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F.A.R.T.S. Aren’t the Only Thing That Stink…

Sorry for the click-bait title, but it needed to be done.

After our recent article, and the usual accompanying “hysterism” by BJWT in response to it, we noticed a peculiar reaction by all the Eddieites. They went to another organization’s page and proceeded to scream and fuss, name call and make asshats of themselves in general. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to avoid all the trolls, but really? Having an I.C.A.R.U.S. article raise the dust, and then watch another conservation group get all the hate mongering was, well, awkward.

Then folks started contacting us and asking if we had any comment on our “relationship” with BCR. They attached links to their questions, and when we saw where those links went, it all suddenly started to make sense.

Big Cat Rescue Watch is a website run by Juan Garcia* who is devoted single-mindedly to doing anything and everything to destroy Big Cat Rescue’s reputation. Apparently Juan posted an article months ago “rebutting” one of our articles. And when I say “rebutting” I’m being generous. Basically, Juan spends the entire article trash talking BCR, while defending BJWT (no surprise, the website is designed solely to defend BJWT while trashing BCR) and lying about the photos. But it’s the bottom of the article where he really shows that he’s willing to do anything to defend BJWT.

In a screenshot of an unknown page, involving an unknown person (no names or proof that those involved have anything to do with BCR) Juan shows someone–who states that they don’t even work at BCR–saying that “the crew supports them” in response to several questions wherein Juan claims that Big Cat Rescue is somehow responsible for the I.C.A.R.U.S. article.

Aside from the fact that Juan doesn’t just objectively ask a question, but rather goes into the discussion with his mind made up and directly  asserts from the beginning that BCR is in charge of the article, and despite that the person clearly says “No, BCR wouldn’t have anything to do with it” Juan continues to assert that BCR is in charge of the articles produced by I.C.A.R.U.S. stating that “Maybe Big Cat Rescue has someone writing for them”. It’s not clear why he even included his “questions” in his article when he simply ignored the answer of “NO” and reiterated that BCR does, in fact, have someone writing articles for them under the name of I.C.A.R.U.S.

Despite Juan Garcia’s adorable “disclosure” at the bottom of his blog, his accusations that I.C.A.R.U.S.’s staff writer is “working for BCR” qualifies as libel, because our staff writer has absolutely no associating with BCR, and has never had any association with BCR. By attempting to damage her reputation by connecting her with another unrelated organization, Juan is libeling her.

But here’s the thing, BCRWatch website is nothing more than an illegitimate “shell” site, baseless and without merit. Basically, it’s nothing but a hub for those who support cub petting and places who promote it, where they can attempt to discredit legitimate, accredited sanctuaries and those who are striving to stop the practice of captive exotic animal exploitation.

Juan Garcia calls anyone who takes a stand against cub petting and exploitation a F.A.R.T. and has this, among other similar images, on his site.

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It’s the sort of “clever” humor that Serio of BJWT likes to think he possesses. Not that BCRWatch is paid for by BJWT, or anything. At least, not that we know of. Though, it is sort of curious that BCRWatch reposted his “rebuttal” article, and pinned it to the top of his page at the exact same time that “Papa Bear” was pitching his own tantrum on his live feed about destroying us. I mean, interesting coincidence, you know? Or maybe not a coincidence at all.

 

* We have no idea if Juan Garcia is this guy’s actual name, but it’s what he goes by on social media.

I thought that I’d copy and paste Juan’s disclaimer here. He’s super careful to post it under his rhetoric, I mean, articles, since his site is full of lies, I suppose, in hopes to avoid trouble from lying.

I hold no claims of ownership to the referenced articles, screenshots, or photos that are public information online. All photo references and commentary articles have been carefully researched, reported, and solely intended for criticism, comment, and nonprofit educational purpose to inform the public. Subjects not referenced with facts should be considered opinion. Testimonies from sources/interviews, comments, criticism, and articles are released without malice (i.e., without intent to harm) to any parties and intended solely for educational purposes. If any content herein can be proven to be untrue, incorrect, or illegal it will be corrected or deleted immediately, The opinions and beliefs of the contributors to this website and those of it’s administration are the result of many hours of intensive research and are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Opinions stated here are my own. The information is true to the best of my research and knowledge.

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Cubs Cubs Everywhere, And With Them Oh The Funds We’ll Snare

There have been some exciting things going on over at Black Jaguar White Tiger. Exciting, that is, if you’re a BJWT fan/follower, or, as I’ve come to refer to them, an “Eddieite”.

Eddieite
Ed-ee-ite
One utterly devoted to the preachings of Eduardo Serio; incapable of seeing the fact that BJWT has contributed nothing to the conservation of big cats but motherless cubs, a plethora of hand reared animals, and numerous videos of its founder and his “special guests” playing with his own big cats. Eddieites react violently to any question posed against their adored leader, even in the face of scientific facts, and will often degenerate into sputtering curses and antiquated invocations of plagues, and poxes on naysayers of the “Blue Energy” religion of the BJWT Nation: They’re an Eddieite, they’ll believe anything Eddie says, unfailingly and without question. Synonyms: BJWT follower, celebrity conservationist, pseudo-conservationist, willfully ignorant lover of exploitive animal videos and pictures.
Origin: 2013-2016; Observations of an active animal cult.

But enough of the modern slang dictionary. We have more important things to discuss.

It’s Cub Season at Black Jaguar White Tiger!

Thus far we’re up to five “mystery boxes” the first four of which have contained one or more big cat cubs. In a June 25th “Pillow Talk” Serio stated that box 5 contained “monkey and a (unintelligible)” but we did not actually see these animals so I have no idea if those were the species, or names, or what. Then in another “Pillow Talk” on June 29th, we got this 2-frame glimpse into an otherwise ignored box in the “cub room”.

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All the other cubs were present and accounted for, but that’s no monkey lying there. The Eddieites following the feed certainly seemed to think it wasn’t a monkey, and offered up comments like:

“I saw box #5… its something black”
“Ohhhhhh I saw the black jag”
“There’s something black in box #5”
“What was black in the box?!?!”
“Saw something black, what did we see?”
“#isawnothingblack”
“Baby black jag????”
“A baby black jaguar (heart emogis)”

Excitement excitement! But we’ll just have to live off the thrill of not knowing, until Serio offers an official reveal.

There has been a small setback in the annual unveiling of Cubtopia, as one cub is already dead. (pesky inbreeding!) But it’s okay. Serio made up for the one cub dying by dubbing the surviving cubs the “Shakira Pride” after another jaguar who recently died (in a tragic Africanized bee attack) at Jaguars Into The Wild. So we’re good. Blue Energy all around, and no one’s getting dragged down emotionally over that little dead guy. Onward and upward!

For anyone who’s “sarcasm deaf” I’m dripping sarcasm at this point. It’s hard not to with daily videos of tiny, screeching big cat cubs trapped in cardboard boxes.

If you’re a regular reader of I.C.A.R.U.S. articles, you’ll recall that in other articles I’ve mentioned the fact that BJWT has a cycle as predictable as the tides of the ocean. A group of cubs arrive at BJWT with variations of the same three or four stories: Mom rejected them. The Mexican government confiscated them. Serio “saved” them from a “bad home”. Or they were taken from a zoo or circus. Recently, Serio has also started saying he’s “rescuing” cubs from canned hunting, something very peculiar, as there are an extremely low number of “trophies” exported from Mexico every year. But we’ll come back to that canned hunting thing later.

For now, the important thing to remember, is that every time a “pride” gets too big, they sort of just fade into the background, and new babies arrive, most of them so young that umbilical stumps are still raw. They are subsequently divided and put together in new “prides” and plastered all over social media for several months. Just in this year, we’ve had the Steve Jobs Pride, the Starving Union, Gustavo’s Pride, Tommy’s Pride, and most recently Shakira’s Pride.

In the three years since BJWT was founded, there have been three distinct sets of prides, some of which are now full blown adults, like The Big Pride, others which are 3/4 grown, like Cheyenne and the Super Pride, others which are half grown, like Lewis and Nicole, and then we’ve got the new babies. In all, tens of animals which all started out has bottle babies or young animals which were specifically hand reared.

Full disclosure, I might have left out some prides, and I might have accidentally named one pride by two names. It’s impossible to track each group when names are sometimes changed and there are no firm records.

Should any outsider ask where these cubs come from, Eddieites will immediately leap to the defense, insisting that Serio “rescues” the cubs and brings them to his “sanctuary” from places where they aren’t wanted like zoos and circuses, often while telling them to do “a little research” before asking stupid questions or saying stupid things. Those of us with questions find this instruction particularly amusing when there is no documentation to research, and those who ask questions are systematically blocked and called haters, something for which Serio is inordinately proud:

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The “rescue” proclamations of Eddieites are followed by avid claims that the cubs can never be released into the wild “because they were born in captivity” so Serio’s giving them the best life possible at his “sanctuary”. Or, in some cases, supporters claim that eventually BJWT will “repopulate the world” with their cats (despite that they supposedly don’t breed them).

As usual there are potholes in these claims that are large enough to blow the tires on a tractor trailer rig.

  1. Zoos, in particular, value cubs more than they do adults, it’s laughable to think that the dozens of cubs that have appeared at BJWT over the last three years were all cast out by their entertainment owners, when those same groups might well have made tens of thousands of dollars off of the cubs, had they retained them. The only way they’d let go of the cubs is if the government seized them.
  2. Felid wild reintroduction is in its infancy. There have been a very few genuine success stories. However, for there to be any hope of pursuing reintroduction, the cubs must be raised with as little human contact as possible and raised in an environment that properly mimics their natural habitat. If you keep them in cardboard boxes in your closet, handle them constantly, and consistently reinforce a personal and intimate relationship with humans, then you guarantee that they can never be reintroduced into the wild.
  3. According to I.C.A.R.U.S. contacts who are familiar with laws south of the border, there is no registry for big cat sanctuaries in Mexico. There aren’t even any outlines for sanctuaries in that country. The only two ways in which you can register the ownership of exotic big cats, is as either a zoo, or a private collection.

What does all of this mean?

It means that while Serio claims to be a sanctuary and obsessively refers to BJWT as a sanctuary (though this is a recent development that has occurred in the past months, after articles criticizing BJWT began to appear. Before that, he called BJWT a “foundation”) it’s only a word in the name of his registered zoo. Serio stomps around threatening to sue people who suggest BJWT is not an accredited sanctuary, and he uses the term “sanctuary” gratuitously in an effort to garner sympathy and legitimize the foundation.

