In A World Full Of Darlas, Be A Jane Goodall.

Thanks to Finding Nemo, the clown fish has become a ubiquitous entity. It is easily now the most recognizable fish on the planet. Tragically, the one place you may not see it, is in wild ocean reefs where it once lived. That’s because up to 1 million clownfish are captured in the wild each year and sold to citizens to feed the “Nemo craze” of young children who want to own a fish just like Nemo and Marlin.

The irony of clownfish populations being entirely wiped out in some areas by those who want to own a pet clownfish after watching a movie about a clownfish trying to rescue his son who was taken from the wild to be sold as a pet fish, is not lost on conservationists. It is, however, completely overlooked by the public who are buying the clownfish that are being taken from their natural habitat by the millions.

Now, on the eve of the release of Finding Dory, we conservationists are even more concerned about the fate of the blue tang, which is the species Dory belongs to. She is specifically a regal blue tang. Clownfish populations have now been completely eradicated in certain areas due to over harvesting, and that’s on top of the captive breeding population that is already well established. Blue tang, however, are literally incapable of being bred in captivity, due to the mechanisms of their own reproductive processes.

This means that 100% of the blue tang in captivity were born wild, and subsequently captured.

Though blue tangs have a broad range, spanning the Indo-Pacific, and in the reefs of East Africa, Japan, Samoa, New Caledonia, and the Great Barrier Reef, they are not considered “common” in any specific region. There has already been an influx in blue tangs sold as pets since the release of Finding Nemo, and conservationists worry that that influx will become a bank-run after the release of Finding Dory, despite the hefty price tags of $40.00 (for a fish 1/2”-3/4”) to $100.00 (for a fish 5”-7”). Few people realize that regal blue tangs will grow up to a foot long, and are best off in an aquarium that is a minimum of 6-8 feet long and 180-200 gallons. Additionally, they are a rather fragile fish, prone to disease and issues associated with captivity and thus they are considered an “expert only” fish. These facts often go unnoticed, smoothed over, or ignored altogether.

To make matters worse, blue tangs are often captured via a highly damaging process called “cyanide fishing” wherein divers release cyanide into the waters of a reef, stunning the fish. They then move through th reef collecting the helpless animals. Numerous fish die immediately from this process.

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And about 60% of the regal blue tang collected through cyanide fishing will die without warning within several months of capture, often leaving their new owners out a fish, money, and any idea as to how they ended up that way. Many times, this means purchasing another regal blue tang to replace the dead one, which continues the cycle indefinitely. The practice of cyanide fishing also has grossly damaging effects on the coral, and other fish populations, including the accidental poisoning of humans who eat fish that are killed in this manner and then sold without being completely decontaminated. Even without the use of cyanide in the process of capturing blue tangs, and average of 25% will die simply from the stress of being captured and transported.

The entire message behind Finding Nemo was that wild fish should be left in the oceans, free and unbothered by humans. That mantra was literally the basis for the movie. However, the public seemed to identify more with Darla, the film’s terrifyingly callous and uncaring antagonist. Though she had only moments of screen time, Darla remains one of the most memorable “bad guys” of all time. With an estimated 40% increase in sales of clownfish, post-Finding Nemo, though, it seems that the majority of the public was channeling Darla after they left the movie theaters.

Now, we wait with bated breath to see if Dory’s relatives in the real world will suffer the same fate. Clownfish disappeared entirely from some areas, and their population decreased by as much as 75% in other areas. And, again, that is in addition to the steady source of clownfish provided by captive breeding programs already in existence. If the same uptake in the demand for blue tangs occurs, the species might well be facing extinction. We will have “found Dory” in our own homes at the cost of losing her forever in the wild.

Darla wouldn’t care about this post, or the fate of the regal blue tangs, so long as she got her “fishy fishy”.

Don’t be a Darla.

Be a Jane Goodall, instead, and spread the word about how no wild animal should ever be kept as a pet. If you truly love Dory, then leave her in the wild where she belongs. Leave her in the reefs, so that your children, and their children can watch Finding Nemo, and Finding Dory, and then go and find them in the wild, just like they’re presented in those movies.

“I don’t care two hoots about civilization. I want to wander in the wild.” – Jane Goodall.

All of the Dorys currently swimming amongst coral mazes want to wander in the wild, too. So please, let them do so.

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Your Logic Is Illogical: Why There Will Never Be A Valid Excuse For Cub-Petting

Bonus points if you get the Spock reference in that title. If not, you can check out Start Trek on Netflix later. Right now keep reading because I want to further discuss something that the I.C.A.R.U.S. team has taken a position on right from the off.

If you’ve been following us for a while, or have read through older blog posts, you’ll know that we are firmly hands-off conservation. Unless a wild animal is receiving medical attention or rehab, we believe that they should not be handled by humans. Ever. Part of the reason we take this stance is that wild animals belong in the wild. But the biggest part of why we take this stance is because:

Conservationists must set an example for the public to follow.

Let’s say you’re a geologist, and your life’s work is protecting places like Monument National Park. You abhor careless tourists, and those who deface the stones of the monuments either by marking on them, moving them, or climbing and damaging them. You’ve joined groups who have petitioned to ban climbers from scaling the stone monuments because having people climb the stone structures damages them, and creates a draw for others to climb them, too.

Then a guy videos himself climbing Delicate Arch. He uploads that video onto social media and in his caption he uses hashtags like #protectourparks #notaplayground #stayoffthestones #saverocks #conservation. He starts making more videos of himself climbing every major stone monument in every park across the country–many of which are banned to climbers–and posts the videos on social media sites for his growing fan base. He starts getting donations to fund his climbing exploits. All the while, he claims to be climbing these fragile stone monuments in order to conserve the stone monuments, and to show people that you should never climb them.

All of his followers agree that no one should ever climb protected stone monuments. Except for Mr. Climber, because he’s an “expert” and “doing it to conserve the monuments, so it’s okay”. And if he takes guests climbing on the monuments with him, that’s okay, too. His followers would all like to climb them, but they know they can’t, unless they’re with Mr. Climber, because he’s doing for a good cause, so if they do it while they’re with him, then they’re doing it for a good cause, too. I mean, he’s got to garner support for his cause, right? And besides, he’s hash tagging everything #notaplayground and #stayoffthestones, so everyone watching knows that “normal” people shouldn’t climb the monuments like he does.

