We Are Still Here, And We Are Still Saving Animals

Hello good people of WordPress! Yes, the ICARUS Team really does still exist, and we really are still here! As the main staff writer, our absence from the blog is my failing. I’ve had some health issues, and ended up having to have surgery in October (minor, they just poked holes in me and sent me home with happy pills) and while that surgery was successful (yay for cysts that are no more!) I had recovery, and then right on the heels of surgery travel for my novel writing side of things. Plus, there’s novel writing going on, and it’s a struggle to manage time for everything. Then there was our election… and, yeah, being offline is much healthier for one’s brain right now.

Some of what we’ve been up to while I was failing to get blog posts written and published:

  1. Working on articles which will be posted in the near future.
  2. Traveling (some of us) to places like Chile!
  3. “Blind horse proofing” fields and barns (which includes acclimating the current residents to wearing bells) in preparation for the arrival (really, the homecoming) of a horse recently blinded by disease (uveitis for those interested)
  4. Caring for multiple terminally ill domestic cats.
  5. Helping formulate rehab and release protocols
  6. Helping to organize research bases to perform studies on rehab and release subjects
  7. Moving houses
  8. Oh, yeah, Thanksgiving…
  9. And Christmas shopping…
  10. Holding down full time jobs, some of which are mainstream, some of which are the job of conservation, the travel and such that go with it.

 

I’m going to do my very best to set aside time to get blog posts written and up, so there’s never a wide vacancy again as there has been, so start checking back, and you might find some interesting things to read! Thank you everyone for sticking with us on this journey!

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Reflections of Change

Part of the I.C.A.R.U.S. crew has been MIA the last few days. That’s because they have family and friends in Rainelle, West Virginia, in one of the areas directly hit by the “1000 year flood” that struck between Thursday June 23, and Saturday June 25 of 2016. At this time, we still don’t know that all of our friends and family are safe.

What we do know, is that it’s going to be one hell of a clean up, all across the state.

You might not have even heard of the flooding if you’re not in America (many news stations persisted in focusing on Brexit, and did not cover the flooding events as they took place, and are only now beginning to offer stories about them) but I can assure you that it’s been indescribably devastating. I know, you’re thinking “Okay, yeah, but why is I.C.A.R.U.S. writing about it when it’s a humanitarian issue, not a conservation one?”

Here’s the thing, this “1000 year flood” has also devastated, and will continue to devastate, local wildlife populations, and will have an impact on the environment that will be felt for decades into the future. Several indiscriminate assholes have already posted on Facebook pages dedicated to providing information to flood victims, and families of flood victims, about how “West Virginia brought this flooding on themselves with mountaintop mining”.

  1. West Virginians did nothing to “bring this on themselves”. Most of them have no control over what massive mining companies choose to do.
  2. Many West Virginians have fought for decades to stop strip mining, and mountaintop removal mining, or MTR.
  3. Despite that West Virginia is known for coal mining, the towns most affected by this flooding don’t necessarily have anything to do with it. They could be located miles–and counties–away from actual mining sites.
  4. Anyone commenting with rhetoric on how victims caused their own tragedies, on public forums where people are looking for lost loved ones (human and animal) who were swallowed by floods in the middle of the night, is an asshole.

All of that said, these blame-posters aren’t wrong about the fact that MTR can make flooding worse. Who these commenters need to be blaming, however, are not the victims of the floods, but rather the government entities and agencies who create, and maintain, environmental laws, and regulations in regard to mining.

This has been a struggle that stretches back decades, and one in which success for the people and the environment, has remained elusive.

West Virginia has long been the butt of jokes (in America, anyway) for being filled with inbred hillbillies, who don’t possess enough intelligence to come in out of the rain. The truth, is that the state is filled with, and has produced, some of the most intelligent, self-reliant, and capable humans anywhere in the world. These are not folks who want to be in the middle of an environmental war. In fact, most of the folks in the hollers and vales of West Virginia just want to be left alone by mainstream America, just as the folks of Appalachia have wanted to be left alone since the rest of the world discovered them. There is a long and sordid history of the people of Appalachia being forced from their homes (starting with the tribes of indigenous peoples living there when Europeans arrived and continuing into the 20th century with the forced removal of people from what had been declared National Park lands) and that history includes wars over the plundering of environmental coffers like coal and timber.