But the title listed on zoo registration papers does not actually make BJWT an accredited sanctuary. It just means that BJWT is a zoo registered with the word “sanctuary” in its name. This is where commercialism comes in. You can name a company anything you want, but you can’t register it as an institute which is not recognized by the government with which you’re registering it.

BJWT literally cannot be a registered sanctuary under Mexican law, because there are no outlines, bylaws, or terminology to define and regulate sanctuaries within the existing Mexican environmental laws. There is, according to the Mexican government itself, no existing sanctuaries for exotic animals in the country. There are only PIMVS institutes or privately owned collections.

This is one reason that Mexico desperately needs to update, refurbish, and create laws that will clearly define the difference between a zoo, a private collection, and a sanctuary. Serio adamantly (as evidenced by recent legal attacks) defends BJWT as a “sanctuary” insisting that he’s met all the requirements outlined in order for it to be so. The problem is, he’s leaving out the fact that Mexico doesn’t actually have guidelines for sanctuaries for him to meet. They only have guidelines for zoos and private collections. And we don’t doubt that BJWT meets all the standards required of it by Mexican law in order to retain it’s operating permit as a PIMVS. That doesn’t mean it qualifies as a sanctuary as defined by GFAS.

On BJWT’s own FAQ page:

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Nowhere does it say “YES we are are registered sanctuary” because they ARE NOT a registered sanctuary, they are a registered zoo.

But back to the cubs and to the trillion dollar question: Where do all of these babies come from?

We know that at least several in “Shakira’s Pride” actually came from a zoo bought and owned by one of Serio’s friends, because Serio himself has said it on social media sites. That’s after he spun a tale about how he “didn’t have space to save the moms from the zoo, so he took the cubs to save them” leading the public to believe that it was a case of saving the animals from imminent death. Then he later admitted that his friend had bought the zoo, and all of its animals, which means that there was no need to remove those cubs from their mothers.

But moving on. That only accounts for a few of the new cubs, and the others remain a mystery, just like most of the cubs BJWT hosts. He says that the Mexican government confiscates them and gives them to BJWT, so it’s likely that some come from the government. We know that Mexico’s current system is grossly overburdened with animals, and there’s nowhere to put ones that are seized, so BJWT being the biggest name around, it’s perfectly likely they get the majority of cubs that are seized. And do at least some of them come from situations of abuse? More than likely, considering how many have arrived. But we also have videos wherein Serio admits that some of the cubs come from “private zoos” and “important people” who apparently own scads of big cats. It also bears pointing out that in the early days Serio referred to the cubs as “being adopted” but slowly began saying “rescued” later on.

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The fact that Serio recently began claiming that he was saving cubs from the canned hunting industry struck those of us who keep tabs on such things as very odd, considering the low numbers of trophies exported from Mexico, so I decided to dig a little. What I discovered was an underbelly of the exotic animal trade unlike anything I’ve experienced so far. As we know from articles like this one that owning big cats is considered a grand pastime for drug lords and wealthy individuals with too much time on their hands. And the very government groups like PROFEPA whom Serio proudly posts photos of himself buddying up to

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regularly turn a blind eye to all of this trafficking, so it makes one wonder how “valid” their regulation of groups like BJWT can be. But we know about this corruption, it’s documented regularly.

What I didn’t know, until very recently, is that the breeders who supply these sellers and private owners with animals often also run what amounts to Rent-A-Cub programs. For a one time fee, someone can “adopt” a cub, and take it home. Once the cub gets too big to handle, or starts causing problems, they can then bring the cubs back to the breeder, and return them in exchange for much younger and smaller cubs, and start all over again. Really, it’s the perfect scheme. You get all the cuteness, and none of the issues.

Now, Eddieites will vehemently defend BJWT and Serio, insisting that all of his “Angels” are still at BJWT, but we have very little proof of that, at least by way of social media. The cats might all be there in cages, or maybe they’re not. We see cubs, and then we don’t see them until they’ve grown considerably, so it’s often impossible to recognize them even if they’re shown again later. We just don’t know. We do know, however, that to start with, Serio always referred to cubs as having “been adopted” from people, often people his own cousin had contact with.

The same cousin who seemed to be the one selling the first cat Serio ever “adopted”.

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Of course, the story of Cielo has changed numerous times, each evolution making Serio’s procurement of her more and more heroic. This is one of the many issues with the lack of transparency associated with BJWT. In addition to the fact that the origins of the cubs is never properly and objectively documented, we have their use by Serio as a constant draw for support. Despite his own haughty (and often childishly tantrum-like) attacks on those who claim that he exploits his animals for the purpose of making money, he continues to put the animals front and center and use their likeness to sell BJWT merchandise.

Eddieites angrily defend Serio’s use of his cats for “advertising” claiming that BJWT needs funds in order to survive. Some even point out the need to fundraise so that “Stage 3” can be built. Never mind that Serio has been claiming that “Stage 3” is going to be completed “in a year” for the last three years.

Apparently, no Eddieites have ever been taught how to use a calculator, and think independently.

Here’s a little breakdown of things that BJWT followers clearly haven’t considered. Everything is in USD, as that’s how prices are listed on Boycott Circus.

Two weeks ago, BJWT posted new ball caps on their Instagram page (they were pretty fly, we admit) There are seven styles. Within two hours, at least one style was completely sold out. Now, we don’t know precisely how many hats BJWT had in stock, but let’s presume they started with 1,000. After all, they’ve got over 5 million followers on Instagram, it’s safe to think they’d stock new products in increments of at least 1,000 for something that only comes in one size like a hat.

The hats sell for $33.00-$36.00. So going with the less expensive hat, and presuming they had at least 1k to start, BJWT made $33,000 dollars free and clear in just two hours.

But paying for all of the “Angels” is expensive! Supporters say.

Okay, that’s true.

If just 50,000 supporters (out of 5.4 million) donate $100 dollars over the course of 1 year, BJWT makes $5,000,000.00

If just 10,000 (out of 5.4 million) supporters buy 1 $68.00 sweatshirt, BJWT makes $680,000.00

If just 100,000 out of 5.4 million) buy 1 $25.00 T-shirt, BJWT makes $2,500,000.00

If every Instagram follower buys just 1 T-shirt over the course of 1 year, BJWT makes $135,000,000.00

Ignoring that last number, and just going off the others, we’re up to $8,213,000.00 in one year.

Basic food, medical, maintenance costs for one big cat averages about $8,000 a year. Multiply that by 220, and you’re looking at $1,760,000.00 (and that’s paying for the food, while Serio has posted on Instagram boasting about how he gets the best deals from the biggest meat processors in Mexico) which is, admittedly, a lot of money.

But out of our theoretical merchandise money we’ve still got $6,453,000.00 leftover.

Then there’s staff and expenditures, etc. The fact that they’re building Stage 2B, 3B, etc. or what have you. But if, donations are coming in, it shouldn’t be a problem. Again, we don’t know because there’s no running tab posted anywhere.

Remember, I’m just throwing numbers around. I’m saying that it’s possible to make this much on merchandise and donations. I mean, come on, with 5.4 million followers, you just need them to donate $1.00 a year in order to make $5.4 million dollars. What I’ve listed here is just one possible donation, and just THREE products out of the available 69 products on BJWT’s swag site, which is devoted solely to selling products for them. And 100% of the proceeds rendered from sales on Boycott Circus go to BJWT.

And none of this includes any funding BJWT might receive from the government for taking animals if he has, as he’s said he has. It doesn’t include any donations, aside from the one reference.

And those donations do occur far more often that Eddieites seem to think. For example, last year, Hublot held a benefit brunch for BJWT that cost people between $500.00 and $1000.000 just to walk in the door.

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BJWT made $200,000.00 during the event.

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Then Ronda Rousey, whom Serio still talks about, made $23,000.00 for them by auctioning off items online.

With Eddie just posing with a new $4,000.00 “gift” from Hublot founder a few weeks ago, it’s safe to assume that the majority of the companies who donate to BJWT do so more than once. You can’t post photos of all of these supporters, and not have people expect them to be, well, supporting you. But without any financial transparency, the public has no way of knowing where any of that money goes. Eddieites presume–and insist–that it goes to the cats, and a portion of it surely does. But where does the rest go?

We don’t know. Not entirely.

But at least some of the funds raised by BJWT’s considerable efforts at selling merchandise and kickbacks from all the social media advertising (remember, people get paid for social media, too) seem to go to some pretty strange places. Like animal cloning companies who work with Korean firms to clone dead pets.

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PerPETuate’s founder, Ron Gillespie says that cloning will be the future of “building” the perfect animal, and that instead of accepting the death of an animal as part of the cycle of life, he can “offer hope” to people by using science to “bring these animals back”. It does put Serio’s mantra of “Karmis Forever” into a whole new light. Never mind the fact that in this blurb, Karma is described as a pure African lion, and this version of Cielo’s story has Serio saving her from certain death after her mother perished in childbirth, none of which has ever been mentioned elsewhere.

But back to the mind boggling issue of BJWT having stored Karma’s DNA for cloning. The cloning process is not cheap. Cloning averages around $100,000.00. And that’s after the preliminary costs of having the DNA stored and cultured, and the annual costs of keeping it banked. It should also be noted that on the website, it says that the best time to harvest cells for banking is while the animal is alive and healthy, as harvesting after death would allow for cell deterioration. So that suggests that at least a little planning went into this.

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Now, we have no way of knowing how any of this cockamamie stuff was paid for, because Serio has never mentioned the fact that he ever did it at all. For a guy who takes his Facebook live feeds to the bathroom with him when he has to pee, it seems a little shocking that he’d choose not to let his adoring fans know that “Hey, Karmis Forever is legit literal, we can bring her back whenever we want to.”

But in complete and utter fairness, maybe Serio paid for all of this out of pocket just because he loved Karma. I mean, he is pretty fast to say that he’s got “unlimited money” with which to sue people, and he claims to pay for most of the foundation himself, despite all of those merch sales and donations from supporters. It’s totally possible. Stranger things have happened, I mean. Okay, saving DNA to clone an inbred lion you “rescued” from a crappy breeder is pretty strange. But Serio could have paid for it without using BJWT donations, is all I’m saying.

And frankly, here’s something incredibly important to note, which I’m sure will go entirely unregistered by Eddieites, in favor of hating us for the article in general, but which I’m going to say anyhow.

WE DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH BJWT MAKING MILLIONS A YEAR.