Anyone who speaks out against Mr. Climber, or who questions why he’s damaging stone monuments by climbing them, and then claiming that he’s doing it to protect them, is given death threats, publicly threatened with lawsuits for defamation, and called jealous haters.

Never mind that they’ve been working to protect stone monuments from people climbing them for years before Mr. Climber showed up and started climbing them and damaging them “in the name of conservation”.

If this sounds completely irrational, congratulations, it is completely irrational, and you have a modicum of commonsense. However, if you supplant “climbing stone monuments” with “handling and playing with big cats” you have the precise situation in which groups like I.C.A.R.U.S. and PACH have now found themselves.

Playing with captive wildlife has become the new thing to be seen doing. Every celebrity who is any celebrity, it seems, has joined in on the game. Photos of supposed animals rights defenders cooing over tiger cubs no larger than a deli sub, or lounging on blankets while older cubs use them for warm-blooded furniture is becoming the new normal. In some cases, the celebrities revisit these pseudo-sanctuaries (establishments not GFAS accredited) repeatedly, following the growth of cubs specifically named after them. They tout these “sanctuaries” as being the best there is in conservation. And the actors and actresses often say that they are devoted to animals conservation, which is why they’re playing with cubs at these pseudo-sanctuaries.

The problem is, these pseudo sanctuaries–even ones who manage to legally bear the status of “sanctuary” via shoddy laws and enforcement–are not impacting genuine conservation positively. They’re impacting it negatively.

The rock climber climbing rocks to spread awareness of how people shouldn’t climb rocks is just one analogy of what’s currently going on in conservation circles, but the logic can be applied to literally anything. People don’t rob stores in order to teach others that robbing stores is bad. Men don’t rape women to teach their sons that raping women is bad. No one binge drinks to show the dangers of alcohol, or drives drunk in order to show that drunk driving is bad. People don’t marry child brides in oder to publicize the damaging affects of being a child bride.

There is no facet of society that I could find in researching this article wherein it is acceptable to commit the very acts against which one is speaking. No one takes a child from a situation of abuse, and then abuses them in order to spread awareness about child abuse. No reputable animal rescue takes an animal from a situation of abuse or exploitation, and then abuses or exploits them in order to raise awareness about animals abuse and exploitation.

Yet some of the highest profile pseudo-sanctuaries who are beloved by social media anti-intellectuals do just that.

Any self-proclaimed sanctuary (or foundation which gained non-GFAS accredited sanctuary status under lenient or unenforced laws) who directly handles their animals, allows the public to handle their animals, and/or posts pictures and videos of themselves, or others handling and playing with those animals is not, in fact, helping conservation efforts. They are, instead, actively participating in the exploitation of those animals.

Recently one of these pseudo-sanctuaries publicly admitted on social media that it had removed cubs from mothers–which were being good mothers–because they “did not also have room to house the mothers”. But at the same time, that pseudo-sanctuary also openly admitted that the zoo housing all the animals had been purchased by a friend, and the animals were “safe”. Followers of this pseudo-sanctuary cheered it on as another situation in which the owner was a “hero for saving those poor animals”.

Those of us who think on a more intellectual, rather than “Aaaaaw, good feelings!” level are left with a slew of unanswered questions, the most basic of which is: If the entire zoo was purchased by a rescuer, and the animals therein were safe and secure, why were cubs forcibly removed from their mothers in order to be hand raised by an institute which built its empire on allowing people to play with cubs?

Of course, questions like that go unanswered. The only responses received by anyone inquiring about such things are threats, and hate-speech.

The fact remains, however, that the very logic of publicly doing what you’re supposedly against in order to raise awareness about how no one should do it, is illogical. Aside from the fact that it’s actually completely laughable, it’s also incredibly insulting to people who are trying to stop such widespread behavior, and help animals from being put into those situations.

Which brings to mind another important question: Why are millions of people still supporting these pseudo-sanctuaries? At least part of the answer is the fact that the public–even those who don’t agree with the way the animals are being treated–turn a blind eye on the behavior and simply do nothing. Many do not have the fortitude to raise questions and speak out when they know that it will illicit threats of lawsuits, or actual lawsuits, or character assassination online. Some speak up or ask questions only to be blocked, savagely attacked and cursed and are so shocked by the outrageous response to simple questions that they just move on, making a mental note never to mention the topic again. As for why the supporters of these numerous pseudo-sanctuaries, and non-GFAS establishments continue to defend them, even in the face of rational facts and scientific argument, we just couldn’t tell you.

What I.C.A.R.U.S. can tell you, is that for the sake of the animals, both those remaining in the wild, and those in captivity, we are going to continue doing our jobs and speaking out for them. We’re going to continue battling the illogical with the logical, and eventually reason will win out. That’s how evolution functions.

The Problem With Humans Thinking That They Know Best

Recently,  a number of videos have popped up on the radars of several I.C.A.R.U.S. members. Some of us have been tagged by friends suggesting that we share the videos and explain why they’re examples of all the things that are wrong with humans thinking that they know better than nature.

The most recent and glaring case of “humans knowing better than nature” is the case of the “abandoned” bison calf in Yellowstone National Park. Earlier this month, a visitor to the park–with his young son in tow–took it upon himself to capture a young bison calf, and put it inside his vehicle:

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The tourist then proceeded to drive to the nearest ranger station where he demanded to speak to a ranger so that the calf could be properly cared for “because it was cold”. Despite that he was blatantly violating Yellowstone’s “leave no trace” and bystanders warned him that he was breaking the law and could get in trouble and be fined, the tourist refused to be dissuaded. Witnesses say that neither the father nor son cared, because they genuinely believed that they were  doing the right thing by “saving” the calf from freezing to death. Problem is, the calf was just fine.

Law Enforcement Rangers were called, ticketed the man and subsequently forced the tourist to return the calf to where he picked it up.

Unfortunately, after repeated attempts to reunite the calf with its herd, and repeated rejections, the calf was euthanized by park rangers because in its desperation it began approaching cars and other visitors. The National Park Service subsequently put out a plea for visitors to leave wildlife alone.

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This tragedy happened because a human interfered with  wildlife.

Bison have been successfully surviving for millions of years without the help of humans. Even newborn bison calves possess the capabilities needed to survive given to them by millions of years of evolution. They do not need a human to warm them up, or else wise “save” them. Neither do they deserve a life behind walls and bars simply because a human destroyed the bond they had shared with their dam from birth.

