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.
Somehow, the hashtag #saverhinos is supposed to indicate that riding one like a horse is beneficial to preserving the species.
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.
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.
But, here’s the same announcement, posted on the JITW Instagram feed, claiming that THEY own Andromeda.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.