Mountain Top Removal Mining, or MTR has been an issue against which most West Virginia, and Appalachian residents have fought. The industry has done little aside from destroying their way of life, and leaving them with a damaged and looted environment.

Through force, or bribe, coal mining companies often skirt what piddly environmental standards or regulations are in place. Never mind their history of killing their own employees for profit. In most recent years, the term “reclamation” has been added to coal mining endeavors, often with the spin that the companies are somehow “reclaiming the environment” after they extract the coal. It’s a lie so thin you could make a window out of it, but it’s one they continue to peddle, and use in order to gain access to land they otherwise would be banned from reaching.

The point is, West Virginians did not cause the 2016 flooding that has destroyed entire communities.

A history of environment abuse–often allowed by government institutions for the benefit of massive conglomerate companies–has systematically damaged the ecology of West Virginia, while impoverishing the communities therein. The misnomer is that West Virginians somehow “want” coal mining, when all they want is a way to make a living. In contrast to public concepts of the issue, West Virginians, and others in Appalachia, are actually the most damaged by the coal mining industry.

But back to the current flooding crisis.

The death toll continues to rise, and people are just now beginning to assess the damage, and begin the recovery process. Something that might be derailed almost before it starts by more incoming storms and rain. In places like the tiny town of Rainelle, population 1500–a place where survivors have reported hearing desperate cries for help from elderly neighbors which eventually stopped one by one as those people drowned in their own homes–as many as 15 people have died, and others remain missing.

So far, news reports have focused on the human impact of the floods, but humans aren’t the only ones suffering. Animals, both domestic and wild, have been ravaged by the floods as well. Animal Friends is one of the groups moving to address the issue of displaced and needful domestic animals. Other private groups, some of them having been born in Rainelle, one of the towns hardest hit by flooding, are raising funds to purchase items for both humans and animals in need.

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The environmental impact, has yet to be estimated, or formally reported on by news media. With the state still counting its dead, it would feel caustic to the public for cries of “but what about the environment” to be made. However, images like the ones that follow, are a testament to the very evident and catastrophic damage done on an environmental level.

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Trout and other fish swept from the rivers and left to die in yards. Trout fishing is an important, and sustainable industry in West Virginia. But it faces an unknown success this year.

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Millions of tons of trash and waste, including chemical and industrial solvents have now been introduced into the watershed by the floods. Safe removal of the garbage could take months, and the damage will last for years. Plastics have long had damaging effects on the environment and been a focus of groups such as The Plastic Pollution Coalition, Plastic Oceans and Plastic Debris Rivers to Sea. Add to the plastic itself, the fact that many of these containers and pieces of garbage will not only remain for hundreds of years, if not removed, but will also leak chemicals, pesticides, poisons and other contaminants into the environment and watershed. Clean water in West Virginia is something that the West Virginia  Highlands Conservancy has fought for vehemently. Along with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition they have taken coal mines to task for their pollution of the rivers and waterways. Now both institutions are facing the nearly insurmountable task of cleaning up both millions of tons of debris which includes huge amounts of plastic, and leaking contaminants from both plastic containers, and other storage vessels. The recovery of the watershed, something that has already suffered due to mining pollution, despite the effort of local groups like the Sierra Club, will take years, with lasting effects that will be seen in generations of wildlife in the future.

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In places like Rainelle where the above photo was taken, virtually no part of the town was left unscathed. With many residents being elderly, and/or on fixed incomes, and unable to physically help, cleanup will take even longer to accomplish.

While the mainstream media focuses on the horrendous human loss, and devastation, it’s up to groups like I.C.A.R.U.S. to insure that the environmental damage, while no more important than the loss of human life, is also conveyed. Not only have entire communities been demolished but the very face of the mountains and waterways has also been irrevocably changed.

