Christmas Is The Season Of Giving, But Reconsider Before Giving Animals As Gifts

Christmas is a magical season. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas itself, the holiday season is always fun, and there’s the winter solstice, the lights, and a perfectly good excuse to eat all sorts of scrumptious treats that aren’t normally around the rest of the year. The holidays are also a season of giving, a time when people plot the perfect surprises for their loved ones.

But the thousands of animals given as Christmas presents each year, which bring joyful ecstasy to humans on Christmas morning, all too often end up suffering the heartbreak of abandonment, themselves,  within just a few months time. Already, the farm postings and Facebook groups are swelling with adverts.

Christmas Pony: Nice little mare, broke to ride. Been sitting in the field for the grandkids to play on for the last few years. Perfect Christmas surprise for that special child!*

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The accompanying photo shows a sweet-eyed mare with a cheerful expression, but who also displays symptoms of obesity, protruding eyes, and irregular “fat packs” which are indicative of cushings disease, or other metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance. Both health conditions are chronic, and can cause worse complications like founder and even death. They require an owner with an experienced  grasp of equine care and management, and sometimes even the best care isn’t enough to get a handle on particularly difficult cases.

The Perfect Christmas Project! Quiet gelding, great for Christmas, just needs some love and attention.*

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The gelding is attractive, and of decent conformation, but the hard edge of his top line, and washboard of his sides, indicate that he’s not necessarily in top form, and likely is in need of groceries, something which can drastically change the temperament of an animal in the long run. Many times “love and attention” can be equated to training, manners, and handling, meaning that the horse might not even be accustomed to grooming, much less riding.

Beneath the adverts for ponies, horses, donkeys, mules, pigmy goats and other domestics come more unexpected offerings. A bearded dragon in need of rehoming, a ball python whose hot room has been transformed into a nursery for the new baby, a sugar glider whose owners have adopted a cat, and can no longer assure the safety of the former. Oscars who’ve outgrown their fish tanks, a scarlet macaw whose elderly owner has passed away, servals, a skunk with its scent glands removed–already litter trained! If ferrets are too average, there are spotted genets. For those with a healthy budget, and a little more room, there are capybaras (starting at around $600) or you can always go for a wallaby ($3,000) and for folks who like to be trendy with their furry companions, fennec foxes are the new hotness these days (less than half the wallaby) at about $1,500, but get on the list of a breeder now, because there’s usually a waiting list of a year or more)

The massively ignored problem with every animal I’ve mentioned (never mind the excruciatingly horrible issues of animal trafficking and captive breeding of the exotic species listed) is that all of them come with baggage. Needs, expenses–sometimes exorbitant ones–and unforeseen complications. Many times those complications are ones which require a considerable amount of knowledge about the animal in question, thus leaving first time owners at a loss as to what to do, and how to care for the now ill or injured animal.

Something as simple as not providing a suitable place for a tortoise to burrow can result in the tortoise becoming egg-bound, a condition which will result in death if it is not promptly treated. That treatment can require risky surgery. Lizards can also become egg-bound. Most types of exotic cats, foxes, primates, and other popular, more unusual, animals, can become aggressive if not appropriately housed, handled, or mentally and emotionally cared for. Some become aggressive even when everything is done to standard protocols.

With normal domestic animals, certain risks remains. Rabbits are prone to coccidiosis, especially when stressed, goats can also suffer from it, and it’s highly contagious. Both kittens and puppies tend to chew things, and can ingest foreign objects. Christmas decorations offer a plethora of options for getting into trouble, and with a house full of holiday guests, new pets can easily do so unnoticed. Many times once symptoms of a problem develop, a bad situation has already evolved into a worse one.

Christmas lilies, or Easter lilies, for example, are extremely toxic to both cats and dogs, and just a fragment of a leaf, once ingested, can cause catastrophic kidney failure. Treatment does not guarantee recovery, and involves (usually) 48-72 hours of continuous intravenous fluids, to flush their system. But forcing so much fluid into an animal has its own complications, and it can cause dangerous imbalances in electrolytes and other minerals, and functions, so constant monitoring is required. Conservatively, the treatment for lily poisoning will run you $2,000 and it can easily cost more. I know this firsthand, because I’ve had to pay it.

