary as a reward for pledging $1,000.00 a month to the foundation. You can see screen shots of the original page listing a visit to BJWT in exchange for donations, and the updated page which has been edited to remove that reward here. In addition, we have never stated that BJWT doesn’t have a license to operate, or isn’t accredited as a zoo, or owner of captive wild animals, only that they do not have a GFAS accreditation, thus our “homework” was completely thorough. BJWT might meet the regulations required to own big cats in Mexico, but they do not meet the regulations of a GFAS sanctuary. To do that, they would have to change nearly everything they do, from the housing of the cats, to the handling of them.

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  3. Lexi

    I fully support you, and your articles are valid! I only wish more people would care to do more research and see for themselves that the BJWT’s practices are completely unethical. They just got another days old tiger cub in. The whole situation infuriates me.

    Like

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