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With new storms scheduled to hit the same areas, and places like the Summersville Dam dealing with historic high water, the changes to the environment will undoubtedly continue. At the time of the flooding, water was entering Summersville lake at over 100,000 cubic feet per second, seven times higher than the highest speed possible through the release valves at the bottom of the dam. Should the dam be breeched during future rains, the loss of life for both humans and animals would be inconceivable.  All we can do is raise awareness, offer links to information, and pray that Mother Nature gives West Virginia a pass on rain for the next few weeks.

But these tragedies have offered a mirror reflecting the measurable changes caused by human impact through mining, and other industrial endeavors. Endeavors which often profit the few, and malign the many, as is the case in West Virginia right now. This flooding is a wake up call, in some ways, for making positive changes in environmental law which may, in the future, help to assuage flooding that occurs due to natural rain fall.

Resources For West Virginia Flood Information For What’s Going On And How To Help:

http://www.smokingmusket.com/2016/6/25/12028884/west-virginia-flood-disaster-relief-information-greenbrier-kanawa

http://wvutoday.wvu.edu/n/2016/06/24/wvu-mobilizes-efforts-to-help-wv-communities-devastated-by-storms-and-flash-flooding

http://www.herald-dispatch.com/_recent_news/relief-efforts-underway-around-the-region-to-help-wv-flood/article_562b76da-3add-11e6-aa98-87044a1cb4db.html

http://abcnews.go.com/US/flood-stricken-west-virginia-counties-federal-disaster-designation/story?id=40125270

http://www.wsaz.com/content/news/Groups-helping-animals-displaced-in-West-Virginia-flooding-384381221.html

Private Relief Effort by Former Citizens devoted to supplying needs for animals and humans alike.

 

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.

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.”

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The minimum standards to be considered a true sanctuary include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

984151_805337812819798_2278425590563656177_nMeet and greet with predators.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volume 33 Issue 1

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

Dying For The Perfect Photo: The Selfies With Animals Epidemic

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

That is changing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Artemis Grey

True Facts about the Turtle!

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

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brrrrrr…

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

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

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

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“Figaro, Figaro, FIGAROOOOOO”

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

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“Hey Lettuce, lookin’ good”

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

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

Sarah

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.

 

An ICARUS Undercover Investigation: Egotourism – Are we the true poachers?

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It could be any sleepy Caribbean town, swaying palms over sandy beaches and a strong Jamaican influence, and it is. But is there a dark side to this tranquility? Living off the land/the ocean is something that has been in existence for hundreds of years in Costa Rica, a simple way of life. Unfortunately though it is still a culture that is poaching turtles, iguanas and other outlawed animals. Now we at ICARUS can agree with culture to a certain extent and it certainly isn’t the locals catching the occasional turtle who are the real issue. The real problem lies with the mass industry of fishing trawlers, with poachers who are doing it to more than one turtle in their droves to make an easy buck and also, as it turns out, tourists visiting this country and exploiting its cultures.

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Now we are not here to name names or get people in trouble, firstly getting someone thrown in jail for a few weeks for poaching hardly solves the problem, secondly it’s not exactly safe to do that either. Conservationists have often been murdered for standing up for the wildlife here (and the government doing jack all to help their countries animals). One of the most important things we want to do here on our return is education. That is the only way that you can help to change a practice that is only harming rather than doing any good for the community. One of the things we are fundraising for is to start a community outreach program, one that isn’t patronizing as they often are, but helps the community, teaches the children about their wildlife and why it’s so important, and most importantly, helps find solutions.

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Recently two ICARUS members went undercover at an illegal food market that happens every Saturday in a town in Costa Rica. We were told that every week there is turtle meat, eggs, iguana meat and others, all highly illegal. This is the story of that day and what we discovered, all names have been changed.

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We met Henry outside the house where the meat was cooked every week, we did not have the opportunity to go inside with him but he went for us and purchased us a meal of turtle stew, for $10. We waited in the car while he did this and then drove to a nearby beach to meet with a friend of his, Abigail. Abigail is Dutch and is ironically doing a thesis on ‘ethical tourism’, it is clear she is not doing the same as us and getting information but does this every weekend with Henry, an American. We all sat in a boat and ate our relevant meals, all turtle, except for Henry who, after being berated by ICARUS member Jess about eating turtle, feels guilty now. Wonder how long that will last. Turtle for the record, tastes EXACTLY like beef, we were told Iguana tastes like chicken. The mass farming industry is a travesty but when you are eating endangered animals that have no difference in taste to easily accessible animals, and legally, it does make you wonder. We were eventually joined by ANOTHER American, in her 60’s who came to Costa Rica to do yoga, called Diane. We recorded the entire event and I have scripted below the more pertinent parts of the conversation:

Henry: (opens a box) this is turtle, this is for you.