Cost of veterinary care is probably the number one reason animals–some of them absolutely beloved pets whose owners are completely devastated to lose them–are surrendered to shelters or rescues. The fact is, it doesn’t matter how much experience you have with a particular breed or species, if they suffer injury or illness that’s going to cost you thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars to treat, and you don’t have thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars laying around in the couch cushions, you’re going to have huge decisions to make. Likely, the choice of giving the animal up to a rescue or foundation which can pay for treatment, or having the animal euthanized to stop it from suffering.

Back in the barn there’s the matter of horses which have been docile while underfed (not necessarily through neglect, but maybe because they just haven’t been getting grain, which offers much higher protein) but who become wild and unpredictable once they’ve got sugars and energy flowing through them. Colic is a constant danger, and no matter how much you know about equines, torsion can strike no matter what. It’s excruciatingly painful, far more so than impaction colic, and this inescapable pain often turns the horse suffering it into a living battering ram. Some become uncontrollable without sedation, and if not sedated will literally beat themselves against the ground until they fracture their own skulls, or break legs. And then, eventually, their intestines rupture entirely, and they’ll die of massive septicemia. But they’ll suffer unimaginable agony first.

These things are terrible, and grotesque to picture, and no one wants to ever consider that they might be facing them when they’re thinking about the adorable animals standing or sitting in front of them that “need a home for Christmas”. The reality, however, is that animals, like children, don’t come with manuals, and no matter how prepared you are to have one, you’ll immediately realize that you weren’t as ready as you thought you were. Even if nothing “bad” happens, you’ll still find yourself in situations you never expected to be in, making decisions you never considered facing, and probably spending money you never accounted for losing from your budget.

And I’m just talking about if you give your own family a live animal.

Imagine having someone else giving one of these animals to your kid, or your significant other without even asking you if you want one.

It happens. Way more than you might think.

Now you’ve got an animal you never wanted (or maybe one that you did, but didn’t expect to get at the moment) and a family member who has, of course, instantaneously fallen utterly in love with that animal (because, really, needy animals, Christmas, you know) and you’ve got whomever gave that animal to you/the kids/your partner who’s all “I did a great thing!”

Just, no.

Don’t do it.

Yes, if your old-enough-to-understand-and-care-for-their-own-pet kid wants a kitten, and you’re prepared, you’ve had cats before, but don’t have any currently (which can be very complicated when introducing a new cat or kitten) then okay, consider getting a Christmas kitten (better yet, a Christmas Old Cat, one which will otherwise likely die alone in a shelter, because, well, nobody seems to like old people these days) This can be applied to dogs and puppies, or other rescue animals, too. If you’re already prepared and were planning to do it anyway.

But do not spontaneously decide without forethought to just “take a pet home”. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured by sales people, or adopters, or your own freaking kids, to “give the gift of love” right there in the middle of the grocery store parking lot when all you went to the store for was a jar of cranberry sauce. No matter how noble, how well intentioned, these acts might be, they will, in the very best scenarios, still cause you a huge amount of stress, and after-the-fact panic when you realize that you’ve just taken on years of responsibility you didn’t intend to. You might never regret it, but you will go through that stress of Will it work out? In worst case scenarios, you’ll go through that, possibly more stress, terror, loss of money, and maybe the loss of the animal you were trying to help by adopting or buying in the first place.

So, this holiday season, please reconsider before choosing to give a living thing as a present.

Thousands of domestic animals are, indeed, in need of homes. The truth, though, is that these animals are in need of homes 365 days a year. If you would not consider adopting or buying a chinchilla on November 13th, don’t allow yourself to suddenly think doing so is a great idea on December 23rd, because Christmas is just two days away, and this adorable chinchilla “really needs a home for Christmas.” The animals who needs a home for Christmas, probably needed a home long before Christmas, and thousands like them will still need a home after Christmas. You can help these animals best (unless, as I’ve already stated, you’ve had family discussions and are going to get this animal anyway, and are just planning to do it at Christmas to be festive) by donating to the causes which are already caring for them. Go volunteer at a shelter, donate to a rescue center.

Be cautious about adverts for the “perfect” Christmas animal. The animals advertised are completely innocent, but the humans peddling them might well be doing so because they know damn well they stand a much better chance of getting shed of an unwanted animal, while also making a tidy profit off of it for no reason other than, Christmas cheer and spirit.