What we have a problem with, is a nonprofit 501(c)3 bringing in large amounts of undocumented donations and income, when by United States 501(c)3 regulations, nonprofits must document and make public EVERY donation they receive, as well as where that money is spent (not just photos of something with the word “fiscal” in it, but no breakdown of money coming in and going out) Now, BJWT’s 501(c)3 document (so angrily posted by Serio on social media) is dated January 18th of 2016, so a full year hasn’t passed yet, and I’m not clear on precisely when they need to post their financials. Different companies end and begin their fiscal year at different times. It’s possible that BJWT is not required to post their financials until the end of this year. Which is fine, as long as they’re complying with the law.

However, Serio very publicly attacked and led a campaign against a conservation writer (whose name I will not post here because she has no personal stake in this article) who stated in a January 2nd 2016 article that BJWT was not a registered 501(c)3 company. Serio called this writer a liar, stated that he would sue her, and through various threats eventually forced her to remove the article in question.

But here’s the thing, the article stating that BJWT was not a 501(c)3 company predates the officiation of BJWT as a 501(c)3 by more than two months.

So the writer was correct, and BJWT was not a 501k company at the time of the article’s publication. The 501(c)3 document posted after the fact by Serio is dated as having been received for consideration on January 18, 2016, two weeks after the article was published. And it took another two months for BJWT to officially receive 501(c)3 status. On their website, BJWT claims to be a 501(c)3 since January 11th, 2016, which doesn’t coincide with stamp clearly visible on the documents posted on Instagram. However, even being lenient, and going with the 11th as the official recognition of their status, it still means that at the time that the article in question was published, BJWT was not yet a recognized 501(c)3 company. And furthermore, the author couldn’t have possible known that BJWT was even in the process of attaining a 501(c)3 status.

Companies change and evolve. That’s fine. What’s true about a foundation one month, might not be true the next month. But the fact that BJWT is now a 501(c)3 company does not make it acceptable for Serio to have threatened and publicly attacked someone who correctly stated that BJWT was not yet a 501(c)3 company at the time that she wrote an article about them.

Serio’s hyper aggressive actions toward anyone who questions him raise serious questions about his honesty in regard to the running of the foundation. He uses his followers as an army of rage, unleashing them on anyone who questions BJWT, and often using violent outbursts and threats as a distraction to allow him leeway and time in which to alter either BJWT’s website (so he can later claim people are lying about BJWT, as was the case when BJWT had personal visits listed in exchange for monetary donations) or change the way in which something is referred to. He also has a history of lying about what’s been said about BJWT, misquoting whomever it was that said, or suggested, something he didn’t approve of, and instead of gathering information independently, Eddieites simply repeat whatever Serio says, and then proceed with attacking whomever has questioned him. It’s all a carefully orchestrated system of misinformation.

Which leaves all of us wondering where the cubs come from, where the money goes, and if we’ll ever get an answer that’s not shrouded in hateful vitriol, rageful threats and condemnation for having asked questions in the first place.

* Addendum. 5 hours after this article was published, Serio has revealed “Box 6” which holds yet another tiny lion cub.

 

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“Not To Hurt Our Humble Brethren Is Our First Duty To Them;” Pope Francis Should Have Brushed Up On the Teachings of His Namesake

I was Christened Catholic. It doesn’t come up much, but I was. And I grew up around devout Catholics. Mass several times a week, Catholics. They were my Great Aunts. I still have crucifixes that belonged to them, and various icons. They instilled in me, a love for the Saints, if not for the Church. The Church can be twisted into all sorts of things, to suit the ideals of whomever is in charge. But the Saints? Well, they were just people who lived life as thoughtfully as they could, and became so renowned for their own lives that they were later canonized. Some of them might seem silly, but to my great aunts they were all important in their own ways.

St. Francis was always my saint. He was the one I’d mutter prayers to while trying to climb a tree and return a wayward baby bird to its nest. St. Francis was the one I invoked when I was silently begging for an opossum or turtle to make it across the road, back when I was too young to do anything else about it. St. Francis was my go-to guy whenever shit hit the fan and an animal was in danger, or when a lot of thankless work needed to be done for nothing in order for an animal to be properly taken care of. It was St. Francis I beseeched to look over animals that were beyond my aid, animals who were suffering and dying, or had already died. All too often because of human abuse, or ignorance. Suffice to say, I rely on St. Francis a lot. Daily, and sometimes, multiple times a day, if it’s a particularly shitty day for animals.

St. Francis saw animals as his brothers and sisters, he saw them as equals, and he believed it was our responsibility as humans to respect them and treat them as we would other humans.

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.
All creatures have the same source as we have. Like us, they derive the life of thought, love, and will from the Creator. Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them; but to stop there is a complete misapprehension of the intentions of Providence. We have a higher mission. God wishes that we should succour them whenever they require it.”
–St Francis

Since I consider St. Francis to be my personal patron saint, I was keen, in an abstract and outsider sort of way, when the latest Pope chose his name after, and in honor of, St. Francis. And as far as leaders of the Church goes, the Pope has been a pretty open and understanding Pope, straddling that awkward and constantly wavering line between the Church and everything that doesn’t fall under the Church’s “acceptance” or “ideals”.

That all changed for me this afternoon when ICARUS founder, Jessica James left me a voicemail telling me to check out Youtube and what happened at the Vatican today. I dubiously did as suggested and I couldn’t have been more shocked and disappointed at what I found.

Pop Francis–who named himself in honor of St. Francis who saw himself as the caretaker of all God’s creations, no matter how lowly–was smiling and laughing as he watched a captive tiger paraded around on a chain choke collar and leash. He even engaged in petting the captive tiger, an action which leads to the suffering and death of thousands of captive big cats all over the world every year. There was photo of Pope Francis also petting a very small black jaguar cub. A cub that looked too young to have properly developed its immune system.

The visit, described as a “jubilee for traveling circuses” was intended to celebrate the treatment of “the most needy, the poor and the homeless, prisoners and disadvantaged kids.” to whom the traveling performers often open their shows. While the treatment of their fellow humans is commendable, the treatment of their animals is another matter.

Has the Pope read none of the teachings of his own namesake? That he seemingly condones the use of captive animals within circuses, the continued breeding of them for the sake of providing cubs to be constantly exploited, the violence used to force them to perform, is heart wrenching. That he would actually partake in glorifying such abuse and exploitation while bearing the name of a Saint who would have–and did, during his lifetime–condemn such transgressions, is utterly unconscionable.

“This too, is mercy–to sow beauty and joy in a world sometimes gloomy and sad.” The Pope was quoted as saying, in regard to the kindness of the circus performers.

But the circus is a world that is always gloomy and sad for the animals trapped and abused within it.

Contrastingly to the Pope’s happy embracement of animal exploitation, his namesake, St. Francis said,

“We are not God…. we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the heart justifies absolute domination of other creatures.”

And,

“Every act of cruelty towards any creature is contrary to human dignity.”

St. Francis went so far as to say, in the face of the Church, that,

“An inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology gave rise to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world. Often, what was handed on was a Promethean vision of mastery over the world, which gave the impression that the protection of nature was something that only the faint-hearted cared about. Instead, our “domination” over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.”

The word Stewardship is defined as: the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.

“Responsible overseeing and protection of” doesn’t quite jive with “beating into submission, forcing to perform, denying medical care, abusing, exploiting, and breeding for profit” yet that’s precisely what circuses do with their animals. It’s what’s been happening to animals since animals were first captured and used in the arenas of the Gladiators.

It’s what’s been happening to animals for thousands of years, and what’s still happening to animals today.

But it’s not how St. Francis believed animals should be treated, and it’s not what he taught, or how he lived. Pope Francis clearly needs to brush up on his studies of his own namesake, because I doubt that St. Francis would be honored by how the Pope has acted today.

The captive breeding and exploitation of big cats is a phenomenon that is actually increasing, despite the best efforts of groups like ICARUS. Despite that many circuses have announced that they will phase out elephants in the use of their shows, most still use big cats in their performances. Despite that questions are being raised about such pseudo-sanctuaries as Black Jaguar White Tiger, T.I.G.E.R.S., Dade City Wild Things, and others who promote pay to play cub-petting schemes, and who perpetually produce captive bred big cat cubs to be used in those schemes, the social media presence of these exploiters continue to grow in popularity.

In my last post, I covered the recent worldwide celebration of a staged video showing Eduardo Serio playing with one of his jaguars, pointing out that while he and his followers considered it a triumph for them, it really did nothing but peddle the idea that big cats make cute pets.

Now, the Pope, whom millions admire and look to for examples of how life should be lived, has, knowingly or not, publicly condoned the exploitation, abuse, and suffering of captive exotic animals everywhere.

Pope Francis has, by example, condoned the belief that animals exist solely to provide us with entertainment, something his namesake, St. Francis, spent a lifetime trying to counter. A lifetime that was so revered after the fact that he was canonized, his name forever linked to the ideals he worked to foster while alive.

I might not be a practicing Catholic, and I’m sure that Pope Francis could care less about my opinion of him, but St. Francis is my patron saint, and I’ve done everything I can to fashion my own life after his.

Today, Pope Francis disregarded the very deepest beliefs that his namesake, St. Francis held most dear, what he prayed to God daily for, that he would have the “grace to see all animals as gifts from You and to treat them with respect for they are Your creation.”

For shame, Pope Francis, how could you so willingly embrace and participate in the exploitation and abuse of God’s creatures for the profit and amusement of the human race?

“The Lord bless thee and keep thee. May he show his face to thee and have pity on thee. May he turn his countenance toward thee and give thee peace. The Lord bless thee.”

–Blessing of St. Francis

Artemis Grey

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Why Let The Truth Get In The Way Of A Good Story? What Happens When News Outlets Only Report Half The Facts

I had an unexpected day off, yesterday, and I fully intended to use it to get much needed writing on novels done. However, I made the mistake of checking the I.C.A.R.U.S. email account first, and that’s when things ground to a halt. There, across the Yahoo news page, was yet one more headliner with a video of Eduardo Serio of Black Jaguar White Tiger standing casually against a stone wall while a black jaguar stalks him. The headliner, like so many of the videos from BJWT which are shared on the internet, made a joke of the fact that Serio was being stalked by a jaguar.

A little research into this latest “media splash” revealed posts on Snapchat, made by Serio excitedly boasting “Yahoo Front Page :)”

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and “Look who made it into Snapchat’s daily mail :)”

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There’s also an Instagram post referring to the Snapchat email.

“About time that (tags snapchat staff using Instagram handles) cut a flower from their garden hahahahaha Love you guys. But really, about time :)”

Yes, it’s about time that Snapchat recognized how important Eduardo Serio is, how much he does for them by posting hundreds of videos of his “rescued” big cats to their site. Nothing says narcissism like multiple posts on multiple social media accounts boasting about how you’re featured on multiple social media and news sites. Not for anything virtuous, but because you have a pet jaguar–who you insist isn’t your pet–stalking you like a house cat chasing rolled up socks.

