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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Blessing of St. Francis

Artemis Grey

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The Greatest Griefs Are Those We Cause Ourselves

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

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

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

I am responsible for Harambre’s death.

So is my sister.

So are my parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Addicted To The Limelight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is exactly what they wanted all along.

Accountability Is Our Responsibility

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

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

So, Why do we let it happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

But their own irrefutable histories reveal the truth.

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

Joe Schreibvogel Maldonado

Has operated under the names:

Joe Exotic
Joseph Maldonado
Aarron Alex
Cody Ryan.

Has run businesses including but not limited to:

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

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

Has operated under the names:

Keven Antle
Dr. Bhagavan Antle
Doc Antle

Has run businesses including but not limited to:

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

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

As operated under the names:

Bill Meadows

Has operated businesses named:

Tuttle’s Interactive Exotic Zoological Park, Tiger Safari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Artemis Grey

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

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

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

Special Snowflake Syndrome: The Truth Behind ‘Special Bonds’ And How Celebrity Conservationists Build Them On Assembly Lines

People love to witness–or even better, personally experience–a special bond with animals. It’s why we have them as pets, why we devote so much time, attention, and money to them. Spiritual bonds with animals are a very real thing, and they can enrich your life exponentially.

Not all bonds are equal, however.

The differences between how those bonds are created divides them profoundly between spiritual, and ritual. The words, spiritual, and ritual, might sound similar but their meanings are paradoxically opposite.

Spiritual is defined as relating to, or consisting of spirit, incorporeal. Of or relating to the spirit, or soul as distinguished from the physical nature. Closely akin in interests, attitude, outlook.

Ritual is defined as an established or prescribed procedure. A system, or observance of set forms. Any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner.

Scenario #1

The foal of a reclaimed wild horse is intentionally taken from its mother. Trailered hundreds of miles away, the foal, which is not yet even weaned, is placed in a high-walled pen. It can neither see out, nor escape. The pen is dirt, with no grass or water. The foal is left alone, screaming for its mother, for any member of the herd from which it was taken. After a day or two, a man comes and opens the pen. He offers the foal a bottle, but it’s too afraid to come close. The man leaves. By now, the foal has no voice left to scream.

The next morning, the man comes back, and the foal is so hungry and weak that it accepts the bottle he offers it. The milk tastes good, and the foal feels better. When the man comes back, the foal goes to him readily. As the foal grows, and stops drinking milk, the man begins bringing it hay, and water. When the man is not there, the foal has nothing. When the man comes, the foal has food and water and companionship. Eventually, the man puts a halter on the foal, and the foal grows into a horse. To the horse, the man is the entire world. The horse will do anything for him because it has no memory of a time in which the man was not there, no memory of a world in which the man was not the center of its existence.

If asked to, the horse will lie down and allow the man to climb on top of it. The horse will rear, walk on its hind legs, kneel. It will even jump through fire, or allow things that terrify it to happen, simply because the man tells it to stand still and allow it to happen.

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Scenario #2

An adult wild horse is taken to live on a large ranch, turned loose in a large field, with plenty of grass and a creek running through it. Every day a man goes out and check on the horse, sometimes walking very far out into the field to find it. The horse always runs from him, and he never chases it. He walks the fence line, checking it for holes or debris. The horse often watches him, but never gets close. Sometimes he goes out into the field and sits in the grass eating his lunch. Occasionally the horse creeps closer. The man pretends not to notice, but he always leaves his apple core behind, and once he leaves the field, the horse ventures over, smelling the scent he leaves behind. It finds the apple cores, and eats them. Eventually, when the mans appears, the horse will come closer. If he puts an apple down, and backs away, the horse will approach and eat the apple. When the snow comes, the man returns every day and breaks the ice on the creek to make sure the horse can drink. He scrapes snow away from the grass, and leaves hay in its place. The horse watches from the shelter of the trees.

Eventually, the horse doesn’t look at the man with suspicion when he comes to its field. Sometimes it follows him as he checks the fence. Sometimes it doesn’t bother to stop grazing. It knows the man won’t do anything to hurt it, because he’s never done anything to hurt it. It understands that he lives here, and it lives here. He likes apples, and it likes apples. It has no herd, but the man is sort of like a small herd. He does things a herd would do. He keeps the horse company, and the horse keeps him company.