Animals need us, but they need us all year, not just under the Christmas tree.

 

  • I made these adverts up. However, they are painfully stereotypical of what you’ll see in any farm trade classifieds every Christmas.
  • The first photo of the grey horse was pulled from an excellent article pertaining to insulin resistance in horses posted on the blog The Equinist. It’s a great, enlightening read, even if you aren’t a horse fan.
  • The second photo was pulled from Google. The horse is a recently adopted blue roan mustang, who is actually in excellent muscle and body condition for a young feral horse. It does provide, however, a good example of the sort of “sharp” top line and look that a domestic-bred horse who is a “hard keeper” might affect without grain in their diet.

Author: Artemis Grey

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The Troubling Trend In Paradise

Countless Americans see Mexico as the place to vacation and capture a few weeks of paradise. Even with the current political unrest, I’ve had multiple friends and family travel down to all inclusive resorts, and all of them have posted dozens of photos of white sand beaches and beautiful oceans. It seems perfect.

But looks can be deceiving. There’s a very troubling trend in paradise. Just as those all inclusive resorts are usually bordered by razor wire and tall fences in order to guarantee protection to the well-to-do tourists, who know nothing of the troubles which the majority of Mexico is faced with, the rest of the world only sees and understands a glimpse of the genuine problems with captive wild animals in Mexico.

Yes, most everyone has heard how the drug cartels own private collections of exotic animals, and if you’ve read my articles here on the I.C.A.R.U.S. Foundation’s blog, you know that Black Jaguar White Tiger is a foundation that has become a social media icon solely by showcasing captive animals being treated as pets (despite Serio’s incessant use of #notpets as a hashtag). But what virtually no one in America, and most others throughout the world seem to realize is that the cartels with their private zoos and menageries are nothing special in Mexico, just as BJWT is nothing new to the country. As we’ve pointed out before, there are no regulations on breeding big cats in Mexico. And owning one is as simple as filling out a form. Anyone who wants to, can collect animals into private collections. And they do. Some of them even “rent” cubs for as long as they’re small and then turn those cubs in to the breeders only to “rent” new, small cubs back out again.

The world in general sees BJWT as something “special” or “different” but the truth is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Mexico doing the exact same thing Serio does. Here are a few shots taken from public Instagram accounts involving private zoos or collections, “ranches” as they’re often called. Because these photos came from a civilian Instagramer and at least one contains a child, I’ve hidden the user’s information and the child’s face. It should be noted, however, that this is the person whom Eduardo Serio has tagged on Instagram under photos of the giraffes that he’s gone to visit on numerous occasions.

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Somehow, the hashtag #saverhinos is supposed to indicate that riding one like a horse is beneficial to preserving the species.

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Most often the people involved with these accounts state that they’re “preserving” the species, when, in fact, they’re just breeding them for their own private pleasure, and/or participating in the black market actively making money. A thriving market repeatedly overlooked and ignored by SEMARNAT and PROFEPA.

Unfortunately the trend of private ownership is not something new in Mexico. But here’s something that is. Since the rise of Black Jaguar White Tiger (and for anyone who is confused, or doesn’t realize it, BJWT has only existed for 3 years, and their current popularity is one that’s been bought and paid for by the exploitation of what began as three pets Eddie got for himself, and what’s turned into a rotating circus of babies) other established zoos have noticed how successful Serio has been with social media popularity. And many of them want in on the party.

Case in point: Jaguars Into The Wild.

JITW appeared on our Instagram radar roughly a couple of months ago. They describe themselves as a foundation devoted to rescue, research, rehabilitation and release. Emphasis on RELEASE, in all caps. The photos of their animals (jaguars predominantly) are gorgeous. We followed them with great excitement. Here, it seemed, was finally a group who was truly different.

Then, one of the I.C.A.R.U.S. team, while scrolling through the JITW Instagram feed, discovered a troubling photo of one of the founders out for a walk with two small jaguar cubs.

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It was supposedly an “old” photo of two now-adult cats. Nevertheless, it was concerning that a group who claimed to focus on rehabilitation was actively participating in hands-on interactions with cubs. Especially because they clearly listed the “mom didn’t feed them” excuse that literally everyone claims in regard to why cubs are being hand reared. So we started researching JITW, how they’d been founded, who the founders were, etc.

