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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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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.