One day while the man is checking the fence line, he falls down. He can’t stand up. Coyotes hear him yelling for help. The horse hears him, too. It goes to see what’s happening, and finds the coyotes circling it’s man. It’s herd. Rushing in defensively, the horse fights the coyotes, off, kicking them, and driving them away until they leave entirely. But the man still can’t get up. It’s getting dark, and very cold. The horse stays by the man, making sure that the coyotes don’t come back. Eventually, the man stops trying to move. The horse lies down close to him, and when he rolls up against it, the horse doesn’t move. It lies beside the man for hours, and then as the sun rises, other people appear in the field. There are lots of them, and they’re all yelling. The horse leaps up and runs away, then circles back to watch as the people finds its man and takes him away. The next day, its man returns hobbling on sticks, and he brings lots of apples with him.

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Now, if I were to ask you which one of the men in these scenarios had a spiritual bond with the horse, I have little doubt that you would say the man in #2. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? He’s asked nothing of the horse, and yet when he needs help the most, the horse guards him, and then keeps him warm until he’s rescued.

The baldly honest truth, though, is that a person might foster hundreds of wild horses in exactly the same manner, and no one of them would ever see him as part of the herd, not one of them would protect him from coyotes or lie beside him and keep him warm.

I’ve worked with horses–both domestic, and reclaimed mustangs–for almost thirty years, and there has been only one horse who did literally save and protect me. That’s what makes the special bond special. The fact that it is so rare. Only one horse out of hundreds that I’ve ridden, trained, helped be born, or cared for actually did save me. And in that situation, there was also a newborn foal involved, and the mare saved the foal, too, so that might well have been a situation wherein I was saved by coincidence, not intention.

And that’s okay. That doesn’t mean the horses I’ve cared for and raised didn’t love me.

The sort of spiritual connection that would cause a horse to view you as if you were another horse, is simply exceedingly rare. The sort of ritualistic connection that allows horses to interact with humans with respect and appreciation can be created through consistent, daily routine. That routine might involve depriving the horse of basic needs, so that it has no choice but to accept a relationship, or it might involve the longer process of learning to trust each other. But in either case, the bond is real, it’s just not exceptionally unique.

So, how does all of this relate to conservation and wild animals? It relates vitally if you look at celebrity conservationists like Eduardo Serio and his Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation.

Serio has–as he so often boasts–has gathered almost five million followers on Instagram, and he didn’t do it by rescuing big cats. He did it by posting videos of himself playing with adolescent big cats, and other celebrities holding and coddling newborn big cat cubs.

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Some of Serio’s cats have supposedly come from circuses, but you never see him interacting with those cats because he can’t interact with them. He possesses no “special bond” with those cats because he has not hand-raised them from birth, has not systematically forced them to develop within the conformity of his own expectations. He does not have the bonds he has with his cats because he’s special, he has those bonds because he’s trained the cats to have them.

The dozens of newborn big cat cubs Serio constantly posts videos and photos of, are available to make those videos because they’re kept inside a house, locked in various rooms, and the only interactions they have with the outside world are interactions specifically relating to Serio or his staff. Those cubs–as Serio himself has admitted–are raised from shortly after birth, sometimes from before their eyes have even opened, living in Serio’s closet, sleeping in his bed, and being constantly handled by humans, indoctrinated into the ritual of human interaction. It is literally the only thing they know, the only thing they have ever been exposed to. When celebrity guests walk with the big cats in Serio’s possession, they are not being “brave” or “becoming part of the pride” they’re doing exactly what Serio and his staff have ritualistically done with the animals 24 hours a day, seven days a week since those animals were born. The animals don’t have a choice, they don’t even know they’re capable of refusing the contact.

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Serio vehemently denies “charging the public” to play with his animals. Instead, he offers them the chance to “sponsor” one of his ‘angels’ and with each level of sponsorship the donator receives certain benefits. Originally, and up until the recent spate of articles questioning the activities of Black Jaguar White Tiger, one of the benefits for those willing to donate $1,000.00 or more per month to his foundation, was a two day visit for two people to the Foundation–the location of which remains a closely guarded secret–and while there, handling and taking photos with the animals was part of the fun. Below is that donation page as seen in the ICARUS post titled Escaping the Matrix: Lifting the Veil on Black Jaguar White Tiger’s Pseudo Conservation of Big Cats.