It is yet another facet of the “human knows best” mindset to believe that a wild animal is better off captive and cared for by humans.

Every year, thousands of white tail, moose, elk, and mule deer fawns and calves are “rescued” by well-meaning–and completely ignorant–people who believe that they’re helping the babies. The reality is that most of them–those who manage to live–will wind up in a life of captivity in roadside zoos, or preserves. And even more tragically, the public often believes that a life in captivity is somehow “better” than allowing nature to take its course, or than the animal being humanely euthanized. This fixation with applying human emotions and perceptions to animalsanthropomorphizing them–is what continues to allow pseudo-sanctuaries to operate. The idea that a wild animal needs human companionship–when they would never have contact with humans in their natural habitat–is the whole basis of their position.

But the only thing a wild animal needs is to be left wild.

The same sort of false “humans know best” issue can be applied to videos like this one, which make light of owning wild animals as pets. Nothing is said of how difficult it is to properly maintain a fox. Of what it takes to provide a proper diet for them, or stimulation, or the complications of having a female who goes into heat regularly, and will subsequently attract wild male foxes.

Still think you want a pet fox? Well, unless you illegally capture a wild one as a pup, the fox kit you purchase will have come from a fur farm like this one:

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Think you’ll be “saving” at least one fox from this fate? Think again. For every fox sold, ten more are born. These farms don’t care where they make a profit. If the public decides that owning foxes as pets is the new thing to do, the farms will just breed more to sell as live animals. If that area of business drops off–as people realize how difficult it is to properly house a fox–the farms will just have a bumper crop to harvest for fur.

Then there’s the ecological impact of farm-bred foxes who have been released into wild locations. Not only can they bring foreign diseases with them, but crossbreeding with wild populations can cause genetic abnormalities, as well as behavioral inconsistencies.

Nature is not kind, or gentle, or forgiving. Nature is wild. And wild animals are designed to live in wild nature. It is natural for most humans to be emotionally distressed by the perceived suffering wild animals in wild situations.

But this is a human issue, not a wild animal issue.

If you think a wild animal might be suffering, contact local fish and game authorities, or established wildlife treatment centers before you take any action. You cannot undo what has been done once you remove a wild animal from nature, and often times, it’s the animal which will pay the price for being “saved.”

 

 

 

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.

The Narcissism Of Animal Encounters

Several people, after reading my article on the epidemic of animal selfies, asserted that the “epidemic” wasn’t really an “epidemic” the way I portrayed it to be. So I thought I’d put together a little something in regard to the cub petting industry, which is based not simply on petting the animals, but also on the premise of taking photographs with those cubs (and which I cited in my selfie article)

Some places, like T.I.G.E.R.S., very carefully strategize and word their choices for photographs as by the group, meaning that each person in a group must pay to have a photograph, not of themselves with their cub, but of the entire group of paying customers with their cubs. Other places, often no more than private backyard zoos, give you the chance to hold and pose with cubs for just $20. Each place has its own guidelines and options and costs. I will post links to them so that you can see for yourself.

The only regulations in regard to cub petting in the US are provided by the USDA. They are meager, and read as follows:

Cubs cannot be handled before 8 weeks of age, because 8 weeks is the earliest point at which cubs can receive vaccinations. But the USDA defines a ‘juvenile big cat’ as being any cub over the age of 12 weeks and DOES NOT permit the public contact with cubs over the age of 12 weeks. Although the USDA laws should override any state laws, some states like Florida ignore the USDA regulations in favor of making their own. In Florida (where a number of cub petting operations exist) the public is permitted to handle cubs under the weight limit of 25lbs. This roughly translates to 12 weeks of age for the average big cat cub. However, Florida DOES NOT regulate the handling of cubs UNDER 25lbs, no matter how young they are.

So what does all of this mean?

Here is a list of establishments that came up when I plugged in the search perimeters of “where can I hold a baby tiger?” into Google. Many of these are IN THE UNITED STATES.

Black Jaguar White Tiger*
Dade City Wild Things
Chestatee Wildlife Preserve & Zoo
The Institute for Greatly Endangers and Rare Species
Zoological Wildlife Foundation
Brown’s Oakridge Zoo
Tim Stark Tiger Baby Playtime
Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park
Puerto Vallarta Zoo (this link goes to Trip Advisor, as their website is ‘under construction’)
Zootastic Park of Lake Norman
McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary
Maple Lane Wildlife Farm
Tuttle’s Interactive Exotic Tiger Safari Zoological Park
Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge
Big Cat Encounters-Karl Mitchell
Lion Park
Natural Bridge Zoo*
Virginia Safari Park*
Gulf Breeze Zoo*

*Black Jaguar White Tiger does not advertise public visitations/pay to play (I’m being completely fair to them by pointing this out) but their name did come up near the top of my feed, revealing that they do top the list of responses of “holding baby tigers”. *The last three parks on the list are all owned by Karl Mogenson/his family.

Now, according to the USDA, cubs can only be handled by the public for one month of their lives. Most of these sites do not list a specific ‘season’ for cub petting, it appears to be a service available year round. Presuming that the operators possess more than just one cub at a time, I went with estimating them to have 5 cubs. Some will have more available, some will have less.

But, supposing they all have 5 cubs available to the public, year round, and supposing that they all follow USDA guidelines (as many insist they do) each operator will go through about 60 cubs a year. There are 18 operators on the list who offer cub petting publicly. So every year approximately 1,080 cubs are bred and handled by the public through these establishments. Minimum. Supposedly ‘for conservation’. Then you look at a group like T.I.G.E.R.S. which has been in operation since 1983, and even if they had only five cubs available to the public at a time, T.I.G.E.R.S. alone has gone through 1,980 cubs since it was founded.

I say “gone through” because, well, where are these cubs now? That, is the million dollar question.

Because the cub petting industry is regulated by only a few flimsy sentences, which can be routinely ignored without any notable consequence, the operators who provide cub petting services are in no way required to document where those cubs come from, or where they go when their 4 week shelf life is up. Likewise, zoos are not obligated to make public where their surplus animals disappear to.

And this is just a small sampling of the available venues for direct interaction with big cat cubs. You could double or triple the numbers I’ve listed. We just don’t know, because no one is paying attention to how severe a problem this is. Not at the moment.