You see, this, is what Serio cares about more than conservation, more than animals, more than humans, more than anything on the entire planet: Himself. And his own media greatness.

While I was stewing and trying to convince myself to just move on and ignore the flippant and ignorant news blip, my sister sent me a text with a link to another news article by CNN, one which showed the very same video.

I followed it, of course, and then followed other links and came up with numerous stories, all branching from the same video utilized in the Snapchat daily mail that Serio was so appreciative of (though he made it clear that the honor was quite overdue, thank you very much) and unsurprisingly, most of the videos and news blurbs said nothing of the ongoing issues with the foundation. Nor did they mention Serio’s recent and very public threats against any group speaking out in opposition to his foundation.

Only two stories I found, Chloe Bryan’s Mashable blurb, and Jeanne Moos’s CNN “backstory” clip, address the fact that handling big cats like they’re pets might not actually be the best thing to do in the name of conservation.

While Ms. Bryan’s blurb does cite at least two articles relating to problems that have been raised in regard to BJWT, and Ms. Moos’s clip features a brief statement from Kelli Heckman of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (which have set the standards the I.C.A.R.U.S. team uses when referring to sanctuaries as genuine, or pseudo) and does link to one, older article questioning BJWT, neither the blurb or backstory address the deeper issues of someone utilizing hundreds of animals in order to make themselves famous. Nor do they mention the fact that Serio’s “fierce critics” as Ms. Moos refers to them, are the focus of daily death threats, and threats of legal attack, or physical abuse–by not only Serio himself, but also the millions of followers he wields like a club in defense of his own actions. Neither article, while they question Serio’s practices, point out that he’s also a bully, who regularly threatens American citizens, along with citizens of other countries, when they disagree with him. Chloe’s article has already been inundated with BJWT followers criticizing her, threatening her, informing her of how wrong she is about BJWT, and defending both Serio, and BJWT.

Other stories, like this one put out today by Fox News offer nothing at all, even suggesting that keeping big cats as pets is a bad idea, aside from a one-liner at then end saying that they can’t endorse kissing a jaguar, but they do think you should check out the video.

Yes, by all means, check out that video of someone exploiting an animal, and share it.

Give the guy in the video more attention, and more reason to keep hoarding animals and calling it conservation. You’ve just secured the fate of countless more animals to captivity.

Animals like the most recent batch of cubs, most of whom were intentionally removed from their mothers for no reason–as Serio has admitted that the some of the mothers are owned by a friend and in no danger. Animals like “Arizona” the tiny tiger cub seen aspirating and nearly drowning in milk while being improperly fed in this video, which has since been deleted. Weeks after that video surfaced, and was subsequently deleted, Serio announced that Arizona is now having health issues, including “seizures” which he blames on “inbreeding”.

We’ll never know precisely what’s wrong with Arizona. However, aspiration pneumonia due to improper feeding techniques is considered one of the highest risks associated with hand raising captive big cat cubs, and it can cause seizure or tremors as well as dehydration.

According to Ron Hines, DMV PhD:

“The most serious problem that can occurs for an inexperienced caregivers (or a distracted or rushed experienced caregivers) is allowing the milk formula to enter the cub’s lungs rather than its stomach – the formula “goes down the wrong way”.
The most common cause of this is feeding infant cubs in the wrong position. Never cradle and feed these exotic cats on their back as you would a human infant. These animals must have their stomach side down (belly down) when they suckle. Later, when the cub is more developed and able to walk, it can sit back on its haunches or stand and take the bottle in its front paws like the one in the photograph at the top of this article.

The younger a cub is, the more likely this problem is to occur. That is why inexperienced caregivers are much safer if they take over the chore when cubs are already 4-6 weeks old. Let an experienced person get you started right.

Here are some other tips to help you prevent this problem:

Feed the baby in the proper position

Use nipples that are the right size and that do not leak or flow too easily. (Pull on the nipple to be sure it is well seated. Enthusiastic cubs will pull nipples right off the bottle and can swallow them.)

Never squeeze the bottle when the cub is nursing

Be sure you stop feeding the cub as soon as it no longer sucks vigorously and greedily. Do not punch too many holes or too large a hole in the rubber nipple. Milk should not drip or accumulate on the bottle when it is held nipple-down.

Milk should never come out a cub’s nose.

Once a cub has aspirated, there is very little a veterinarian like me can do to improve its chances of surviving.

Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia are labored breathing, irregular breathing, gasping, pale or bluish gums. Later, tremors and listlessness and death.”

From the AZA website relating to the hand rearing of cubs (which it counsels against doing, unless the cub’s life is at stake):

“When feeding young felids, they should be placed on their stomach on a flat surface (e.g., table). Cubs held in an upright or head back position during feeding are more prone to aspiration and death.”

 

And a recent article on Tublr by Big Cat Awareness which cites AZA standards for the hand feeding of big cat cubs and showcases the GFAS standards such as: 

“Humans do not enter enclosures with felids. Direct physical interaction is limited to protected forms of contact, by experienced personnel, to minimize the risk of injury.
No direct contact between the public and felids occurs.”

After seeing Arizona aspirate enough milk that she regurgitated it through her nose, none of us who have even the most remote experience with hand rearing felids (domestic, or captive wild) are surprised to hear that she is now having health problems. But BJWT fans seem incapable of linking the fact that Arizona was improperly fed, choked on milk, and subsequently aspirated it, with the fact that she’s now having seizures, which could well be directly caused by the aspiration of the milk. And with Serio blaming “inbreeding” for practically every health care issue he admits an animal has, no scientific information on the risks of his continued hand rearing is being offered to the public who adores him.

It does not help, that media outlets so often just merely brush against the larger topics within their stories, without ever *actually* taking a stand on the matter.

The “backstory” Ms. Moos did for CNN can be broken down to a few sentences:

Eduardo Serio has hundreds of cats who love to kiss him. He has supporters and critics. Lots of celebrities love him because they get to pet big cats. Kelli Heckman says it’s a bad idea, and GFAS says it’s the wrong message. He says he rescues them from circuses and breeders. We couldn’t speak to Serio for the story.

Where, in that article is an actual position on the matter? There isn’t one.

Now, before anyone can say that it’s not the news media’s place to say something is right or wrong, I understand that in this modern era, the “shell game” of responsibility is stronger than ever. But it wasn’t always that way. It used to be that when a news agency reported on something, it was with an intent on ferreting out the truth behind that story, be it a good truth, or a bad truth. And then they stood with the researched truth. Now, that’s not the case. The internet is comprised of “fluff” pieces that either circumnavigate connotations of “good” and “bad” entirely, or arrange a few partial facts and leave the public to sort them out.

Ms. Moos included footage of celebrity “supporters” of BJWT, and she including an “expert” from the GFAS stating that what Serio does is not real conservation. However, she either didn’t research enough to find, or chose to omit facts such as celebrities lashing out at those who try to inform them that they’re participating in bad pseudo-conservation

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or the fact that Serio has publicly attacked and threatened to destroy groups, “fierce critics” in Ms. Moos’ words, who speak out against him:

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And while Ms. Moos raised questions about where those animals came from, she did not mention the fact that Serio has admitted to buying directly from breeders, and private zoos, or that buying from breeders directly supports the captive breeding of big cats.

This leaves the news media in the very safe position of, well, not actually having a position.

I am grateful to Ms. Moos for having contacted the GFAS and gotten a comment from them. I’m grateful that she brought into question the fact that BJWT is not accredited by the GFAS, and the fact that no one knows where all of those cubs are coming from. I’m grateful that she brought into question the practice of handling big cats as if they’re pets, and allowing celebrities to pet them. If Ms. Moos has interest in seeing firsthand how BJWT followers react to anyone asking even the most minimal questions (something we deal with on a daily basis) here are some of the responses to her own CNN backstory:

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I particularly love the last one pictured wherein the commenter say Serio “doesn’t appreciate zoos”. Except for zoos bought by his friends, and from which he then takes more babies to hand raise so he can post more videos of himself playing with them. This is–in Serio’s own words–how some of the cubs he’s currently raising were secured. The first story he gave involved rescuing them from a zoo, and being unable to house the mothers of the cub. Later, however, Serio has admitted that one of his personal friends bought the zoo in question, which would indicate no great risk for the animals, and thus no real reason to remove them from their mothers.

Yes, Ms. Moos’s backstory is a start.

It is not, however, enough to even dent the ego and social media presence of someone who thrives off of being the center of attention on social media sites and in “fluff” pieces of news which only serve to promote him and his status. As of the writing of this article, the “cutesy, this is awesome” versions of the jaguar stalking video have spread around the world, being featured on news sites in Norway, Australia, Germany, Sweden, the UK, Serbia, Chile, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and nearly every state in the US. The video has been shared hundreds of thousands of times, if not millions. BJWT followers are hailing this as evidence of the spread of the “BJWT Nation” and a triumph for them.

A triumph for them.

Not the thousands of wild big cats slaughtered every year. Not the tens of thousands of big cats that languish in captivity. This media frenzy is not a “triumph” for any animal.

All of this attention goes strictly to one group. Eduardo Serio and his millions of worshipers. Which is exactly what Serio wants, and has always wanted. All of the attention on himself and his empire.

For those of us who actually care about animals, the fight against such horrendous misinformation as promoted in this article in the Irish Examiner, continues.

It bares saying that in this post:

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Serio threatens those speaking out in opposition of him, saying that he has “unlimited amounts of money” with which to sue us–from another country–until we’ve been destroyed, and that he’ll use those unlimited funds to get rid of us. Yet in the Irish Examiner article it clearly states that he’s “trying to raise money to expand the size of the sanctuary”.

Now, either he has “unlimited amounts of money” or he doesn’t. Either he’s lying about how much money he has that he intends to use to sue those of us who publicly disagree with him, or he’s lying about needing the money to expand the foundation, but you can’t have it both ways.

What sort to “daily abuse” that those like the I.C.A.R.U.S. Foundation deal with am I talking about?

Here’s an example of the rants we deal with, in which Serio rails against “Project Imbecile” for “trashing him” while blatantly lying about the “two women” who comprise “Project Imbecile” (check our articles yourself, we never said what he’s accusing us of saying) and erroneously associates “Project Imbecile” with big cat groups in Tampa. He goes on to say that he’s been accused of using the tiger, Achilles, seen in this video, for publicity, which he claims isn’t true. Despite that he’s making a video about Achilles on social media while talking about how he isn’t using Achilles for publicity.  Right after this section, Serio proclaims that the only real reason “Project Imbecile” hates him, is because he’s got 12k videos and photos posted on social media, and millions of followers, and we’re jealous.