What we discovered was equal parts confusing and distressing. Instagram is a social media site, and like most social media sites, it intends to ephemeral. It’s not designed to plow through and is often difficult to backtrack as it wants to freeze. However, we soon discovered that JITW really doesn’t go back farther than a year, at best. The foundation literally appeared overnight. And diligent effort started producing more results. Most of them involving both the founders of JITW playing with big cats, training them to interact with humans, and to perform for a public audience. We also uncovered some clashing information about the foundation’s “star” jaguar, Andromeda, the “first to be raised without human intervention” whom they tout as the best hope for a wild release.

It seems that Andromeda is owned by a zoo. The Oaxaca Yaguar Xoo, to be exact. Here’s her birth announcement.

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But, here’s the same announcement, posted on the JITW Instagram feed, claiming that THEY own Andromeda.

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Awkward.

You would think that either one or the other would own the jaguar. But it gets more confusing. Having discovered that a zoo was claiming to own the same cat that JITW claimed to own, I started looking into the Yaguar zoo. It turns out that Yaguar loves to breed babies, and then take them from their mothers. Here’s a video (in Spanish) talking about how great they are, and how many experts they have. Experts with incredibly sticky fingers, it seems, as you’ll notice that every single one of them is holding with and playing with tiny cubs much too young to be away from their mothers in natural circumstances. I warn you, toward the end of the video, one cub is dangled in front of its mother, separated by iron bars, and the mother becomes quite desperate, injuring herself to the point of limping away from her attempts to reach her baby.

Yaguar Xoo also apparently also does a booming business with “interns” and “volunteers” who are allowed to handle and play with their animals.

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The translation for these photos is roughly “Do you like animals? Come volunteer at Yaguar Xoo!

In my research on JITW, I’d checked out the Instagram accounts of both founders, one, Víctor Rosas Cossío, literally just turned his private account into the JITW account. But his co-founder, Andrea, still has a separate account. And when I scrolled through, I found these photos.

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I was, understandably, confused. The co-founder of JITW started out as a volunteer playing with big cats at the Yaguar Xoo? It gets even more questionable. Before volunteering at the zoo and playing with lions and other big cats, it seems that Andrea had no visible association with any conservation or animal group at all. Rather, she was a fashion model. While modeling is a completely legitimate career, most successful models don’t just wake up one day and start founding wildlife organizations dedicated to research, rehabilitation and RELEASE, because, well, you have to know about those things in order to do them.

I turned to the other co-founder, Víctor, and that’s where I found the big cat expertise I’d been expecting. Only, I didn’t find it in the format I would have hoped to find it. (name) apparently worked for the Yaguar Xoo for a number of years, training their big cats to perform for the public.

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A running comparison of the social media accounts of JITW and the Oaxaca Xoo revealed what amounts to a shared presence. Pictures of the same animals on both accounts with both groups claiming to own the cats, the same photos show up in both locations, and most troubling of all, the same “enrichment area” where the Oaxaca animals are forced to perform for the public, are the same areas where JITW’s animals are shown getting “enrichment”. In addition, there is a public pool on the zoo grounds which seems to be the same pool that baby big cats are shown swimming in in JITW photos.

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What JITW is carefully NOT saying on their social media accounts is that the reason they appeared overnight is because they’re really just a new face and branch off of an existing zoo.

JITW presents itself as an entirely new foundation with an entirely new objective, but the truth is that they’re just a perfect example of how to use social media and sleight of hand to make yourself seem legitimate. By following the format created by BJWT (social media presence which is designed to lure in supporters by saying all the right things, and showing carefully orchestrated “awesome stuff” using professional photographers, and references to the future of Mexico’s wildlife) the Yaguar Xoo has, in essence, reinvented itself by creating a supposedly entirely separate entity. The problem is, the zoo shares animals with JITW, the zoo is still breeding those animals, and despite that an inside source told us that one animal had, they thought, been released, that supposed release was well over a decade ago, which would place both of JITW’s founders in their teenage years. Thus, that supposed release had nothing at all to do with JITW as it exists now.