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Now, here is a current screenshot of BJWT’s sponsorship page. The benefit of a two day visit for two people to the Foundation has been suspiciously removed. Is this a response to the recent publicity regarding Serio’s allowance of handling? There’s no way to know. And since Serio refuses to ever admit any wrong doing at all, we’ll likely never know why the terms for $1,000.00 sponsorship were suddenly changed. Just as we’ll never know why he’s suddenly referring to BJWT as a “sanctuary” instead of “the Foundation” when they still are not a GFAS accredited sanctuary.

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With, or without, the enticement to visit the Foundation in exchange for sponsorship, Serio continues to post videos and photos daily of both himself handling his cats, and of celebrity guests handling his cats. And regardless of any recent articles criticizing him, people seem to feel as if Serio is somehow ‘sharing his special bond’ with them by allowing them to participate. Serio’s 4 million+ followers on Instagram readily agree. Anyone who questions the validity of Serio’s ‘special bond’ with his ‘kids’ is cut down with verbal assaults and assertions, often which are nor more than the accusation that these ‘haters’ are simply “jealous” of Serio’s “special bond” because the aforementioned ‘haters’ will ‘never have that bond’.

What these followers fail to grasp is that anyone who purchases wild animals as babies, and keeps them isolated with only the owner to ritually care for them, will end up with baby big cats who excitedly run to them for comfort and affection.

These same blindly supportive fans also help to share numerous videos of interspecies “friendships” without grasping the fact that these “friendships” are nothing by contrived and forced pairings of animal interaction. Yes, it is possible for unexpected bonds to occur between species which otherwise might not interact, but rarely is a camera ever there to document the activity. Only a few times has such genuine and naturally occurring bonds happened, and often they last only a brief time. Videos of orangutans bottle feeding newborn big cat cubs are strictly the figment of one’s imagination. Namely the one creating and posting the video.

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‘Doc’ Antle of T.I.G.E.R.S. is no better than Serio. In fact, Antle is a main source for many of those “unlikely friends” videos so often shared by Serio’s fans.

Antle continuously breeds–and inbreeds–big cats, bottle feeding the subsequent cubs, and hybrid cubs, using food and intimidation to impress show routines onto his cats. By the time they reach adulthood, the big cats are so ritualistically bent to a specific behavior pattern that feeding them milk from a baby bottle is their standard reward for doing as instructed. The public finds this an adorable way of giving the animals a treat, and fail to recognize it as the lynchpin in a systematic conditioning of behavior.

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For Antle, the matter of cuddling his cubs is more a tourist draw, while the training of his animals takes center stage. The principal, however, is exactly the same. Antle prides himself on making the breeding and training of his cats an entire lifestyle. Prospective interns are expected to study Antle himself, and his methods, convert to veganism, they must be single, and change their entire mindset to match precisely how Antle says they should think. It is, much the same as Serio’s followers’ obsession with his “special bond”, simply a forced, and structured, ritualistic pattern of behavior, continually reinforced by how the animals are raised and maintained.

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Similarly, Karl Mitchell has been breeding big cats for decades, regularly charging the public for the privilege of holding the subsequent offspring. Mitchell started out by training a house cat to ride a motorcycle. This is something that thousands of cat owners have done, but in Mitchell’s case, he believed that his success was a sign of his own innate ability to communicate with animals. He became a self-styled “animal guru” claiming to be able to train animals that no one else could, such as zebras and antelope. Eventually Mitchell moved on to big cats, which he insists are trained using ‘love’ as well as other methods he learned from his apprenticeships with various Hollywood animal trainers.

karl mitchell abuserBecause, apparently, feeding animals on your couch is how all the big time trainers do it.

Mitchell’s property “The Ranch” has been the host to music videos, magazine shoots, and commercials. Mitchell maintains that he’s sought out by directors because of his ability to get animals to do what he wants, because of his guru-like skill with them. The truth is that Mitchell is a man constantly fighting allegations of animal abuse and mishandling, virtually all of them related to his big cats, and how they are treated.

He also uses The Ranch to allow high paying celebrities to play with his captive big cats.

Karl_ParisParis Hilton just can’t seem to keep her hands off big cats, be it here in America with Karl, or down in Mexico at Black Jaguar White Tiger.

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Bradley Cooper sporting a bad wig, and bad judgement as he coddles a 2 month old tiger cub belonging to Karl Mitchell.