Apparently, Serio bases expertise, and conservation on how many friends one has on social media, not what you actually do to aid conservation efforts. In Serio’s world, adding the hashtag #savetigers, or #savelions, or my favorite #notpets to videos of himself rolling around in his own bed with the aforementioned animals apparently somehow saves them, and shows people that they should never be treated as pets. I would link to the full length video, but I can’t find it. It’s either been deleted (something that happens often after a video has been posted) or it’s lost among the hundreds of videos posted since.

This is a vital point that Serio himself makes again and again, though.

He’s successful on social media and has millions of followers, and that is why he has “haters” who question his practices.

To Serio, it’s not about conservation of animals, about proper handling techniques, about captive big cats or about how they aren’t pets. It’s about the fact that he has millions of followers.

It’s about the fact that because he has millions of followers on social media sites, companies are willing to donate products, or services, to him, not because they care about the animals, but because they know that Serio’s followers will eagerly buy and support products that Serio uses and associates with, which will bring them a boost in sales, and money. It’s about the fact that for every one article that raises questions about BJWT, hundreds of ignorant articles are shared celebrating them, and erroneously likening the exploitation they use to a “special bond” never realizing that the animals featured have been hand reared and specifically selected just to be used in those videos. Articles like this one from Today, actually categorize the video and article under “pets” not conservation, something that is actually truthful.

Nothing BJWT does, aside from the ubiquitous hash tagging, has anything to do with conservation. It has to do with pets, and animal exploitation.

This is capitalism at its finest. We’re right back to kids buying Wheaties for no reason besides the fact that there is a celebrity they love on the box. Only in this case, the advertisement isn’t to become a star athlete. The message in this case, is to pet, coddle, play with and fawn over dangerous big cats as if they were pets. It’s to overlook the fact that by buying cubs from breeders, you’re supporting the breeding of captive big cats. It’s to be one of the “cool crowd” and play with big cats like celebrities do. It’s to exploit animals which do not belong in captivity, and would not be there except for people like Eduardo Serio who keeps them like pets, and promote the act of doing so.

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The Greatest Griefs Are Those We Cause Ourselves

The titles of today’s post is taken from Sophocles, a common translation of a passage within Oedipus Rex. It is a passage that I can still remember being forced to dissect and expound upon in an entire essay back in high school.

In the days since the horrendous execution of Harambe the above quote has rung in my head repeatedly. Experts are taking sides. The public is divided, and divided again. The zookeepers should have used tranquilizer, the parent should have been watching the child, the zoo should have had higher fencing, a better protocol, the parents should be held accountable and sued. Some radicals (whose comments have been removed from the I.C.A.R.U.S. Facebook page, but I’ve seen the same suggestions elsewhere) suggest that the child should have been shot, rather than Harambe.

But the zoo isn’t responsible for Harambre’s death. Neither are the zookeepers, the parents, or the people who built the enclosure.

I am responsible for Harambre’s death.

So is my sister.

So are my parents.

So is anyone reading this who has ever paid to gain entry into a zoo wherein animals are put on display.

The fact that we as a species believe it is our right to enslave other creatures purely for our amusement is responsible for Harambre’s death.

The concept of zoos didn’t even begin with animals. The very first zoos were often private collections belonging to emperors, kings, tzars, sultanas and the like, and they were often comprised of human slaves captured in far off lands, and then brought to live in cages for the amusement of the wealthy.

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These “human zoos” have long been documented, and photographic evidence remains since photography was first invented. Different cultures, races, and those with deformities or strange medical conditions were all fair game for first human zoos, and later sideshows. Many times, the inhabitants of these zoos and sideshows were kidnapped and forced to perform, such as in the case of the Muse Brothers of Roanoke Virginia, a case in which Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey actively participated in the exploitation of the kidnapped and imprisoned brothers.

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Eventually, we moved on from exploiting other humans, to exclusively exploiting animals. Decades later, zoos remain extremely popular, even more so due to their own huge public relation campaigns which portray zoos to be the only way in which we can maintain animal species.

Zoos have systematically conditioned the pubic to believe that the only way in which wild animals can exist is under our care, safely protected inside the walls of zoos, and that the only way in which we can teach the public about them is through display of them, and “outreach” wherein the public is allowed to get “up close and personal” with them.

In short, they’ve created the myth that wild animals need us, and cannot be trusted to survive without our direct intervention in their lives.

It is this very reasoning that pseudo-sanctuaries like Black Jaguar White Tiger use in order to justify their actions. They are “rescuing” (though that sometimes means needlessly removing cubs from their mothers) the animals, thus giving them a “better” life than they would have had else wise, and they are “educating the public” (about what, is never very clear, nor does it seem to matter) by handling, playing with, taking photos with, and generally treating the animals as pets, so doing these things are deemed acceptable.

And tragically, despite articles and studies showing that zoos do not, in fact help wild animals, despite situations like the recent killing of two lions in Chile, despite situations like the ongoing disaster at the Yumka Zoo, despite the brutal killing of Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo, the public keeps paying to go “visit” the animals.

Until the whole of the world embraces the idea that wild animals do not belong in captivity nothing is going to change, and there will eventually be more Harambes.

We are the ones causing all of these deaths. But all we need do in order to assure that there is never another Harambe, is to deny the belief that wild animals are better off “safe” in a captive setting. Any captive setting. This is why the I.C.A.R.U.S. team is so set against any direct interaction. Simply moving animals from a “zoo” setting into a “sanctuary” setting is not necessarily better, either. Not when there is so little oversight, and so few GFAS accredited sanctuaries out there. It is still a form of captivity.

Our goal is to create a future wherein there are no captive wild animals of any kind.

The fact is, that it is only by removing the human factor that we can truly protect wild animals. By keeping them wild, and protecting their habitat, we can save them. Not by breeding and inbreeding them within the walls of zoos or organizations which directly profit from hosting them, and exploiting them.

Harambe’s death was devastating to his species, which is critically endangered. But it wouldn’t have happened if he was not living in a zoo for the amusement of humans. That single factor is what killed him. If Harambe was not in a zoo, he would not be dead, as simple as that. If everyone who is now demanding justice for his death, or accusing those involved of mishandling the situation, simply chose to forever boycott zoos, they could effectively stop future tragedies from ever occurring.

No, animals currently living in zoos can’t just be “set free” into the wild, and yes, research is invaluable to conservation and the preservation of certain species. That does not mean, however, that zoos–as they currently exist–need to remain exactly as they currently exist. Breeding for the sake of pulling in tourists, does not help research, and does create a surplus of animals, many of which quietly disappear, sold into canned hunting, or private ownership. And losing animals due to incidents like the Harambe case does nothing to help sustain critically endangered wild populations.

The public must make a conscientious choice to support accredited sanctuaries, and research groups which do not exploit animals during their endeavors, in order to change the way the process works. It’s all up to the public which is currently so enraged over Harambe’s recent death.

The killing of Cecil the lion launched a huge movement of awareness about the canned hunting industry, and trophy hunting. The killing of Harambe can do the same thing for the travesty of zoos, roadside animal attractions, and pseudo-sanctuaries which condone cub-petting and direct human/animal interactions.

But only if the public decides to do something with their anger and desire for justice.

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Your Logic Is Illogical: Why There Will Never Be A Valid Excuse For Cub-Petting

Bonus points if you get the Spock reference in that title. If not, you can check out Start Trek on Netflix later. Right now keep reading because I want to further discuss something that the I.C.A.R.U.S. team has taken a position on right from the off.

If you’ve been following us for a while, or have read through older blog posts, you’ll know that we are firmly hands-off conservation. Unless a wild animal is receiving medical attention or rehab, we believe that they should not be handled by humans. Ever. Part of the reason we take this stance is that wild animals belong in the wild. But the biggest part of why we take this stance is because:

Conservationists must set an example for the public to follow.

Let’s say you’re a geologist, and your life’s work is protecting places like Monument National Park. You abhor careless tourists, and those who deface the stones of the monuments either by marking on them, moving them, or climbing and damaging them. You’ve joined groups who have petitioned to ban climbers from scaling the stone monuments because having people climb the stone structures damages them, and creates a draw for others to climb them, too.

Then a guy videos himself climbing Delicate Arch. He uploads that video onto social media and in his caption he uses hashtags like #protectourparks #notaplayground #stayoffthestones #saverocks #conservation. He starts making more videos of himself climbing every major stone monument in every park across the country–many of which are banned to climbers–and posts the videos on social media sites for his growing fan base. He starts getting donations to fund his climbing exploits. All the while, he claims to be climbing these fragile stone monuments in order to conserve the stone monuments, and to show people that you should never climb them.

All of his followers agree that no one should ever climb protected stone monuments. Except for Mr. Climber, because he’s an “expert” and “doing it to conserve the monuments, so it’s okay”. And if he takes guests climbing on the monuments with him, that’s okay, too. His followers would all like to climb them, but they know they can’t, unless they’re with Mr. Climber, because he’s doing for a good cause, so if they do it while they’re with him, then they’re doing it for a good cause, too. I mean, he’s got to garner support for his cause, right? And besides, he’s hash tagging everything #notaplayground and #stayoffthestones, so everyone watching knows that “normal” people shouldn’t climb the monuments like he does.

Anyone who speaks out against Mr. Climber, or who questions why he’s damaging stone monuments by climbing them, and then claiming that he’s doing it to protect them, is given death threats, publicly threatened with lawsuits for defamation, and called jealous haters.

Never mind that they’ve been working to protect stone monuments from people climbing them for years before Mr. Climber showed up and started climbing them and damaging them “in the name of conservation”.

If this sounds completely irrational, congratulations, it is completely irrational, and you have a modicum of commonsense. However, if you supplant “climbing stone monuments” with “handling and playing with big cats” you have the precise situation in which groups like I.C.A.R.U.S. and PACH have now found themselves.

Playing with captive wildlife has become the new thing to be seen doing. Every celebrity who is any celebrity, it seems, has joined in on the game. Photos of supposed animals rights defenders cooing over tiger cubs no larger than a deli sub, or lounging on blankets while older cubs use them for warm-blooded furniture is becoming the new normal. In some cases, the celebrities revisit these pseudo-sanctuaries (establishments not GFAS accredited) repeatedly, following the growth of cubs specifically named after them. They tout these “sanctuaries” as being the best there is in conservation. And the actors and actresses often say that they are devoted to animals conservation, which is why they’re playing with cubs at these pseudo-sanctuaries.