Serio isn’t entirely off the hook for this article’s purposes, either. In the cases of groups like Black Jaguar White Tiger, the fates of the cubs so adoringly ooed and ahhed over on social media sites becomes even more muddled. While BJWT is not “open” to the public, they maintain a continuous rotation of visiting celebrities who are all allowed to play with and take photos with their seemingly endless supply of cubs. And Every. Single. Photo. Or. Video. he posts of himself holding baby big cats, or a guest holding baby big cats has commenters who say ‘I want one!’ or ‘How can I do this???’ or ‘You’re so amazing, I want to do this!’

I spent several hours slowly plowing through BJWT’s Instagram feed–so popular with his nearly 5 million followers–making lists of cubs by name, by ‘pride’, and then by where they are now. Needless to say, I had a difficult time tracking down just how many cubs BJWT has had in its possession, and how many it still has in its possession as adults.

Serio himself claims to have personally bottle fed over 90 big cat cubs. I was able to come up with roughly 87 named cubs. Breaking that down over the three years that BJWT has been in existence (according to Serio) that’s roughly 7 new cubs appearing every four months. I say ‘roughly’ because Serio has a habit of changing cubs’ names, as well as nicknaming them with multiple nicknames. Thus, it took quite a bit of sorting to assure I wasn’t accidentally counting the same cats twice.

Of the 87 cubs I counted, 6 can be confirmed as deceased. The causes of death, however, are not nearly as easy to pin down.

Karma is well documented as having ingested a piece of wood (something that could happen accidentally, in extreme fairness)
Tatiana and Keiko both supposedly died of ‘collapsed lungs’ both incidents were attributed by Serio to ‘genetic defects’.
Onix/Onyx died–again, according to Serio–of a ‘brain aneurysm’ which he also blamed on inbreeding.
Labai died of what Serio described as ‘his intestines scratching his colon’ something Serio claims the cub suffered from with his prior owners due to improper feeding. Strangely, all of the pictures portraying Labai as a young cub were taken at BJWT and no mention of prior intestinal issues was ever made.
Tibet is dead. That is all, I could find nothing else about him.
Itzamna ‘didn’t make it’ which isn’t uncommon because ‘all ligers are born with genetic issues’.

Let me remind you that even though Serio has lost so many cubs to “genetic” problems, he doesn’t believe in neutering or spaying because he wants to use his ‘kids’ to repopulate the wild.

Of the remaining 81 cubs, 25 have “gone dark” and simply disappeared from social media. This doesn’t mean that anything has happened to them. I have no proof that anything happened, and I’m not asserting that something did happened.

I’m simply stating that we don’t know where these cubs are now, because there is no accountability in taking thousands of photos and videos of people holding your big cat cubs and posting them to social media. Especially when you aren’t a GFAS accredited sanctuary, and have no oversight. And before someone comments, I know that Serio claims to have rescued all of the cubs in his care, and that he insists he’s never bred them.

The fact is, he doesn’t have to breed his cubs, because he buys them from breeders all over Mexico, which does nothing but support breeding them for profit.

There are other issues with Serio’s accountability, but this article isn’t the place to go into them. I listed the cubs here because he uses them to further the cub petting industry. No matter what Serio says he’s doing, what his actions show him to be, is someone who enjoys coddling with captive big cats, and who will allow his chosen guests to do the same thing. Someone who relishes his own celebrity for the act of cuddling with captive big cats.

The point is, taking selfies, or regular photographs or videos, snaps, vines–taking any form of media with big cat cubs is a million dollar business. It is an epidemic, and it is continuing to spread like a plague.

And until the public stops oohing and ahhing and starts demanding accountability, nothing is ever going to change.

Feature Image Taken From Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Thailand, one more place that capitalizes on photos with captive big cats.

Author: Artemis Grey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The minimum standards to be considered a true sanctuary include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1444-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

984151_805337812819798_2278425590563656177_nMeet and greet with predators.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 33 Issue 1

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

With a Sleight Of Social Media Hand: How Black Jaguar White Tiger Continues to Choose Slander Over Answers

In my last post, I focused on how the pseudo conservation, and misleading representation of Black Jaguar White Tiger was finally being mentioned in news outlets. I talked about how refreshing it was to see the news articles highlighting the questionable activities and the very real dangers of handling big cats, and worse, allowing paying customers–excuse me sponsors–to handle and play with big cats, instead of simply writing a fluff piece with the main theme of Aaaawww! and adding a video or photos of someone cuddling with a days-old cub.

It seems I wasn’t the only person who noticed that news sites were beginning to slowly pick up stories about how Black Jaguar White Tiger exploits the animals it claims to be rescuing. Over the last few days, Eduard Serio has taken to Instagram in attempt to both defend himself and BJWT and, not surprisingly, to direct public attention elsewhere through a campaign of misinformation and outright lies.

This is how BJWT has operated historically. If you question them, you get blocked. If you speak out against them, their followers browbeat you and clog your posts with hateful comments, threats and admonishment for not “seeing the good he does”. Eduardo himself rarely gets his hands dirty. With 4 million+ adoring fans, he doesn’t have to. Neither does he ever step in and tell his fans to back off, or that there might be justification for others not agreeing with how he functions. Interestingly enough, in Eduardo’s recent defensive Instagram posts–responses, he says he’s finally offering after 9 months of being assaulted with accusations–he does not mention The Daily Beast, or Gizmodo,  (though his followers have successfully made asses of themselves on her Instagram) or even ICARUS. No, according to Eduardo, there is only one sanctuary, and one person who has been “hating” on him for “the last 9 months”.

That sanctuary, according to Eduardo, is Big Cat Rescue, which is internationally renown, accredited by the Global Federation of Sanctuaries (unlike BJWT) a member of the World Society for Protection of Animals, certified by the Independent Charities of America as a “Best in America Charity” and has been Rated 4 Stars by Charity Navigator (their highest rating) and has one of the highest scores of any animal based charity. And the single person Eduardo claims has been persecuting him for precisely 9 months, is Carole Baskin, BCR’s founder. Why Eduardo has chosen to fixate on Carole and BCR isn’t clear, nor is the very precise description of the “last 9 months” ever explained in his rantings.

