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.