The problem is, these pseudo sanctuaries–even ones who manage to legally bear the status of “sanctuary” via shoddy laws and enforcement–are not impacting genuine conservation positively. They’re impacting it negatively.

The rock climber climbing rocks to spread awareness of how people shouldn’t climb rocks is just one analogy of what’s currently going on in conservation circles, but the logic can be applied to literally anything. People don’t rob stores in order to teach others that robbing stores is bad. Men don’t rape women to teach their sons that raping women is bad. No one binge drinks to show the dangers of alcohol, or drives drunk in order to show that drunk driving is bad. People don’t marry child brides in oder to publicize the damaging affects of being a child bride.

There is no facet of society that I could find in researching this article wherein it is acceptable to commit the very acts against which one is speaking. No one takes a child from a situation of abuse, and then abuses them in order to spread awareness about child abuse. No reputable animal rescue takes an animal from a situation of abuse or exploitation, and then abuses or exploits them in order to raise awareness about animals abuse and exploitation.

Yet some of the highest profile pseudo-sanctuaries who are beloved by social media anti-intellectuals do just that.

Any self-proclaimed sanctuary (or foundation which gained non-GFAS accredited sanctuary status under lenient or unenforced laws) who directly handles their animals, allows the public to handle their animals, and/or posts pictures and videos of themselves, or others handling and playing with those animals is not, in fact, helping conservation efforts. They are, instead, actively participating in the exploitation of those animals.

Recently one of these pseudo-sanctuaries publicly admitted on social media that it had removed cubs from mothers–which were being good mothers–because they “did not also have room to house the mothers”. But at the same time, that pseudo-sanctuary also openly admitted that the zoo housing all the animals had been purchased by a friend, and the animals were “safe”. Followers of this pseudo-sanctuary cheered it on as another situation in which the owner was a “hero for saving those poor animals”.

Those of us who think on a more intellectual, rather than “Aaaaaw, good feelings!” level are left with a slew of unanswered questions, the most basic of which is: If the entire zoo was purchased by a rescuer, and the animals therein were safe and secure, why were cubs forcibly removed from their mothers in order to be hand raised by an institute which built its empire on allowing people to play with cubs?

Of course, questions like that go unanswered. The only responses received by anyone inquiring about such things are threats, and hate-speech.

The fact remains, however, that the very logic of publicly doing what you’re supposedly against in order to raise awareness about how no one should do it, is illogical. Aside from the fact that it’s actually completely laughable, it’s also incredibly insulting to people who are trying to stop such widespread behavior, and help animals from being put into those situations.

Which brings to mind another important question: Why are millions of people still supporting these pseudo-sanctuaries? At least part of the answer is the fact that the public–even those who don’t agree with the way the animals are being treated–turn a blind eye on the behavior and simply do nothing. Many do not have the fortitude to raise questions and speak out when they know that it will illicit threats of lawsuits, or actual lawsuits, or character assassination online. Some speak up or ask questions only to be blocked, savagely attacked and cursed and are so shocked by the outrageous response to simple questions that they just move on, making a mental note never to mention the topic again. As for why the supporters of these numerous pseudo-sanctuaries, and non-GFAS establishments continue to defend them, even in the face of rational facts and scientific argument, we just couldn’t tell you.

What I.C.A.R.U.S. can tell you, is that for the sake of the animals, both those remaining in the wild, and those in captivity, we are going to continue doing our jobs and speaking out for them. We’re going to continue battling the illogical with the logical, and eventually reason will win out. That’s how evolution functions.

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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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Addicted To The Limelight

Justin Bieber made headlines again this weekend after photographs of him posing with an adult tiger on a leash hit the internet. Though the tiger photo caused the biggest stir, there were other exotic animals “rented” for the birthday bash hosted by Bieber’s father. Many people ostracized Bieber not only for supporting the exploitation of captive exotic animals, but also for supporting the Bowmanville zoo, from whence the animals for the party were rented.

Here’s the thing, though. Bieber doesn’t care if people are angry with him, what he cares about is that people are talking about him.

Getting attention from the public is not just something celebrities monopolize, either. It has also become the sole endeavor of those who exploit captive exotic animals on social media. This is one reason that people or groups who post to multiple sites, multiple times a day, end up with tens of thousands, or millions of followers who fawn over them and support everything they do without question. This addiction to the limelight has nothing whatsoever to do with conservation, it has to do with being the center of attention.

Anyone who keeps abreast of the use of social media sites by pseudo-sanctuaries is aware that Black Jaguar White Tiger has cornered the market on both “cute” videos, and “defensive attack” videos. Founder Eduardo Serio’s obsession with posting videos and pictures which promote his own interactions with his animals, and his own “amazingness” as well has his petty and often shamefully immature threats to “destroy” or otherwise discredit anyone who speaks out against him has been documented ad nauseam. When Serio isn’t talking about how awesome he is, he’s badmouthing anyone who dares suggest that he, nor his “work” is quite as awesome as he thinks.

But Serio isn’t the only pseudo–not GFAS accredited–sanctuary owner who uses social media to further their own interests, he’s just arguably the most obnoxious.

The Bowmanville Zoo, where Bieber’s father rented the exotic animals for his birthday party this weekend has an Instagram account, which like many other pseudo-sanctuaries, hosts an array of photos most of which involve humans holding or interacting with captive exotic animals. Now, as far as “successful” social media accounts go, Bowmanville’s is lacking, possibly due to the recent animal cruelty charges levied against its owner. Chances are, the Bowmanville Zoo won’t be making any kind of comeback on social media anytime soon. That does not, however, negate the fact that they unabashedly exploited their animals in order to gain attention while their accounts were active.

Another zoo that is still very active in the use of social media for the exploitation of captive exotic animals, is Tiger Safari: Oklahoma’s Interactive Zoological Park. Read: Big Petting Zoo. Tiger Safari seems to favor Facebook, over Instagram, for its animal exploitation needs. Both accounts have been untended recently, but their Facebook page, in particular, is chock full of photos of guests holding baby big cats, riding tortoises, and cradling kangaroos. The only focus, is the interaction between the public and the animals.

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Unlike Tiger Safari, the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center (you might remember them from this article) is right on top of updating their Facebook page with, you guessed it, people holding and interacting with captive exotic animals!

12928264_1164303726923203_517251072802390674_nYou might also remember that two Carpathian lynxes were listed for sale by the one of the three entities that share a location with ZWCC.

Despite that they’ve supposedly stopped allowing the public to directly interact with certain animals, the ZWCC obviously has no problem with directly handling animals themselves, or with posting videos of such interactions on social media.

Safari’s Sanctuary Zoo also has a Facebook page filled with questionable human/animal interactions, most of which are available to the public, for  a fee. Animals are carted around to various locations and subsequently used as props for photographs and to gain public support for a pseudo-sanctuary which has, like all the others, a slew of violations, accusation and fines in its background.

All four of these “zoological parks” share the fact that they claim to be dedicated to conservation, while they focus on allowing direct interactions between visitors and captive exotic animals. In all four cases, if you removed the direct interaction factor, you would have little if any remaining platform. The zoos simply don’t function as anything except as a vector for human/animal interactions. Well, aside from the continued breeding of captive exotic animals, and the sale of them, and any other possible form of exploitation.

Basically, they exist through the means of exploitation, not for the purpose of conservation.

While Facebook serves as the social media platform for some, there is no social media site that lends itself to captive exotic animal exploitation quite like Instagram. Allowing users to upload both videos and photographs, while collecting followers, and comments, Instagram is nearly limitless in its uses for putting oneself “out there”. The most exploitive accounts run the gamut from those hosted by pseudo-sanctuaries, to private citizens. But they all share a common thread: using captive exotic animals to get attention.

T.I.G.E.R.S. has some 42,000 followers (paltry in comparison to BJWT’s 5 million mindless worshipers) but T.I.G.E.R.S. is steadily gaining a wider, and wider base. With an endless supply of “cutesy” videos like wolf puppies playing with big cat cubs, and mountain lion cubs playing with baby chimpanzees, Doc Antle continues to tap into his formula of “unlikely animal friends” while ignorant followers oooh and awww over the uploads. Then there is the ever popular “babe with a wild cat” angle, something else for which Antle is well known. Just like other pseudo-sanctuaries, these videos are carefully hash-tagged with things like #savejaguars #notpets and #wildlivesmatter. Never mind that the cats in the videos and photos have often been bred just to be exploited, they’re being treated exactly like pets, and they have no impact whatsoever on wild animals of the same species, nor does the pseudo-sanctuary posting the photo or video have any actual impact on the plight of wild animals of the highlight species. Other than possibly damaging them.

Above and beyond the use of Instagram by pseudo-sanctuaries in their constant hunt for limelight, it has become a go-to outlet for captive exotic animal breeders and sellers. Accounts like Luxurypetss NjExoticpets and Fabelpetgallery actually use Instagram to sell live animals, with seemingly little regard for state regulations. In the case of Luxurypetss, captive bred big cats feature prominently, including servals, caracals, savannahs, and bengals. Unsurprisingly, a huge percent of comments go something like “I want one!!!” without any sense that the person commenting has a grasp of either how difficult it is to care for such cat, or how the continued breeding of captive big cats can adversely affect wild populations. Or, in the case of breeds like savannahs, which are created by crossing wild and domestic breeds, how inherited defects and diseases can shorten lifespans, and complicate the lives of the cats.

This detached sort of emulation is one reason that the ICARUS team is steadfast in our hands-off conservation policies. Even those who do not allow public interaction with the animals in their care, but do use social media to show themselves interacting with their animals attract not public interest in wild conservation, but rather, interest specifically in also being allowed to interact with captive wild animals. Photos like this one put the focus on interacting with captive exotic animals, not protecting wild animals. And tragically, the comments reveal the actual impact they have on the impressionable public. Instead of asking how to protect existing wild lions, the commenters say things like: “best work experience ever” “I want one too” “dream job””they say thank you!” (in regard to the lion “hugging” the man in the photograph) “I want to be you””Goals” and so on and so forth. All comments associated with the intention and goal of also hugging a lion. It’s a situation of monkey see, monkey do. And of hero-worship.