These are classic behaviors of someone suffering from narcissistic personality disorder,  with a healthy helping of megalomania. Instead of answering questions, Eduardo is pointing fingers, and instead of combating the multiple organizations that have questioned him, Eduardo is publicly fixating on just one–also very public figure–and trying to divert all attention to her. In short, he’s picked the biggest piranha in the pool and is attempting to publicly spear her, in hopes that the rest of the piranhas will just go away. Again, Eduardo is mirroring Jim Jones, who chose to vilify the American government in order to ‘save’ his congregation. In Eduardo’s case, he’s trying to vilify one of the premier big cat sanctuaries in order to make his own BJWT look more legitimate.

The tragic–but not surprising–part is that his 4 million+ Instagram followers are blindly agreeing with him, and eagerly gobbling up the misinformation and lies, as well as Eduardo’s poorly executed excuses and explanations for some of the accusations that recent articles have raised in regard to BJWT.

The first lie that caught my attention was this post:

IMG_0399      IMG_0400 In his description, Eduardo asserts that someone who truly loves their animals ‘wouldn’t want to use their skulls and skin as decoration for some drunk people partying.’ That’s totally true, Eduardo, which is why those skulls aren’t for display but for learning. Also, the curio cabinets (an inside source tells me that there are only two of these curio cases) are not ‘decoration’ for partying drunk people, but rather they stand in a back room of the sanctuary which is used for private events–often visiting groups of school children– and each skull is identified by species, with descriptions of the species, habitat and cause of death for the animal that the skull represents. These items are educational tools, used to teach children about big cats in the wild. In contrast, BJWT offers no education to any school children as it is privately owned by Eduardo and you have to pledge to donate $1,000 a month, in order to even be allowed onto the property.

Since I knew that the above photograph was bogus, and accompanied by slanderous lies, I decided to dig a little deeper. Next up was this gem:

IMG_0412 I’m not a tech expert, but this is a sloppy splicing job if I ever saw one. Some avid BJWT buddy ought to be unfriended for this. The top part IS an article–not written by Carole, but rather One Green Planet–which is linked to via BCR’s Abuse Issue page–not 911Animal Abuse, as Eduardo claims. The bottom part, which makes a great deal out of offering people money in exchange for comment or articles is something that has been electronically spliced using unrelated subjects, and as I said, sloppily at that. If you look closely:

IMG_0456   you can clearly see that a splicing tool marker is visible on the page, something that would not exist on a genuine webpage. Nor would the solid black line that runs across the screen be present in a genuine webpage. The crosshairs are a photo-merging tool, and that, in itself is very telling of the sorts of lows Eduardo is willing to go to just in an attempt to deflect attention from himself and the workings of BJWT. If Eduardo is willing to fabricate a webpage (or post a fabricated page without proof of it being real, but claiming that it’s real) in order to then put the fabrication on BJWT’s Instagram and lie about BCR, what else is he willing to lie about? My guess is, pretty much anything.

Along with the slandering posts of outright lies he’s put up, he’s also put up posts with misconstrued publicly available information. That’s the thing about America. We have the Freedom of Information Act, which means that besides doctor’s records, and a few other select things, you can get pretty much any information about a person you want from what hospital they were born in, to if they got drunk in public as a teenager. Eduardo then takes this public information–which is not secret or anything hidden from anyone–and adds a few baseless and unsupportable speculations, and sets it loose amongst his fans to spread and comment on.

In the midst of all the trash talking Eduardo has done, he’s also suddenly begun to offer little BJWT ‘Facts’ which state some of the very questions the recent criticizing articles have asked of the pseudo sanctuary. With each “Fact” and question, Eduardo posts the “answers” to the questions. Problem is, none of his ‘answers’ ever actually answer the question.

For example:

IMG_0416        IMG_0417

Okay. So you’re a nonprofit, which means nothing except that you’ve complied with Mexican law and are considered a privately owned civil association. And you’ve got 5 million friends and 200 animals which means–somehow–that you “can’t not be accredited.” Um, sorry, having a bunch of friends and animals doesn’t mean you’re qualified to pack bagged lunches for homeless kids. It just means you’ve got a bunch of animals and friends. He also cites–as if presenting some sort of certification–that he’s posted photos of an award he received from the Federation of Political Green Parties. So you’ve been handed an award by political parties which are, first and foremost, political parties, not conservation groups. Just because the word ‘green’ is involved, doesn’t make them conservationists. In fact, the Green Party of Mexico was shunned by the European Green Party back in 2010 for instating the death penalty, which has nothing to do with conservation at all.

Eduardo goes on to describe how much he’s seen and done and blah blah blah. Basically he throws out some official sounding stuff and then talks about himself. No, BJWT is not recognized by the GFAS. And the ‘G’ in GFAS stands for Global, so BJWT can apply to be recognized, and approved by them any time it wants to. The only reasons it’s not recognized by the GFAS is because it hasn’t applied, or hasn’t met their stringent regulations.

Another question Eduardo has ‘answered’ in his recent defensive posts is:

IMG_0407 IMG_0408 IMG_0409

Terrifyingly, Eduardo’s ‘answer’ to why they consistently have so many cubs at BJWT is to plainly admit that the breeding of big cats is still allowed in Mexico, that he has attempted to buy out breeders, and that he never says no to a rescue. He then cites how much that costs and that the breeders don’t pay him to take their cubs (which, he just stated that he’d attempted to buy out a breeder) so he’s also admitting that the money is going the other way, subsequently supporting the continued breeding of captive big cats. At the end, Eduardo states that BJWT does not have a license to breed animals, and would be shut down if they bred them. Problem is, according to the Law Library of Congress, Mexico doesn’t have licenses for breeding big cats, only for possessing them. A full version of the study and documentation relating to Mexico’s  General Law On Wildlife can be seen here. Be prepared to scroll, as the study covered several countries. The takeaway? Eduardo has spent money to buy baby cats, and then as per BJWT’s own FAQ page they never spay/neuter their animals:

ABSOLUTLEY NOT. None of our kids are spayed or neutered unless they come to us like that. We prefer to use less invasive methods and technology, the oldest method is to separate the female from the male when she is in heat, our most usual option is giving birth control injections every six months. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring, we would Love that someday in the future our Angels could help repopulate the Jaguar, Lion, Tiger and Leopard population in México, Africa and Asia. It is very easy to spay or neuter a rescued Angel, but perhaps in 10 years or so things will change and we would have recovered their natural habitat. ALWAYS THINK BIG. ALWAYS…

At the same time, several of Eduardo’s Instagram darlings have complications that he blames on inbreeding. But they aren’t spayed or neutered because he’s ‘thinking big’ about repopulating the wild with his dysfunctional, inbred babies. If that doesn’t make much sense to you, we agree. However, according to Eduardo, his “hater” are just jealous.