 

Serio, Antle, and Mitchell all claim to have special bonds with their animals. They all claim to be special snowflakes, different from every other person who keeps big cats as pets and allows others to play with them.

*Serio loudly proclaims that most of his ‘angels’ have been saved from circuses or other situations, despite that a huge number of his animals are far too young to have even been in a circus or possessed as pets. He refuses to spay or neuter his animals, and talks about repopulating the wild with his cats. Calls his foundation a “sanctuary” though it isn’t GFAS accredited.

*Antle insists that his breeding, and inbreeding of hybrid big cats, is necessary to the preservation of the species, and says that one day, he plans to reintroduce his cats to the wild. Also calls his businesses “sanctuaries” though neither are GFAS accredited.

*Mitchell insists that his final goal in breeding and maintaining big cats is to return them to the wild, and that he’s currently in contact with sanctuaries in India in regard to reintroducing tigers there.

All three of these men claim to have the exact same goals, the exact same bonds with their animals, and the exact same reasons for allowing the public to handle them. Everything they do, and all the money they make, they insist is for the animals.

They do it all, they say in the name of saving big cats and spreading awareness about the plights of wild big cats.

This is their mantra.

Yet while these proclamations come out of their mouths, their hands are busily handing off yet one more big cat cub to a waiting patron, eager to coddle the kitten and ‘share the special bond’ that its owner has so carefully created via ritualistic training.

By the time that kitten becomes an adult, no longer suitable for handling, another kitten will have been ‘rescued’ or otherwise secured, and will conveniently be available to help share the ‘special bond’ just like generations of assembly line victims of the special snowflake syndrome before it.

And yet millions of people all over the world continue to believe in the fairytale of special snowflakes. They continue to share Serio’s videos, and tout the ‘special bond’ he has with all of his ‘kids’. They continue to believe that people like Serio, Antle, and Mitchell should breed animals so that they can repopulate the wild spaces that currently can’t support the feeble populations of wild cats that still exist.

Until they open their eyes a recognize the ritualistic abuse for what it is, the cycle will continue.

Author: Artemis Grey

New Year, New Opportunities to Advocate for Animals

The ICARUS blog has been rather quiet this last month. I’ve been dealing with some serious health issues (I won’t offer details, but google Adenomyosis, and Factor II Deficiency and you’ll understand) At the same time, I’ve been dealing with major health problems associated with one of my cats, Ari. He’s been diagnosed with Restrictive Cardiomyopathy, which is a terminal condition. At 13/14 he’s not what I’d call an ancient cat (Old Lady Cat is rocking it out at 18) but in human years, he’s around 75, and while I adopted him from the ASPCA and we don’t know his breeding, this heart issue is prevalent among Maine Coon cats, and large exotics, and Ari is very large, with markings and mannerisms that point to those sorts of cats in his background. It’s been touch and go, and he’s had fluid drawn from around his lungs several times. *Right now* he’s responding very well to the diuretics and heart medicine, so hopefully we’ve attained a plateau of comfort. Ari, for his part, has never slowed down, and remains his cheerful, playful self. Between Ari’s health, and my health, I haven’t been a whole lot of help to the ICARUS team the last month, but with both of us more stabilized, I intend to get back into the swing again.

I’m not one for New Years Resolutions, as I feel like they just set you up for a failure. Instead of embracing the new year, the new opportunities and the turning of the seasons, you get so focused on achieving the goals you’ve created that you don’t enjoy life. That said, I love when the year turns over and you can see the endless possibilities stretching out before you. All of those chances and opportunities to go out and do good in the world. All those animals waiting for us to help them. All the people waiting to be taught how they can help animals all over the world.

 

Sometimes the best way to help animals is simply to teach people about them, and about how to help conserve and protect them. Team ICARUS is a proponent of what’s called ‘hands off conservation’. This means that unless an animal is being given medical treatment or rehabilitative therapy, we do not touch or handle them. We do not believe in playing with wild animals, neither babies, nor adults, nor do we believe in keeping them inside homes or other inappropriate housing situations.