In preparation for this article, I sat down and sorted through the comments of Instagram photos and videos depicting direct interaction between the posters and their animals on accounts maintained by T.I.G.E.R.S., Kevin Richardson, and BJWT. Aside from the various hashtags like #savelions #savejaguars #savetigers, on the photos I examined (and at the time I examined them, because comments continually evolve) precisely 0% of the comments pertained to conservation in any format. Roughly 45%-67% of the comments were nothing but flattering compliments to the owners of the account. Anywhere from 12% up to 25% of the comments conveyed a desire to do exactly what was portrayed in the photo or video.

Clearly, seeing “experts” directly interact with captive exotic animals in no way encourages the public to avoid interacting with captive exotic animals themselves. It only increases interest in it. To make matters worse, there are virtual Instagram “celebrities” who don’t even pretend to have interest in conservation. People like humaidalbuqaish and swakll use Instagram as a way to showcase their own private zoos of captive exotic animals. And aside from the occasional naysayer (who often receives brutal abuse for questioning what’s going on) by and large, the responses to photos and videos of privately owned captive exotic animals are more along the lines of “can I visit your house?” “living the dream” “can I visit and play with your lions?” and “OMG I WANT ONE TOO”.

And so the cycle of limelight addiction continues. Pseudo-conservationists (whose “sanctuaries are not GFAS accredited) continue to post photos and videos of themselves playing with their animals, right alongside private owners posting videos and photos of themselves playing with their animals, and somehow the public is supposed to get the message that owning and playing with captive exotic animals is actually a bad idea. Which, of course, doesn’t happen.

What does happen, is a lot of limelight shined on those posting the photos and videos.

Which is exactly what they wanted all along.

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Accountability Is Our Responsibility

The law is supposed to matter. It’s supposed to represent guidelines. That’s the entire purpose behind why laws were ever created in the first place. Laws are supposed to mean something. Far too often, however, laws are negated, emasculated, by loopholes, privilege, or the almighty dollar. Everyone, everywhere, has experienced the sensation of powerlessness and abandonment created when someone who has broken laws, hurt others, and sometimes literally gotten away with murder, walks off into the sunset without so much as a slap on the wrist, often with ill-gotten gains lining their pockets.

We all know what it feels like to watch injustice unfold.

So, Why do we let it happen?

I don’t mean why do we “let” the court system fail us. We can’t control the courts (not even from a position in the jury) so it’s literally impossible for us to stop injustice insomuch as it’s permitted by the courts in their lackluster support of existing laws.

We can, however, hold those who commit injustices accountable in the courts of public opinion.

It is our job to never forget what the courts failed to acknowledge. And it is our job to do whatever is required to make known the atrocities, abuses, and horrors that have been committed and subsequently ignored by our government, or any other government.

Yesterday, it was announced that Theo Bronhurst, the hunter and tracker who led dentist Walter Palmer on the infamous hunt which resulted in the illegal death of Cecil the Lion, was acquitted of smuggling 29 sables without paperwork. This after Bronhurst was caught redhanded with the 29 un-papered sables. His trial was repeatedly postponed, and he attempted to bribe a dismissal of the charges entirely. After all that, when he did go to trial, the judge acquitted him of all wrongdoing.

Bronhurst’s acquittal is only the most recent, and most public of case dismissals, or instances wherein grievous offenses of animal abuse are completely disregarded by courts, even when there are laws which could be enforced. In the matter of domestic animals, a Texas veterinarian, Kristen Lindsey is currently fighting to keep her license after shooting a neighbor’s pet cat in the head with a bow and arrow. Arguing–despite evidence of the contrary–that the cat was “feral” Lindsey says that she did nothing wrong. And the American court system agreed by proxy when the District Attorney chose not to indict Lindsey on charges of animal cruelty. Now, cat lovers everywhere wait to see if the Texas Board of Veterinary Medicine will agree that shooting a domestic cat in the head with an arrow is acceptable behavior for a licensed small animal vet.

In the world of captive exotic animal abuse, the list of those guilty of abuse, and those who still own and exploit captive exotic animals, are largely one and the same. Wherever you find a history of animal abuse accusations, fines, court cases, and acquittals, you will invariably also find someone who operates under more than one name or titles, who has owned or operated more than one business or “sanctuary”, who still maintains a pseudo-sanctuary, someone who still allows direct interactions between captive exotic animals, and someone who is still exploiting captive exotic animals in exchange for money. These abusers undoubtedly also still claim to be acting in the name of conservation.

But their own irrefutable histories reveal the truth.

I am going to list just a few of these repeat offenders, many of whom are still lauded by the public as excellent sources for “learning about exotic animals”.*

Joe Schreibvogel Maldonado

Has operated under the names:

Joe Exotic
Joseph Maldonado
Aarron Alex
Cody Ryan.

Has run businesses including but not limited to:

5 Continent Productions
Garold Wayne Interactive Zoo
G.W. Exotic Animal Park
G.W. Exotic Memorial Animal Foundation
G.W. Exotic Memorial Animal Park
Alex Productions
Awakening Productions
Awakening Rescue
Big Cat Rescue Entertainment Group
Corley’s Exotics
Mystical Magic of the Endangered
Tigers in Need
Welch’s Entertainment Group
Welch’s Tiger Experience
Welch’s Great Cat Adventure
World Magic

Joe Schreibvogel Maldonado owns 1500 exotic animals, including more than 150 tigers on just 16 acres of land. Current USDA regulations allow an adult tiger to be kept in a cage smaller than an average parking spot. Think about that. A 700 tiger contained–permanently for its lifetime–in an area the size of your car. A large portion of Joe’s income is derived from constant breeding of cubs, which are used in cub-petting scenarios, hauled across the country to shopping malls and other venues. When the cubs are too old to be handled, they’re “donated” or sold or retired to his own breeding group, where they’re used to perpetuate the abusive situation. Over the last decade, Joe Exotic has been cited repeatedly by the USDA, and is currently under investigation by the USDA in relation to the deaths of 23 individual cubs between April 2009 and May 2010. PETA has also investigated Joe.
Mahamayavia Bhagavan Antle

Has operated under the names:

Keven Antle
Dr. Bhagavan Antle
Doc Antle

Has run businesses including but not limited to:

Buckingham Zoological Park (VA)
T.I.G.E.R.S. Wildlife Park (Sevier TN)
T.I.G.E.R.S. (with two separate “public education” exhibits in Myrtle Beach SC)
R.S.F. (Rare Species Fund, Myrtle Beach SC)
Wild Encounters (Miami Beach FL)
Jungle Island (kept tigers at this institute)
“The Tale Of The Tiger” (yearly production, Boston MA)

“Doc” Antle has been breeding, exploiting and abusing captive exotic animals since the 1980s. He first opened, and then inexplicably abandoned a “zoological park” in Virginia. Officials found animals trapped in enclosures and left to fend for themselves. Just a year or two later, Antle made headlines when he allowed a model in NH to pose with one of his lions at a local fair. The lion subsequently bit the model on the head and face. Antle fled the state, taking the lion with him, while the model was in the hospital, leaving her to receive 70 stitches and rabies vaccines. Antle’s taste for mixing sexy models with captive big cats has persisted, however, and to this day T.I.G.E.R.S. features scantily clad women feeding adult tiger, lions, and ligers from baby bottles. Cub are continually bred in a production-line format, taken from their mothers immediately, and transferred to one of his two Myrtle beach sites. They are then used exclusively for “educating the public” which in Antle’s case, means being used as photography props. The cubs are also taken on the road to a variety of fairs and exhibits where they hare handled by hundreds of paying customers a day. All in the name of “education”. In addition, Antle breeds unnatural crosses between lions and tigers, and uses these “ligers” to draw in crowds, misleading the public to think that these crossbred animals are “rare” species. He touts his Rare Species Fund as a fund where the public can donate money which is then used to support wild conservation. However, the IRS has no record of such a nonprofit, nor is there any such entity under Antle’s name registered in the state of SC. Antle also claims to work closely with the Feline Conservation Federation. However, this is simply a private group which advocates for private ownership of exotic animals, and has nothing to do with actual conservation.
Bill Meadows

As operated under the names:

Bill Meadows

Has operated businesses named:

Tuttle’s Interactive Exotic Zoological Park, Tiger Safari

Just like the others, Bill Meadows has a laundry list of USDA violations against him and his park. At least one undercover investigation has shown proof of animal starvation and abuse, and multiple animals have died under Meadows’ ownership. He has received a multitude of warnings, each resulting in just enough compliance that farther charges are dropped. In at least once case, when Meadows was unable to properly house an animal, Joe Exotic traveled from his own zoo to take custody of the animal while Meadows fixed the enclosure. At that time, Joe Exotic himself was under investigation by the USDA for violations of his own.
Joe Exotic continues to operate his various enterprises, continues to breed animals, and continues to exploit animals. How can this be, you might ask? Because the law cannot be counted on to stand up for the rights of captive exotic animals, and in the absence of the law, the public continues to pay for the privilege of holding and petting baby big cats. The public continues to paint Joe as someone living the American dream and they continue to pay to visit the establishments owned by Joe, and the movie industry continues to pay him for use of his animals.

“Doc” Antle has a 20+ history of violations with both the USDA and numerous state agencies, including injuries to humans, escaped animals, and premature deaths of animals. Yet he’s worked on movies like Ace Ventura, The Jungle Book, and Mighty Joe Young. Hollywood, apparently, does not care how many animal abuse charges, or violations you’re associated with. And everyone who paid to see those movies (and any others Antle worked on) supported Antle’s abuse, and continued celebrity status. Even Rolling Stone overlooked the rampant abuse in favor of writing a fluff piece that not only cheered on Antle’s deplorable actions in building a fortune off animal exploitation, but teasingly stated that his enemies “hate him for it”.

Despite graphic photographs of animals in the last stages of starvation, as well as documented cases wherein veterinarians were bribed, or else wise involved with covering up abuse for Bill Meadows’ park, Meadows continues to operate. Not only that, but he continues to receive good publicity via news stations and travel ratings.

Now is the time to stand up for the exploited, to speak out against the injustice being suffered by these animals. One of the most important things to do which will help the animals being exploited in America, is to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act.

All of those listed in this particular article have faced law enforcement, and the judicial system, and in every case, every one of them has escaped without tangible, and lasting changes. Until American laws are changed for the better, it’s up so us, the public, to charge these abusers with accountability. We must step in to protect animals by not supporting the institutions which abuse them. Boycott the circus, that’s great, but don’t then turn around and go visit an “exotic animal encounters” park where captive exotic animals are kept, bred and exploited.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act can’t do anything to protect animals outside the USA, however.