Meanwhile, BJWT continues to load up Instagram on a daily basis with photographs of people playing with animals, some of them containing a number of species of big cat lounging, or worse, eating together, in what Eduardo likes to hashtag #TheBigPrideBJWT. Never mind that of the various species shown only lions exist in a family group, while the tigers and jaguars are animals who exist singularly unless meeting with the opposite sex in order to mate, or if in the company of their own young. Then we’ve got gobsmacking acts of stupidity like this, wherein Eduardo is communing, or something, with his ‘kids’ while they eat, and for whatever reason he felt he needed to put himself there and videotape it.

Eduardo very much enjoys asserting that BCR keeps it’s animals in cages, often posting photos which show only a corner of a habitat, or the feeding conduits in a misleading fashion. According to BJWT’s own FAQs page, however, they have only ‘8 acres of land for our babies to run freely and safely without harming one another or risking danger.’ compared to BCR’s 67 acres, and BJWT claims to have possession of some 200 animals while BCR has much fewer animals, many of whom are geriatric and in the last stages of their lives. BJWT welcomes “sponsors” who pledge $1,000 or more a month in donations to come and handle their young animals. BCR, in contrast, hosts limited tours through only a small portion of their sanctuary and because of the size of the cat habitats, they cannot promise that visitors will even see a big cat.

In one of Eduardo’s most recent Instagram posts he offered this picture:

IMG_0414 and proudly said ‘You can not say that us Mexicans don’t have thick skin.’ Except, Eduardo, when it comes to anyone questioning your methods or your pseudo sanctuary. Then evidence shows that ‘us Mexicans’ do, indeed have exceptionally thin skin, and that you’ll always prefer slandering others to answering questions. BJWT will always use a sleight of social media hand to attempt evasion, to justify their own actions, and to deflect attention from themselves onto their ‘haters’, even when those ‘haters’ are just asking legitimate questions, or pointing out obvious issues with the actions of BJWT.

BJWT might have 4 million+ followers on Instagram, but then, perhaps BJWT is more suited to the theatre of social media popularity than they are the theatre of genuine conservation. It’s one of the defining differences between BJWT and BCR. BCR aims to end all private ownership of big cats with their Big Cat Public Safety Act HR 3546, while BJWT actively thrives on being allowed to own big cats.

 

Author: Artemis Grey

 

Addendum: As BJWT is continuing their own “Fact” campaign, I’m continuing to follow it, and thus wanted to add the latest rebut to Eduardo’s latest ‘Fact’ and ‘answer’. As usual, it is an ‘answer’ which, under scrutiny, only raises more questions.

Two days ago, just one day after this article was originally published, Eduardo posted this on his Instagram account:

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Getting a 501(c)(3) can be tricky. But if you know the right people, it can also be a great deal less tricky, and more profitable.

Naturally, I was also keen to learn more about how the offices of a Foundation based in Mexico had an IRS-related address listed in CA. I should have not been surprised to find what resides at the address attributed to the Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation.

The business located at the address to which the above letter was sent is not actually some sort of ‘American headquarters’ for BJWT. Rather, it is R.C. Baral & Company, Inc. which is an accounting company devoted solely to managing the books for entertainment companies. They specialize in the bookkeeping of such monstrosities as Universal Studios, Warner Bros, Showtime, ABC, NBC/Universal, Miramax, and others. All of them devoted to entertainment. They also cater to what they call ‘Creative Entertainment And Business Executives’ along with professional athletes, actors, directors and so on and so forth.

A google of the Contact Person listed in Eduardo’s photo gets us to Joe Laux, CFP (Certified Financial Planner) of Silverhawk Wealth Management. A simple Google search of Joseph Laux and his phone number under ‘Images’ revealed multiple letters exactly like the one Eduardo has posted on Instagram. Apparently, filing for 501 (c) is a specialty of Joe’s. There are 29 types of of 501 organizations (1-29) so not all of the ones I found with Joe’s contact information are 501(c)(3) but it’s clear that he does this quite a bit for companies that range from avionics to other (3) groups.

50(c)(3) is specified for organizations pertaining to –Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations

Lots of organizations have 501(c)(3) status. It’s not a crime.

However, when your foundation takes “donations” in exchange for the chance to play with your captive wild animals, gaining the status of 501(c)(3) status via the efforts of an entrainment accounting company, and a CFP who specializes in getting tax exemption for companies, and then happily announcing on your Instagram that now all of those “donations” people pay you in order to play with your animals are ALSO tax free for them, does not, in fact, validate you as a conservation group. If anything, it only casts a longer shadows over your empire of pseudo conservation.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

True Facts about the Turtle!

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

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brrrrrr…

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

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

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

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“Figaro, Figaro, FIGAROOOOOO”

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

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“Hey Lettuce, lookin’ good”

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

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

Sarah

Media, Money, and Me: The Three ‘M’s of Mock Conservation

I’ve been very off the radar in the last few weeks. I first went on a two week camping vacation and then needed to deal with some personal things, both sad – the death of a beloved cat – and great – I’ve now officially signed a book contract for my Contemporary YA! While I was gone, the other members of the ICARUS team have done an amazing job of holding down the fort – from thousands of miles away, no less! Now that I’m back, and I’ve attained some semblance of balance, I’m trying to get back into the swing of writing blog posts.

As I was reinserting myself into social media, I found my feed congested with numerous animal-related posts. This isn’t unusual, of course. A number of them had to do with recent developments in the Kristen Lindsey case (you might be familiar with the Texas veterinarian who shot a pet cat through the head with an arrow and then boasted about it on Facebook. If not, a quick Google search will bring you up to date) but a huge number of them were posts I’d either been tagged in by well-meaning friends, or that had been shared by people I follow (some of them Celebs) and who were just trying to share happiness and good feelings.

The problem is, the majority of these ‘feel good’ posts involve mock conservationists who are basking in the limelight of their own proclaimed knowledge and awesomeness. They are not, in fact, people acting in the name of conservation, nor are they acting in a manner that will meaningfully further genuine conservation. The ICARUS group has posted before on this subject, and we’ll post again, unfortunately, because it is a constant struggle to convey to the public exactly why these (many times) adored and revered ‘experts’ are doing more harm than good in the world of conservation. I like to use the 3M system when taking measure of a supposed conservationist.