By now, the parallels between JITW and BJWT were truly frightening:

Both foundations appeared overnight, established with hundreds of thousands to millions of followers in less time than it takes most foundations to get a roof over their head.

Both foundations have, and maintain, merchandise lines and/or retailers who are eager to host merchandise the proceeds from sales of which goes directly to the foundations, contacts and luxuries unheard of for most foundations.

Both foundations have private photographers on board, constantly promoting the foundations through art, and the animals, and helping to create merchandise.

Both foundations have already been guests at various exhibitions as “experts” in the field of conservation (despite that neither have actually had any impact at all on wild populations or conservation efforts) and despite that the founders of both foundations are, in fact, not experts on big cats, or are so young they simply can’t have the experience required to truly be an established expert.

Both foundations have been invited to participate in events where their animals and stories were highlighted, despite, again, the fact that they have not yet done anything to help wild populations and have, instead, participated in breeding captive populations.

Both foundations have stated that they are part of a “DNA bank” and mapping endeavor.

But the most damning evidence so far in regard to JITW being an imitation of BJWT, is the fact that, well, both groups are friends on social media. They tag each other on Instagram, the call each other brother, and they openly and publicly support each other.

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Now, JITW doesn’t have to aggressively denounce BJWT and their cub-petting extravaganzas. It’s a small world in Mexico, and professionalism is something I could accept. Formal responses and shows of gratitude would be completely expected. However, calling each other “brother” and thanking BJWT for sending “blue energy” over to heal Andromeda from the tragic and unforeseen Africanized bee attack (truly horrific) denotes a tad more affection than a strictly professional relationship. Never mind that there’s a huge overlap of BJWT Instagram followers and JITW followers, largely due to the link fostered by the two foundations.

Add the fact that JITW is run out of a zoo which participates in cubs petting, and for which one founder worked for years, and it’s too much for me not to form an opinion on the matter. Clearly, Mexico has a problem. Namely one which involves foundations cropping up out of the blue because they’re nothing more than existing groups renamed and revised, or owned by well connected people.

Creating conservation foundations in Mexico is the new “clothing line” of the rich and famous, and just as celebrities tout each others’ newest sweatshirt designs, it helps to be chummy with the other biggest foundation in the country. In JITW’s case, that’s BJWT. So while we’ve been told that at least one of the JITW founders doesn’t particularly like Eduardo Serio or what he does, they apparently like his connections enough to buddy up with him in order to get ahead.

Now, just in the last few days, JITW has announced that they’re working with Discovery Channel and Animal Planet on some kind of project. Frankly, Animal Planet has been dead to me for years. When you host shows like “Call of the Wildman” and “Redneck Zoo” any reputation you had pertaining to actual conservation and animal husbandry is out the window and run over by a semi. But I was sort of holding out hope that Discovery Channel might retain some standards. Alas, they obviously have no more devotion to research and actual conservation than their sister station. Really pieces of work, both stations are. Pieces of fecal matter, but whoppers of the kind, I’ll give them that. Leading the world in misinformation and pseudo-conservation, one fake show at a time.

But back to JITW. It’s unclear what sort of project is being filmed. Nothing has been said about a release date for Andromeda, and as she’s literally the only big cat at JITW that wasn’t hand reared and played with for her entire life, there’s no one else to release. But then, JITW has turned baiting cats for public entertainment into an art form they refer to as “enrichment”. Accredited sanctuaries offer their animals hidden food, or treats, special edible toys (like pumpkins in the fall) or Christmas trees to play with for enrichment. JITW brings their animals from small enclosures into one large one, and then proceed to dangle a piñata full of yummy stuff over a pool of water. If kitty wants the yum yums, kitty’s got to jump and hot dog through the air like an Olympic freestyle skier in order to get them. In front of a crowd of paying guests, of course. So perhaps Discover Channel and Animal Planet are working on a show about flying big cats? Who knows.

There’s no denying that the cats of JITW are beautiful to look at, just as it’s impossible to deny that the cubs, of BJWT are utterly adorable. The problem is, that while the animals of both foundations generate an onslaught of social media, and other media attention, the wild animals continue to suffer without notice. And while private ownership of exotic animals in Mexico is on par with that of the United Arab Emirates, and zoos which allow petting and handling abound, there remains no genuine sanctuary for animals who need to be rescued and then left alone in peace, rather than being exploited for the sake of money.