There are situations in which it is necessary to touch or handle wild animals. Very young animals must sometimes be bottle fed. Some species, like sloths, or fruit bats must be carried from feeding areas to housing areas, or kept swaddledFlying fox rehabilitation centre expands in Sydney in order to mimic their natural situation. The ICARUS groups considers this sort of handling to be part of the rehabilitation process, and thus unavoidable. However, romping around with big cat cubs, or dressing young primates up in clothing and carrying them around as if they were human children, crosses the line into pseudo-conservation. Continuing intimate contact with animals after they have matured beyond the necessity of that interaction is no longer caring for them as if they were wild animals, but instead, is treating them like a pet.

There are many groups who publicly present themselves as being focused on the conservation of a species, or multiple species of wild animal, while at the same time engaging very publicly in acts of exploitation of the very animals they claim to be protected. Despite that many of these groups describe themselves as “sanctuaries” if they directly interact with their animals, or allow the public to directly interact with their animals, they are not, and cannot be a GFAS accredited sanctuary. And for the ICARUS team, that’s the only genuine sanctuary. Many of them closely mimic the presentation of other legitimate sanctuaries or rescues specifically with the intention of duping the public into believing that they have the same goals. Often times this enables them to con large corporations and entities into ignorantly funding them even though they are not aiding in conservation in any way.

Sometimes, these pseudo-conservation groups can be sorted from the genuine organization simply by careful research. For example, an elephant orphanage dedicated to the rescue of baby elephants whose mothers were killed by poachers will not be a tourist destination. Human contact will be kept as minimal as possible, and though the young elephants must be bottle fed, the end goal is for those animals to be released onto preserves where they can successfully function as animals not dependent on humans. Any elephant ‘orphanage’ which allows the public to play with the baby elephants or that maintains a breeding program has much more in mind than rescuing orphaned babies.

Similarly, big cat “rescues” which maintain a steady stream of young animals–without being able to document where those young animals came from–or that allows public handling of the animals in their care, for either a fee or donation is not concerned with saving animals, but rather, making money.

The ICARUS group has been attacked before by those attempting to defend the organizations we call out for their pseudo-conservation activities, and we’re sure to be attacked again. It will not change our belief that these organizations are causing nothing but harm to the animals in their care, and skewing the public’s perception of what conservation really is.

Hundreds of thousands of people share the misleading and eye-catching videos of Black Jaguar White Tiger on a daily basis. The seemingly innocuous and adorable interactions of jaguar cubs leaping off beds, or romping through living rooms Captura de pantalla 2015-01-27 a la(s) 21.34.02or playing inside houses with celebrity guests

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capture the public’s imagination and devotion. For the devotees of such organizations, the idea of preserving habitat, or subspecies, researching genetics and reintroducing of animals into the wild or the halt of illegal animal trafficking has nothing to do with conservation. Rather, for those devotees, conservation is distilled into one simplistic act of ‘saving’ big cats from being ‘used’ by ‘bad people’.

The facts that these ‘rescued’ animals are kept inside of houses, used to entertain celebrity guests, improperly handled and left intact and able to breed more captive animals are consistently explained away by the ignorant, and often highly indignant phrase ‘But he rescued them from a worse life.

Here’s what those BJWT devotees fail to grasp: He’s helping to create and maintain that worse life from which he’s rescuing his animals.

Of the animals under the care of BJWT there is little to no documentation on where they came from, how they were actually rescued. Even the foundation story of the group changes on a regular basis. Their founder has admitted openly that he buys cubs and cats to ‘rescue them’ from their plights, which means that the breeders of those cats only have to breed more in order to make more money by selling the new cubs to BJWT. It is privately owned, privately funded, and while not ‘open to the public’ celebrities are regularly invited to the grounds–the exact location of which is carefully guarded–where they are allowed to play with animals, handle cubs which are often much too young to be handled, and have their photographs taken with the animals, all in exchange for donations and publicity. Despite that the group insists that most of its animals come from circuses, virtually all of the ‘rescues are incredibly young-too young to ever have been used in a circus-but are perfect for playing with the next round of guests who visit the foundation. Despite that BJWT is, apparently a “sanctuary” in Mexico, it is not GFAS accredited. It can’t be because of his handling of the animals.

Hundreds of thousands of people who follow the foundation on social media fail to see the fundamental failings of a group who treats the big cats in its care the same way that backyard owners treat their own exotic animals. If it is wrong for a woman in Iowa to keep six tigers in her house and allow her children to play with them, it’s also wrong for a wealthy man in Mexico to keep six dozen big cats in his mansion and allow people to play with them.