This is the major problem with Eduardo Serio and his Black Jaguar White Tiger, which is based in Mexico. As I’ve said before, Serio is not famous for saving big cats, Serio is famous for being the man who plays with big cats. And for, if the “donation” to BJWT is large enough, being the man who can “hook you up” with the chance to visit BJWT and “play with his angels”. Right now, BJWT is running, and repeatedly advertising the chance to win a trip for two to their secret location so you can meet the cats. Serio is a man who blatantly and extravagantly exploits the big cats in his care right in front of millions of people, and no one seems to grasp what he’s doing. They don’t even seem to notice when he lies about genuine sanctuaries in an attempt to divert attention from the fact that his own pseudo-sanctuary doesn’t actually rescue animals. Nor do they grasp the fact that Serio cannot make BJWT a sanctuary simply by calling it one. And even if they fall under the term “sanctuary” as defined by Mexican law (I’ve seen no proof of this) BJWT is not GFAS accredited. Period.

Let’s be realistic. A civilian who privately owned a big cat, shared their bed with the big cat, and allowed it to live in their house, allowed their guests to play with the big cat in exchange for money would not ever be seen as a “rescuer of exotic animals”. They would be seen as someone incorrectly housing a big cat, and exploiting it. This is exactly what Serio does every day on his Instagram account. And yet, he’s touted by more than 5 million followers as being a “savior” to the cats he continues to exploit.

In Mexico, there is little to no oversight in matters of captive exotic animals. Serio regularly buys cubs from breeders to “save” them, and “receives” cubs from people he claims no longer wants them. Legally, there is nothing that can be done at this time, about Serio or BJWT. As long as he meets the requirements to own big cats under Mexican law there is not authority which can question what Serio’s doing. But that does not mean we should not try to have an impact on him.

Check out this petition in regard to a horribly damaged and neglected tiger cub, named Achilles, which Serio has possessed for more than a month now, without allowing the cub to be properly monitored by a big cat specialist. This situation goes beyond posting adorable videos of lion cubs snuggling in his bed. Serio is now putting up videos of an actively suffering creature, while claiming that he–and his followers–can heal it simply through the power of love and positive thinking. Meanwhile, Achilles continues to suffer the agony of multiple fractures.

As long as the public clicks on Serio’s videos, and shares them thousands of times, Serio will continue to make those videos. As long as the public continues to perceive sleeping with baby tigers, holding them, taking photos with them, and mishandling them in general as something “adorable” something to aspire to do, Serio will keep bringing in celebrities to pay to play with the animals, and post videos for fans to fawn all over. It is our job to hold Serio accountable for his atrocious behavior and exploitation. The petition to save Achilles might well be the first step in demanding that accountability. So please, sign it and share.

Law enforcement can only do so much. It’s the public who has the power to condemn the actions of people who cannot be reached by the Law.

Author: Artemis Grey

*I have drawn the statistics used for this article from various websites. Because the people listed here actively attempt to evade disclosing facts about their animals and businesses, it’s possible that the number of animals in their possession is either higher, or lower.

poster_tiger_zoo

The Narcissism Of Animal Encounters

Several people, after reading my article on the epidemic of animal selfies, asserted that the “epidemic” wasn’t really an “epidemic” the way I portrayed it to be. So I thought I’d put together a little something in regard to the cub petting industry, which is based not simply on petting the animals, but also on the premise of taking photographs with those cubs (and which I cited in my selfie article)

Some places, like T.I.G.E.R.S., very carefully strategize and word their choices for photographs as by the group, meaning that each person in a group must pay to have a photograph, not of themselves with their cub, but of the entire group of paying customers with their cubs. Other places, often no more than private backyard zoos, give you the chance to hold and pose with cubs for just $20. Each place has its own guidelines and options and costs. I will post links to them so that you can see for yourself.

The only regulations in regard to cub petting in the US are provided by the USDA. They are meager, and read as follows:

Cubs cannot be handled before 8 weeks of age, because 8 weeks is the earliest point at which cubs can receive vaccinations. But the USDA defines a ‘juvenile big cat’ as being any cub over the age of 12 weeks and DOES NOT permit the public contact with cubs over the age of 12 weeks. Although the USDA laws should override any state laws, some states like Florida ignore the USDA regulations in favor of making their own. In Florida (where a number of cub petting operations exist) the public is permitted to handle cubs under the weight limit of 25lbs. This roughly translates to 12 weeks of age for the average big cat cub. However, Florida DOES NOT regulate the handling of cubs UNDER 25lbs, no matter how young they are.

So what does all of this mean?

Here is a list of establishments that came up when I plugged in the search perimeters of “where can I hold a baby tiger?” into Google. Many of these are IN THE UNITED STATES.

Black Jaguar White Tiger*
Dade City Wild Things
Chestatee Wildlife Preserve & Zoo
The Institute for Greatly Endangers and Rare Species
Zoological Wildlife Foundation
Brown’s Oakridge Zoo
Tim Stark Tiger Baby Playtime
Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park
Puerto Vallarta Zoo (this link goes to Trip Advisor, as their website is ‘under construction’)
Zootastic Park of Lake Norman
McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary
Maple Lane Wildlife Farm
Tuttle’s Interactive Exotic Tiger Safari Zoological Park
Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge
Big Cat Encounters-Karl Mitchell
Lion Park
Natural Bridge Zoo*
Virginia Safari Park*
Gulf Breeze Zoo*

*Black Jaguar White Tiger does not advertise public visitations/pay to play (I’m being completely fair to them by pointing this out) but their name did come up near the top of my feed, revealing that they do top the list of responses of “holding baby tigers”. *The last three parks on the list are all owned by Karl Mogenson/his family.

Now, according to the USDA, cubs can only be handled by the public for one month of their lives. Most of these sites do not list a specific ‘season’ for cub petting, it appears to be a service available year round. Presuming that the operators possess more than just one cub at a time, I went with estimating them to have 5 cubs. Some will have more available, some will have less.

But, supposing they all have 5 cubs available to the public, year round, and supposing that they all follow USDA guidelines (as many insist they do) each operator will go through about 60 cubs a year. There are 18 operators on the list who offer cub petting publicly. So every year approximately 1,080 cubs are bred and handled by the public through these establishments. Minimum. Supposedly ‘for conservation’. Then you look at a group like T.I.G.E.R.S. which has been in operation since 1983, and even if they had only five cubs available to the public at a time, T.I.G.E.R.S. alone has gone through 1,980 cubs since it was founded.

I say “gone through” because, well, where are these cubs now? That, is the million dollar question.

Because the cub petting industry is regulated by only a few flimsy sentences, which can be routinely ignored without any notable consequence, the operators who provide cub petting services are in no way required to document where those cubs come from, or where they go when their 4 week shelf life is up. Likewise, zoos are not obligated to make public where their surplus animals disappear to.

And this is just a small sampling of the available venues for direct interaction with big cat cubs. You could double or triple the numbers I’ve listed. We just don’t know, because no one is paying attention to how severe a problem this is. Not at the moment.

Serio isn’t entirely off the hook for this article’s purposes, either. In the cases of groups like Black Jaguar White Tiger, the fates of the cubs so adoringly ooed and ahhed over on social media sites becomes even more muddled. While BJWT is not “open” to the public, they maintain a continuous rotation of visiting celebrities who are all allowed to play with and take photos with their seemingly endless supply of cubs. And Every. Single. Photo. Or. Video. he posts of himself holding baby big cats, or a guest holding baby big cats has commenters who say ‘I want one!’ or ‘How can I do this???’ or ‘You’re so amazing, I want to do this!’

I spent several hours slowly plowing through BJWT’s Instagram feed–so popular with his nearly 5 million followers–making lists of cubs by name, by ‘pride’, and then by where they are now. Needless to say, I had a difficult time tracking down just how many cubs BJWT has had in its possession, and how many it still has in its possession as adults.

Serio himself claims to have personally bottle fed over 90 big cat cubs. I was able to come up with roughly 87 named cubs. Breaking that down over the three years that BJWT has been in existence (according to Serio) that’s roughly 7 new cubs appearing every four months. I say ‘roughly’ because Serio has a habit of changing cubs’ names, as well as nicknaming them with multiple nicknames. Thus, it took quite a bit of sorting to assure I wasn’t accidentally counting the same cats twice.

Of the 87 cubs I counted, 6 can be confirmed as deceased. The causes of death, however, are not nearly as easy to pin down.

Karma is well documented as having ingested a piece of wood (something that could happen accidentally, in extreme fairness)
Tatiana and Keiko both supposedly died of ‘collapsed lungs’ both incidents were attributed by Serio to ‘genetic defects’.
Onix/Onyx died–again, according to Serio–of a ‘brain aneurysm’ which he also blamed on inbreeding.
Labai died of what Serio described as ‘his intestines scratching his colon’ something Serio claims the cub suffered from with his prior owners due to improper feeding. Strangely, all of the pictures portraying Labai as a young cub were taken at BJWT and no mention of prior intestinal issues was ever made.
Tibet is dead. That is all, I could find nothing else about him.
Itzamna ‘didn’t make it’ which isn’t uncommon because ‘all ligers are born with genetic issues’.

Let me remind you that even though Serio has lost so many cubs to “genetic” problems, he doesn’t believe in neutering or spaying because he wants to use his ‘kids’ to repopulate the wild.

Of the remaining 81 cubs, 25 have “gone dark” and simply disappeared from social media. This doesn’t mean that anything has happened to them. I have no proof that anything happened, and I’m not asserting that something did happened.

I’m simply stating that we don’t know where these cubs are now, because there is no accountability in taking thousands of photos and videos of people holding your big cat cubs and posting them to social media. Especially when you aren’t a GFAS accredited sanctuary, and have no oversight. And before someone comments, I know that Serio claims to have rescued all of the cubs in his care, and that he insists he’s never bred them.

The fact is, he doesn’t have to breed his cubs, because he buys them from breeders all over Mexico, which does nothing but support breeding them for profit.

There are other issues with Serio’s accountability, but this article isn’t the place to go into them. I listed the cubs here because he uses them to further the cub petting industry. No matter what Serio says he’s doing, what his actions show him to be, is someone who enjoys coddling with captive big cats, and who will allow his chosen guests to do the same thing. Someone who relishes his own celebrity for the act of cuddling with captive big cats.

The point is, taking selfies, or regular photographs or videos, snaps, vines–taking any form of media with big cat cubs is a million dollar business. It is an epidemic, and it is continuing to spread like a plague.

And until the public stops oohing and ahhing and starts demanding accountability, nothing is ever going to change.

Feature Image Taken From Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Thailand, one more place that capitalizes on photos with captive big cats.

Author: Artemis Grey