Or is there a sanctuary out there in Mexico which actually does care about the animal, first, foremost and always?

Find the answer in my next article, where I explore the only sanctuary in the country of Mexico which fits the true definition of the word.

“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

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.

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.

Why The Word Sanctuary is Just a Word

The I.C.A.R.U.S. team has posted about the “sloth sanctuary of America” in Oregon and their questionable behavior and pseudo-sanctuary status. Now, it’s the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica’s turn to be put under the spotlight. It isn’t the first time that the Sloth Sanctuary has had questions raised, but it is the first time that two doctors of veterinary medicine have stepped forward to professionally denounce the “sanctuary” and its deplorable “behind the scenes” treatment of the sloths in its care.

Hopefully this exposure will help set changes in motion, though first it’s likely that any of us who dare to post the article or question the “sanctuary” will suffer attacks. After all, this is the first time the “sanctuary” or any of it’s associates (who are also not strangers to questionable behavior) have ever been publicly confronted with their failures and misrepresentation.

You can read the article on the Dodo here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The minimum standards to be considered a true sanctuary include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

984151_805337812819798_2278425590563656177_nMeet and greet with predators.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 33 Issue 1

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

Dying For The Perfect Photo: The Selfies With Animals Epidemic

In recent years, selfies have become a global phenomenon. Worse, they’ve become a leading cause of accidental death for people all around the world. By some estimates (arguable, but still) the taking of selfies now causes more deaths per year than shark attacks. As disturbing as this is, it thus far has remained a sort of self-inflicted death sentence, an encapsulated phenomenon affecting only the humans taking the selfies.

That is changing.

Just in the last few weeks, a rare adolescent La Plata dolphin was killed when it became disoriented and beached itself. Instead of taking the animal back out into the surf and releasing it, hundreds of people began holding it aloft, and passing it around, all vying to take selfies with it. The dolphin quickly succumbed to shock and dehydration and died. After its death, the body was discarded on the beach, and–after a few more selfies with the corpse–it was left to rot. No charges have been filed in this case.

A man in Florida pulled a small bull shark out of the ocean, dragging it up onto the beach by its tail and then posing with it while onlookers eagerly snapped photos. Though the man eventually returned the shark to water, it reportedly sank out of sight without beginning to swim on its own, and it’s not known whether the shark managed to survive, or died of its injuries.

In China, visitors at a wildlife park–after being explicitly told to leave the birds within alone–not only grabbed several peacocks off the ground, but then pinned them against their chests while they took multiple selfies with the birds. Unlike humans, birds do not have a diaphragm, and they must rely on the expansion and compression of their chest cavities in order to move air in and out of their bodies. Pinioned tightly as they were, the peacocks were literally suffocated nearly to the point of death. What lack of oxygen began, shock finished, in the case of two birds. Both died shortly after the incident.

Now, a swan in Macedonia has become the latest victim of the ‘selfies with animals’ craze that’s sweeping the internet. Acclimated to the appearance of tourists, the swan did not shy away when a Bulgarian woman approached. Had the swan fled, it might still be alive. Instead, it allowed the woman to get close to it. She then grabbed the bird by one wing, and dragged it thrashing up onto the embankment. It’s likely that the swan’s wing was injured by the rough handling, but it was shock that killed it. Once the tourist got her selfie, she abandoned the bird on the beach where it quickly died.

These are isolated incidents which have made Internet news forums and have been highly publicized. Still consistently overlooked in the game of animal selfies, is the million dollar industry of cub petting, and cub selfies, which relies both on the continued breeding of captive big cats, and the public’s belief that it is their right to take selfies with these animals, and their right to exploit them “just this once” in order to create a memory for themselves.

This widespread entitlement that the public at large embraces, is something fueled, at least in part, to our consumption-based society. Terms like “white privilege” and “male privilege” are commonplace within today’s discussions, but I’m going to add a couple more to the roster. “Human Privilege” and “First World Privilege”.