This is not the face of conservation:

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Advocating for animals and conservation means reaching out to, and engaging the public. There are countless ways to do this that do not include allowing the public to handle and pet the wild animals you’re discussing. Advocacy is an argument often used by groups to justify their allowance of humans directly interacting with animals. This is just another red flag to watch out for. If a group is offering you the chance to touch or hold a wild animal in order to teach you about how that wild animal needs to be protected in the wild, then they’re not focused on the plight of the wild animals, but on making money off of you playing with their captive ones.

This new year is bringing new chances to advocate for wild animals in a responsible fashion. We hope that you’ll join the ICARUS group in supporting those groups who utilize hands off conservation in order to protect wild animals everywhere.

 

Author: Artemis Grey

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Not About The Person, It’s About The Animals In Their Care

Hands off conservation is one of the fundamental ethical foundations of the ICARUS team.

It’s something we’ve posted about before, and it’s something we’ll post about again. Every blog post which contains certain ‘celebrity conservationists’ and which criticizes the way they treat their animals gets quite a few comments (not all of which get posted, because while we’re open to differing opinions, we’re not going to entertain baseless poop-slinging) and while some of them agree with us, many argue that for *insert whatever reason* it’s okay for a particular celebrity conservationist to pet/play with/hold/whatever their wild captive animal.

Most of the unpublished comments accuse us of being “jealous” of the celebrity conservationist, of being ignorant as to the fact that they’re “special” and thus can do these things without hurting the animal, or that we’re being paid to attack them, or that the attention they bring to conservation outweighs any stuff that they shouldn’t be doing.

Here’s the point all of these avid defenders are missing: It’s not about the celebrity conservationist. It’s about the animals they’re exploiting.

When we name names in our posts, citing how certain people directly interact with the captive wild animals in their care, or how they allow the public to directly interact with them (and subsequently how they cannot attain GFAS accreditation no matter how awesome they are) people rush to the defense of these (or some of these) celebrity conservationists. People get angry when you call out those whom they idolize. While we have yet to get any death threats, we’ve definitely gotten some, colorful, shall we say, comments, in defense of these celebrity conservationists. What these defenders fail to understand is we aren’t after their idols because they’re awesome and we’re jealous, or we’re getting paid to go after them, or because we’re just mean. We’re naming their names because we’re concerned about the animals in their care.

Our number one focus is the ethical and responsible treatment and care of animals. Most specifically wild, and captive wild animals. Our basis for believing in, and supporting, hands off conservation isn’t that we don’t believe you can have a special bond with a wild animal, or because we don’t have access to captive wild animals, so we don’t think others should, or anything else. Our belief is based in science, concern for the animals, and in existing laws, including the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Yes, some of these celebrity conservationists have raised the animals since birth. Yes, they’re experts (self-proclaimed, or with actual degrees) on these animals, and their behavior. Yes, they speak about conservation, and engage the public. None of that, however, gives them the right to treat the animals in their care any differently than they expect the public to treat them. And none of it guarantees that they, or their animals, will not suffer immensely for it in the end.

Let me use myself as an example.

I’ve been riding, training, breeding, foaling-out, showing, and caring for horses for 27 years. Almost three decades. I have more experience than some of those who have served on the Olympic team.

Several years ago, there was a cold born on the farm. I knew his mother, and his father. I personally assisted in his birth. The colt touched me, smelled me and saw me before he even saw his own mother. I raised this foal from birth, worked with him daily, and when he was old enough, began his training. He was a very ‘brain stem’ horse, meaning that he responded to body language, and silent communication more than verbal. I was his boss mare, so to speak, and he was my beta. He submitted to my authority readily, and without any physical domination on my part. I spent hours with this animal every single day.

One day, when he was about three years old, I had him in the crossties for a routine vet appointment. There was another colt in a nearby stall. My guy was fussing, where he was standing in front of us, because he didn’t like that he couldn’t turn around and be involved in what was going on. He was nosey, like most little boys are. I gave him a pat and told him to cut out the complaining. After that, I had approximately three tenths of a second to dodge or otherwise defend myself when the colt threw his hind end into the air, and lashed out with both hind feet.