(passes the box to us)

Henry: I’m sad there are no eggs, that’s like the best part to try

ICARUS 1: This does taste exactly like beef, it’s kind of like a beef stew

Henry: I’m just upset there’s no eggs, I really wanted you to try the egg

ICARUS 1: Well thanks for arranging this Henry

Henry: No worries, it’s a good experience for you to try

ICARUS 2: Have you eaten Iguana before?

Henry: Oh yeah

ICARUS 1: It tastes like chicken right?

Henry: Similar

Henry: I went hunting with some friends for them, we knocked it out the tree. You just shoot them and they fall out

Abigail: (points to something in her turtle meal) what’s that?

Henry: I think it’s like the tripe, from the turtle’s stomach

Henry: I feel bad I can’t get hold of my friend

ICARUS 1: What did you get her?

Henry: I got her turtle also

ICARUS 2: Do you know what kind of turtle it is?

ICARUS 1: I was going to say that, there are so many different species

Henry: Green turtle

(Diane arrives)

ICARUS 1: (to Diane) have you tried it before, the turtle?

Diane: Yes I have, in Florida. (to Henry) Is this a river turtle?

Henry: No, ocean

Diane: What kind?

Henry: Green

Diane: Wow that is good (the food)

ICARUS 1: What was the name of that gerbil thing you said they cooked too?

Henry: Agouti

Diane: They do this every week?

ICARUS 1: I think every Saturday

Henry: But it’s a secret ya know (sic)

Henry: It’s illegal

Henry: I didn’t eat turtle today because I kind of felt bad, I already ate it twice. I’ll let you all do the bad part

(after some more general conversation we all went our separate ways)

All in all we were together with the group for forty minutes, the food is cooked by a local’s mother and although I’m sure that the locals go to get food for lunch etc it was incredible that all of the people we ate with and who go regularly are foreign. As I mentioned previously these recipes have been in Costa Rican culture for a long time, it is not surprising that they still exist. The shocking thing though is the tourists and ‘gringo’s’ who are exploiting those cultures to have a ‘fun experience’ in Costa Rica and they can go home and tell all their friends they ate turtle. Frankly that is pathetic. I am all for experiencing culture. I LOVE immersing myself in the culture of another country. These kind of egotourists though, who are only in it to have a cool activity, and not actually contribute anything to the society that they want to experience are incredibly selfish and ignorant. Not only that but they are causing actual harm, they are funding illegal activities that hurt not just the turtles they are eating but also the country and it’s people. It’s because of these horrendous individuals that our planet is entering the sixth mass extinction, all thanks to the human species. One day we can look back and blame people like the ones we ate with for the reasons the green sea turtle no longer exists. And personally I find that completely unacceptable.

What would you rather out of the two below images?

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The green sea turtle, poached into extinction

or…

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The green sea turtle, thriving and free

We know what we would prefer, To Be Continued…

What do airplane bathrooms, Donald Trump and Wildlife Conservation have in Common?

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I never imagined that the start of our first ICARUS Project journey would find me trapped in an airplane bathroom at a cruising altitude of 35,000 ft. To be fair, I don’t think anyone imagines that in any scenario, but there I was clinging to the sink and praying for the travel gods to take mercy on my weak stomach. In that moment I said to myself, “And so it begins”.

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It’s a common problem, creating a viable thesis, students all over the world spend late nights crying over their laptops and wishing for the end of days. Me personally, I just ignored it for as long as possible. No really, I spent the last two years in the field trying to avoid the subject. Luckily, that’s how it found me. I knew, in theory, the difficulty in tackling something as broad as wildlife crime. To expose individuals and organizations that traffic, possess, breed and abuse the wildlife that is imperative to keeping our ecosystem balanced. Not only do they keep our planet in check, but keep its human inhabitants grounded and humble. Our animal cohabitants remind us that we do not in fact own everything around us. When it comes to marking territory, it’s humans that feel the need to piss on every tree.