“Human privilege” can be applied to situations like those above, where anyone, no matter their monetary status perceives themselves has having the right to impose upon the animals they encounter in order to satisfy their own interests. We don’t go around picking up other peoples’ babies or children and taking pictures of ourselves holding them simply because they’re cute, and we want a photograph with them. Likewise, we don’t walk up to strangers and hug them while taking photographs of the interaction. People who jump into the path of celebrities only to snap photographs are considered to be assholes, even during their few moments of fame. But humans think nothing of snatching animals up and forcing them to participate in interactions which are then documented in a photo or selfie, and subsequently splashed across the internet. Often, the more unlikely the animal companion, or the more dangerous the situation, the more popular the resulting selfie becomes.

“First world Privilege” is applicable to any situation in which someone is monetarily able to provide themselves with disposable goods, but for my purposes, I’m applying it specifically to those who pay to hold, pet, and take selfies with captive wild animals which have been bred specifically for that purpose. Pseudo sanctuaries (which are not GFAS accredited sanctuaries) like Black Jaguar White Tiger, T.I.G.E.R.S., Dade City Wild Things, Virginia’s beleaguered Natural Bridge Zoo, the Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center, and many other establishments, exist on the dollars pulled in by charging the public to hold and take selfies with their animals. The exploitation of their animals for use in public photos and selfies is not a footnote within the operations of the aforementioned pseudo sanctuaries, it is the very foundation on which the businesses were built, and on which they continue to stand. Egregious institutes such as the Tiger Temple, exist solely to cater to the “first world privilege” of those who pay to use their services while vacationing. If monetarily possessed people refused to pay to be allowed to hold and take photographs with captive wild animals, the consumption would end, and the practice would as well. After all, such fads as paying for seances has largely died out. Now, if someone pays for the services of a psychic, the mainstream public sees it as a waste of money. But once, it was considered to be *the* thing to do.

So what can you do to help end this “selfie with animals” epidemic? Well, for one, check out anti-animal selfie movements, like Big Cat Rescue’s Tiger Selfie and educate yourself. Then, stop sharing wild animal selfies and photos on Facebook, and other social media sites.

Black Jaguar White Tiger is the leading power behind the public’s obsession with sharing, and celebrating, photographs, videos and selfies of celebrity guests holding and coddling captive wild animals. Though closed to the public (you must be invited in, and/or donate $1,000 or more a month to be allowed onto te property) BJWT uses its 5 million+ followers on Instagram to promote activities like holding, playing with and keeping as pets, captive wild animals, big cats in particular. Eduard Serio defends himself, and his own actions insisting that his animals are not exploited and that he’s raising awareness about the plight of animals everywhere, and always hashtags the photos with #notpets despite that he’s blatantly treating the animals just like pets. The photos he promotes are those wherein he, or his many celebrity guests, are holding and playing with the animals kept on his property. These photos are subsequently liked, shared, and re-shared thousands and thousands of times. BJWT is beloved by millions, as I’ve said, and despite that the BJWT website recently, and without explanation, removed the ‘visit for two’ benefit to donating $1,000 or more a month (suspiciously after a number of articles publicly pointed out the fact that the chance to play with the animals was being used to garner donations) those millions of followers remain devoted to the pseudo sanctuary and its celebrity visitors.

Yes, the fans love BJWT. Problem is, only a few people ever get to go to the secretly guarded BJWT facility and “share Eddie’s special bond” with his pets–excuse me, “rescued” animals. So what’s an average Joe to do? Visit a more accessible “sanctuary” like T.I.G.E.R.S. or Natural Bridge Zoo(neither of which are GFAS accredited) where for what passes for today’s pocket change will get you some cuddle time with captive big cats who have been bred just so people like you can pay to get cuddle time with them!

Or, if you’re more into the offhand encounters, you can head out into the countryside and start randomly grabbing and manhandling whatever sort of animal you come across. It bears pointing out that not *every* selfie in which and animal has been forced to participate actually looks like the animal has been forced, or is suffering. Some animals aren’t capable of defending themselves against unwanted attention. Sloths, and even animals like the Northern opossums, or common turtles are more inclined to simply go limp or freeze when trapped by a human. You can literally walk through a South American jungle and pluck sloths from the trees (if you can reach them) and the sloths won’t do anything to you. But that doesn’t mean you have the right to touch a sloth.

So the next time an oh-so-cute photo of someone coddling or hamming with a wild animal pops up in your news feed, take a moment to look at it closely before simply liking and sharing it. All of those likes and shares promote the activities shown in the photographs and videos so it’s vital to understand what you’re promoting.