Media – Just how much media coverage does this person receive? You can’t always control whether or not the media focuses on you, of course, but does the person seek media attention out? To they regularly engage in media outreach by posting videos of themselves working for their conservation? Do they constantly offer professional opinions on whatever animal welfare subjects are trending? And does their professional opinion consist of comparing what they do, to what the subject is, in a fashion that presents ‘their’ way as the ‘right’ way?

Money – Does the person gain money from directly interacting with their animal, allowing the public to directly interact with them, or by exploiting the animals by using them to make movies, or commercials?

Me – Does the person focus primarily on themselves, what they do, and how they do it, rather than the animals and their plights? Another good judge is to look at it from the standpoint of ‘If you removed the supposed expert from the situation, would you still get information about the animals, or would the whole thing be meaningless without the expert?’ If you can removed the ‘main character’ and still walk away with a plethora of information about the animal and it’s plight, then the focus is truly on the animal. If you can’t remove the ‘main character’ and still learn something about the animal, then the supposed conservationists has made it all about them, rather than the animals.

And yes, some of these are folks we’ve spoken out against before. We don’t have any personal vendetta against them, we simply do not agree with that they’re doing, and how they’re influencing the public, and they remain squarely in the spotlight of the public’s enamored eye, thus making themselves a target for us to counter.

The first culprit of these mock conservation articles in my news feed is no stranger to conflict. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle has been at the center of both loving fans, and lawsuits, often in equal measure.

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Since Rolling Stone featured him in a recent article (why, oh why, Stone, can you not grasp the need for research in your articles?) about the death of a zoo worker in New Zealand, the aforementioned article has cropped up in my newsfeed repeatedly, often accompanied by comments along the lines of ‘This guy has the coolest job ever!’ or ‘Sign me up, I want to visit!’ or ‘This guy is amazing! Saving those rare cats!’

This is *the* most difficult things to counter in the world of media. Misinformation. In a world where Google is the go-to answer for everything, the majority of people read an article published by a well known name and then perceive whatever is written within that article as irrefutable fact. Tragically, this is how falsehoods are spread thousands of times over. Rolling Stone portrayed Antle as a boisterous, eccentric, but utterly devoted conservationist, who runs a sanctuary for rare big cats. They smoothed over Antle’s blatantly chauvinistic and arrogant belief that ‘there is no valid critic of Doc Antle’ as a laughable part of his personality. The author of the article did not seem bothered by how Antle likens those who do not support direct interaction with wild animals to ‘jihadists’ who don’t believe there’s any other way to see the world. Within the first few moments of the interviewer’s visit Antle made it clear that he both believes himself to be above reproach, and that anyone who speaks out against him is an extremist bent on destroying him. His business parks (and they are his “business”) are not GFAS accredited sanctuaries, but rather breeding facilities, or public entertainment facilities. In every day social interactions, someone who speaks of themselves in such a way would be quickly abandoned by those around him for acting like a pompass ass. But in Antle’s case, the interviewer only laughed it off as ‘personality’.

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The article went on at length, covering Antle’s background and early years, detailing how he first purchased a tiger cub from a friend with ‘zoo connections’ (likely this cub was a victim of the breeding-for-public-attraction at zoos) and how after training it to sit still, he got the idea to charge people money to have their photographs taken with it. Oddly the article fails to mention that when Antle left Virginia he also left a number of animals (primarily fowl and deer) abandoned in their enclosures on his property. There was also concern involving a possible tiger bite at that facility, but as it occurred in 1989 records about it are difficult to find. I live not far from where he was located, however, and everyone knew about ‘that crazy moron with all those animals who fancies himself an expert’. Then one day, he was simply gone, and the county was left to clean up the aftermath, and re-home the animals.

The article also failed to note any of almost 40 violations registered by the USDA alone (there are other charges or violations from other groups) that Antle has managed to collect over the decades that he’s been breeding and mishandling wild animals. Many of these involve inadequate housing, or enclosures, failure to provide appropriate feed, actual escapes of cats and apes, and at least once incidence of attack on a model being used in a photo shoot. In that case, Antle vehemently insists that the model cut her head by falling off a platform, despite that the treating doctors documented the injury as a big cat bite, and the model underwent the rabies vaccination course.

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Antle’s list of violations is a matter of public record, but continues to be overlooked by the media who offer up stories of his supposed efforts in conservation. Here are two links highlighting how what Antle does is damaging, and his USDA violations.

Next on the list of mock conservationists is also someone we’ve talked about before, and someone who has a throng of followers and fans. I’m sure posting him here will be met with defensive comments. I give you my word, I’m only including him in this post because stories featuring him have shown up in my feed multiple times in the last week. Kevin Richardson – often referred to as the Lion Whisperer – is known across the globe for ‘being accepted as part of the pride’. The problem is, the ‘pride’ is an artificial one comprised largely of animals that Kevin himself bought (arguably to keep them from being used in canned hunting, but by buying them, he still put money into the canned hunting industry) and hand raised himself. Objectively, his ‘acceptance’ by this pride is no different from the ‘acceptance’ of any backyard owner who interacts with their captive exotic cat.

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Kevin puts out videos quite often, all of them featuring him interacting with his lions, sometimes outlandishly riding them like ponies, or roughhousing with them. He has trained a number of his animals for movies, and has used them for such. In this case, the video was shared by multiple people, showing up repeatedly in my feed as ‘He releases a lion back into the wild, but then something amazing happens’ or some version of that. I recognized Kevin immediately, so I knew it was false. I did read the article, and watch the video, however, so I could say that I had. You can find the article and video here. Both the ‘bait tag’ and the title of the article state clearly that a lion is getting returned to the wild.

The truth, however, is that this is a lion Kevin bought as a cub, and then hand raised, and it is not being released into the wild – and has never even been in the wild. The author of the article clearly has no idea what’s actually going on, and has even tagged the post with hashtags like #wildanimals.

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Throughout the video, Kevin interacts with his own lions, yet he never talks about wild lions, their plight, or anything conservation related. He never makes it clear that he bought the animal in the video, or that it is a captive animal, or that it’s going to remain captive. He gives the viewer no objective, tangible information at all on lions. He discusses the lion’s unusually white coloring, but does not explain that he owns dozens of other white lions, instead, leaving the viewer with the sensation that this lion is somehow special. Besides stating ‘I don’t ever think for one moment that they’re domesticated’ Kevin does not address the fact that he’s playing with wild animals, nor that by doing so, he’s endangering both himself, and the lions. Instead he says that the reason he can interact with them is because ‘I have a relationship with them.’ This is – verbatim – the exact reasoning that every private big cat owner uses to justify the fact that they choose to keep a wild animal captive as a pet.