I was incredibly lucky. His right hind foot hit my right breast, while his left hit my left arm. Less than an inch to one side, and he’d have broken my sternum, bruised or ruptured my heart, torn my descending thoracic aorta or my superior vena cava. Less than an inch the other way, he’d have broken ribs, punctured my lung or ruptured my liver. Farther down, and I’d have received gross damage to my internal organs, and farther up could have broken my neck, caused a depressed skull fracture, torn my lower jaw clean off, or even worse. The fact that I had space behind me, where I could be flung back without absorbing the full force of the kick helped, too. Basically, there was only one or two ways to survive the sort of kick I received, and I was lucky enough to manage one of them.

The really crazy part? That colt wasn’t trying to hurt me. What he did was the equine equivalent of saying ‘Get off my case, lady.’ He was a small, 700 pound herbivore just giving his ‘boss mare’ the brush off. If I had been another horse, I would merely have grunted and bitten his ass to put him in his place. As it was, he got a sound whack, and submitted in apology, and then stood there quietly without further fuss, because he wasn’t being mean, or attacking me in the first place. He was just mouthing off, horse style.

WARNING GRAPHIC PHOTOS taken directly after the incident, then later.

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The colt’s left hind foot grazed my elbow, causing my arm to swing back and hit the corner of a stall. I required X-rays to assure nothing was broken.

IMG_3202.JPGMy right breast, just moments after the impact.

IMG_3274.JPG     IMG_3273.JPGDespite scrubbing the wound immediately with disinfectant from the vet, an infection set up, requiring antibiotics.

IMG_3313.JPGAfter a week of antibiotics, the infection retreated. But the wound took more than a month to fill in.

IMG_3267.JPG My breast required pain meds, and had to be noted in my records, due to the internal scar tissue created which will show up on future mammograms.

I am a professional, and I knew what I was doing, and I wasn’t doing anything inappropriate. Neither was the colt. He was just being a colt. Almost any owner/trainer of captive wild animals will say the exact same thing about their animals after an incident.

However, there are some major differences between this horse and me, and captive wild animals.

The biggest of those, is that even if I’d been killed, no authorities would have shown up and confiscated the horse, and possibly euthanized him. No news crews would have shown up to discuss the problem of ‘captive horses’ being kept in ‘back yard zoos’. Horses and their owners all over the globe would not fall under fresh scrutiny, and there would be no sudden push for legislation to protect horses from being held in captivity.

If the colt had been a captive lion or tiger or other wild animal, all of those things would have happened, or could have happened. Maybe even worse things would have transpired. All because the animal acted like an animal, and I happened to be too fragile to withstand it.

Private owners are killed or maimed by their captive wild animals on a regular basis. This isn’t something new. Celebrity conservationists and animal trainers are also killed and maimed by their captive wild animals on a regular basis. It’s also nothing new.

Yet hundreds of thousands of members of the public continually try to categorize these incidents into neatly labeled boxes like ‘They were amateurs, and didn’t know what they were doing.’ or ‘They mistreated their animals, and the animals fought back.’ or ‘It was just a freak accident, that no one could have prevented.’ or ‘It was the fault of someone else present, not the the fault of the animal, or its celebrity conservationist.’ when the truth and absolute fact is that none of the incidents would ever have happened if someone was not directly interacting with a captive wild animal.

Here are links to just a small sampling of documented attacks and incidents involving captive wild animals with trainers. Here’s a PDF file compiled by the Human Society documenting hundreds of circus related incidents. It happens in the film industry, with trainers who have ‘perfect safety’ record. Even owners who start out thinking that they’ll be able to communicate with their animals, and be successful interacting with them often learn the truth, sometimes, they’re lucky enough to learn it without dying.

The one, single defining fact shared by these incidents, is the direct interaction between humans and captive wild animals.

This is why ICARUS maintains a strict hands-off approach to conservation. When you directly interact with a captive wild animal, it is not a matter of if something will happen, but when it will happen. And when it does, it will be the animal who suffers. There is no free pass for celebrity conservationists. They run the exact same risks as someone who’s raised and trained animals in their backyards. The only difference is in how the public chooses to justify one, while vilifying the other. For the ICARUS group, however, there is no difference at all. Our focus is the well being of the animals, and therefore we will continue to speak out against direct interaction with captive wild animals for any reason beyond rehabilitation and medical treatment.

As gratifying as it might be to interact with captive wild animals, it simply is not worth the risk of what could happen to those animals if something went wrong.

Author: Artemis Grey

Feature photo credit: Peter Lawson