Does the picture portray a celebrity at a “sanctuary” that is not GFAS accredited, and allows direct interaction between the public and its animals? Does it have a caption that somehow links the activities of holding or playing with the animals to conservation or awareness? Are the animals in the photo wild, or not the sort of animals you would ever expect to see in human hands? If the answer to any of these is “Yes” then more than likely the animals in the photographs are being exploited.

Only in cases wherein medical attention, or nutrition is being administered by accredited professionals is it acceptable to hold or manipulate a wild, or captive wild animal.

As tempting as it might be to scoop up a baby animal (or adorable adult, or awesome looking animal) for “just one photo” you have to understand that your actions will have an impact on that animal, and that animals do not perceive such things the way a human might. For them, being held against their will is emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically, damaging.

And in some cases while people rationalize their actions by looking at it from the standpoint of “it’s just one photo” for the animals–depending on their situation–it might well be their hundredth, or thousandth photo. In cub petting situations, while you get a few minutes (maybe more, depending on what you pay) with a big cat cub, that cub often has to spend “a few minutes” with hundreds of guests each day. The same goes for animals such as the peacock killed by tourists in China, and the swan killed by tourists in Macedonia. Those animals had to deal with hundreds, or thousands of tourists passing through where they lived on a daily basis. And, chances are, they probably had to deal with people chasing, catching, or trying to catch them on a daily basis. We’ll never know if theses incidents were the first time the animals had been captured for photographs, or the hundredth time, because activities like this aren’t monitored, or noted.

In fact, the only attention and exposure this kind of abuse gets is after an animal is killed in the process.

So I implore you, don’t be part of the epidemic of animal selfies. Do your research and be part of the cure.

Author: Artemis Grey

True Facts about the Turtle!

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At ICARUS we are trying to educate and also uncover the awful truths about the interactions of humans with the animals we share the planet with. Six out of the seven species of sea turtle are on the brink of extinction, in fact their numbers have been reduced by 95% in the last 20 years. Turtle poaching in Costa Rica is a serious issue as it has one of the largest populations in the world and their numbers are being seriously diminished despite conservation efforts. Just last week two ICARUS members attended an illegal food market undercover, where both green sea turtle meat and their eggs were being sold every week. We want to help find solutions and help to prevent the green sea turtle from being hunted into extinction. Although it’s our mission to focus on the advocacy and the conservation, we at ICARUS know that you’ll be more inclined to save the turtle if you know about their quirks and habits. One of the best ways to learn is by having a little fun while doing it. So without further ado our humorous and true facts about the Turtle! (original article posted by ICARUS member Sarah here)

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brrrrrr…

1. When turtles are just tiny eggs their sex is determined by the temperature they are incubated at. Warmer temperatures produce more female eggs and the colder it is the more males are born. This sounds a bit like human females who are constantly colder than men, maybe they are just meant to be warm and toasty all the time!

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2. Turtles have favourite colours, which according to research are yellow, orange and red. Most of the people who come in to contact with turtles are divers, who often wear black. So clearly for a turtle if you’re not wearing any of their favourite colours when you’re diving then the turtles are openly mocking you and your fashion choices.

3. Turtles do no have ears but they can perceive low pitched sounds. Often when I’m diving I am constantly talking, singing or shouting at person in front of me who has just kicked me in the face. However you should always remember that the turtles can hear you and they’re terrible gossips.

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“Figaro, Figaro, FIGAROOOOOO”

4. Turtles also don’t have vocal cords, but they can make sounds. You may be unaware but turtles are actually avid opera practitioners.

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“Hey Lettuce, lookin’ good”

5. Turtles select mates by sniffing tails. In fact they have a very good sense of smell, but not so much sight. So if a female climbs over something then the male has often been known to try and mount it. This has been observed in tortoises too as one tried to have sex with a head of lettuce a female had climbed over. Oops. That’s going to be very disappointing!

We hope you have enjoyed our tongue in cheek turtle facts and have picked up some interesting information! We at ICARUS are really passionate about helping to save and protect the turtle. After being part of a turtle release a few weeks ago we can truly appreciate them so much more. We will be releasing a lot more information on that soon, we look forward to sharing the journey with you.

Sarah