Richardson’s videos are perpetually shared, and touted as amazing feats of relationship between a man and his animals, and more often than not, they are portrayed incorrectly as animals being released into the wild, or ‘rescued for conservation’ when, in reality, he uses them to make movies and television shows, documentaries (which focus on him and his animals, rather than wild animals) and youtube videos showcasing both him and his lions and hyenas. While Richardson has spoken of conservation, and participated in conservation efforts outside his own sanctuary (which is not GFAS accredited, because, in part, of his direct interaction with his cats) he remains most known for all of those videos and movies which feature him playing with his own captive lions. Even the video I’ve linked to is basically a six minute commercial for Fixodent. It is undeniable that the selling point, and what viewers will remember most, is Richardson playing with the lions, and by using the lions to sell a product, Richardson is exploiting them.

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The last two people I’m going to talk about are not unlike Richardson.

The first as been around for many years, but I hadn’t heard of him until one of his videos appeared in my feed. The video itself is quite old too, and with 38 million+ views on youtube, I’m amazed I haven’t seen it before. His name is Sulo Karjalainen – the Bear Man of Finland – and his videos are featured on websites like ‘cute overload.com’ The one that showed up in my feed can be seen here, and had a catch phrase like ‘Only one man dares swim with a polar bear’.

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A celebrity in his homeland because of the ‘special bond’ he has with his bears, Sulo seems to interact with them on a daily basis, and has taught many of them to do tricks. He’s been featured on various sites. He first began by raising orphaned cubs, and if they couldn’t be released into the wild, he kept them. Currently, he owns six bears, and a number of lynxes, housing them at the Kuusamo Large Carnivore Centre.

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As there is a language barrier on many of the websites, it is difficult to find a great deal of information about Sulo, but it is clear that he considers conservation to be his main goal. Even though videos of him playing with his bears continue to crop up.

Similar to Sulo, Shaun Ellis the ‘Wolf Man’ of the US, supposedly shares a ‘special bond’ with his wolves. Though Ellis started out researching wolves, he soon fell into the roll of ‘special expert’ and began actually living with the wolves and interacting with them daily.

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After becoming a household name through several documentaries – all of which focused on Shaun living with the wolves and being ‘one of the pack‘ in a mirrored wolf-version of Kevin Richardson and his ‘pride’ of lions, Shaun has since relocated to the UK where he runs a center that offers courses on understanding wolf behavior, and dog behavior, and bizarrely enough, encounters with the wolf hybrids that Ellis breeds.

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The fact that he actively breeds wolf hybrids alone is a testament to how damaging his influence is. Ellis claims that the hybrids are ‘used extensively in his research‘ though it’s not clear how breeding and studying hybrid animals can actually benefit wild wolves. Despite that he makes money off of allowing the public to play with his hybrid animals, and even offers courses in learning how to interact with them the way he does, Ellis is regarded as a hero for conservation, something that boggles the mind when one considers that he propagates the crossbreeding of wild and domestic animals for profit. Obviously, neither of these facilities are GFAS accredited sanctuaries.

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I’ll end this post with probably the most recognizable group on the Internet today, the Black Jaguar White Tiger foundation. With over 4 million followers on Instagram, Eduardo Serio’s questionable ‘rescue’ foundation has become a social medial monopoly. They post thousands of videos portraying rampant mishandling of the animals in their care, do not believe in spaying or neutering their cats, and claim that ‘all is possible if you simply love each other’.

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Their foundation page hosts a sponsorship section in which you can choose to donate anywhere from $25.00 t0 $1,000 per month in exchange for rewards ranging from a simple certificate saying that you supported the foundation to a photograph of your ‘sponsored baby’,  bracelets, FaceTime calls with ‘your baby’, a free t-shirt every month, a cast of ‘your baby’s’ paw print, and a 2 day visit for 2 guests to the sanctuary that includes hotel and meal expenses.*

Startlingly, there is never a shortage of ‘babies’ to be sponsored.

To date Eduardo claims to have rescued near 200 big cats–primarily from circuses or places that wanted to use them as ‘photo props’ and insists that he’s given them the best life possible. Oddly, Eduardo does not seem to connect his own continual rotation of celebrity visitors, all of whom are allowed to hold, feed, play with and coddle his cats in return for donations and media exposure with the ‘photo prop’ life he ‘saved’ them from.

In addition, he cannot explain how nearly all of the ‘rescues’ are cub small enough to be held and played with, though they supposedly came from circuses, which arguably have no use for such young animals. There is no transparency to Black Jaguar White Tiger in any area of the foundation and thus it remains virtually impossible to discern what, if any, of Eduardo’s claims are true. Yet through the venue of social media, BJWT continues to rake in huge amounts of money through donations and backers, despite that the foundation itself consists of nothing more than a house and somewhere between 8-100 acres of land, not nearly enough space to proprietary house 200 big cats. Though the foundation is apparently registered as a “sanctuary” by Mexico BJWT is not a GFAS accredited sanctuary.

 

Unfortunately, there are many, many more ‘experts’ who exploit their animals even as they’re revered for their conservation efforts. I merely listed those who showed up in my newsfeed recently under the guise of releasing wild animals, or setting examples as to what we should all strive for in matters of conservation. For me, the opposite is true. They all set an example of what you should never do in the name of conservation.

I understand – before anyone comments in defense of anyone – that once a video is out there on the internet, it’s impossible for those in the video to monitor exactly how the public shares it, and the articles to which it might be attached. This is precisely why it is so very vital for those experts to be extremely cautious in what sorts of videos are released, and what sort of example they set.

So the next time a ‘feel good’ animal video or article pops up in your news feed, remember the Three ‘M’s of Mock Conservation. See if they apply to the article or video. If so, then think twice about sharing it, and instead consider leaving a thoughtful comment under it, urging people to dig a little deeper into the motives behind that video or photo. Remember, the more times a video or photo is shared, the more the lies within it are propagated and the longer they will endure.

Author: Artemis Grey

*This offer has been removed from the foundation’s website since the publication of this article.