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So how did I get here, in this cramped, putrid plane toilet? How does a grown woman of 36 find herself with a one way ticket out of America, all her belongings packed in her tired old chevy and headed to Costa Rica, and hoping to save some animals.

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In a nutshell, I’ve got nothing to lose. At the age of thirty I found myself bankrupt and jobless (after losing a job as the manager of a posh horse farm due to a horrific bout of meningitis). I spent two long years shelving videos at Blockbuster (yes, it was THAT long ago) and wondering when my bright future had snuffed out. At some point you put up or shut up, so I emptied my bank account, a whole whopping 500 bucks, rented a Uhaul and headed to NYC to sort it all out.

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Long story short, the concrete jungle was not my mecca, but it did lead me to an opportunity through my school to travel abroad to Africa, Namibia to be specific. An opportunity to work with wildlife, specifically big cats, for the first time. Perhaps, Namibia was my mecca and the cheetahs my saviors. There was no turning back after that. I left NY and gave impoverished internship living a shot. From the diversity of the rescues at The Black Beauty Ranch in Texas, to the majesty of the North American wildlife at The Wildlife Center of Virginia and then the ferocity of the Big Cat Rescue residents in balmy Tampa, Florida. I finally found my purpose. Not only did I learn to understand the biology and behavior of the animals that inspired me to live off of peanut butter and toast, but I was exposed to the suffering and neglect that these sentient creatures fell victim to, not only in the countries spotlighted by the media, but also in the pseudo sanctuaries, roadside zoos, canned hunt farms and backyards of America. That’s when I found my purpose. That’s how ICARUS came to be. No matter how idealistic, I believe this project can effectuate great positive change and my ICARUS cohorts share my crazy mission.

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Flash forward to the misery of my airplane bathroom captivity. In the fetal position and my head between my knees, I had no idea this was only the beginning of my nearly 24 hour journey into the jungle. When fellow ICARUS member Sarah and friend Becky picked me up at a bustling and slightly overwhelming San Jose airport we couldn’t forsee that we were climbing into a car that would drop its clutch just before the mountain pass, resulting in a 500 dollar garage bill. We would then find ourselves throwing Sarah’s credit card into the pot and doing a hail Mary, in the hopes that we would have just enough to rent a car and get us over the pass on a dark and rainy night. Somehow we managed to get back on the road and three women, a ton of luggage and a failed scat dog named Cody, barreled over what is perhaps the shiftiest mountain road my poor stomach has ever encountered. Despite any emotional, mechanical or financial obstacles we arrived at our destination alive and well, thankfully!

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So, here we are, in Puerto Viejo. We are currently living in a house (The Love Shack) with a leaking gas cooker, fans that probably started the Ebola epidemic and floors that are slowly becoming holes beneath our feet. This is apparently what happens when you embark on an epic journey with absolutely nothing in your bank account! Within my first 72 hours in Puerto Viejo I found myself advocating against turtle poaching, the sale of endangered animal meat and … wait, cock fighting…really? All of which is apparently occurring right here now. Sadly, this was just with the American residents. I even found myself trapped in a supermarket queue while a preening, peacock of a man preached to a local woman that she needed to look past Donald Trump’s inane racist comments to find the true value he has as a presidential candidate. I momentarily questioned if I was indeed in Costa Rica or perhaps trapped in the Twilight Zone. This was right before I evaluated how much time I would spend in a Central American prison if I stapled this man’s mouth shut. I decided not to risk it.

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So, here it begins. We hope that you will join us as ICARUS embarks on a journey to pool together the greatest minds in animal welfare, to create resources that we can all draw from no matter our race, religion or creed. To gather the good and expose and bring an end to the corrupt. To use global unity to begin to repair global wildlife issues. Human Beings are the root cause of wildlife devastation, but we are also capable of its salvation.

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