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

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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

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:

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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.

 

Escaping the Matrix: Lifting the Veil on Black Jaguar White Tiger’s Pseudo Conservation of Big Cats

You know the part of the Matrix where Neo realizes that everything he thought was real and right was really just a continuous lie so skillfully fed to him that he accepted it because that was easier than trying to think any differently?

That’s where we are in the evolution of Black Jaguar White Tiger. Slowly, ever so slowly, news outlets on the internet are starting to notice the woeful few who have been speaking out against Eduardo’s dangerous pseudo conservation practices. The new outlets are noticing, and some of them are getting brave enough to post their own articles* on what seems like very obvious issues with a foundation that claims to have rescued over 200 big cats, yet releases daily videos of people doing things like twirling around with tigers draped over their shoulders, or chasing them around the dining room of a private home, and who only have a documented 8 acres on which to house those 200 big cats – though Eduardo claims to be ‘working on’ a ‘stage 3’ (which he already lists in his ‘Stages’ of rescue, despite not actually having a functioning stage 3)

From the BJWT FAQs page:

‘Stage 3 is coming soon. It will be hundreds, more likely thousands, of acres for our babies to live their lives happily, free of poachers, and safe from the other dangers and threats that society has placed on the environment.’

Never mind that ‘Stage 3’ has been ‘in the works’ since BJWT was founded in 2013.

With over 4 million Instagram followers, BJWT has attained so much mass that often times anyone who dares to speak out against them is instantly attacked, mauled, and cast aside. No pun intended. The animosity BJWT shows to those who oppose it is especially aimed at of any genuine sanctuaries (read, GFAS accredited, which BJWT is not) who speak out publicly against Eduard Serio, or his Black Jaguar White Tiger foundation. With all the maturity of a pre-pubescent trust fund baby (Eddie is big on announcing that he’s got millions with which to sue “haters”) who believes themselves above reproach, Eduardo digs up photographs that are decades old, posting them to his Instagram along with snide comments and instructions for his follows to “look for themselves” at who his attackers really are. He then links to websites run by mysterious entities who have been called out by 911 Animal Abuse for their unsubstantiated claims against different sanctuaries – the same 911 Animal Abuse which has called out BJWT for their own activities.

In Eduardo’s own words from a recent (in the last four days) Instagram rant:

‘I rarely try to respond to the haters because it takes away from all the hard work I do for my kids and the Sanctuary and other people, almost 5,000,000 followers around the world who believe in BJWT however once in a while I feel compelled to respond to the one-sided, self-serving people that call themselves reporters but really mask as “bullies” and “haters”. Thanks to your blind hate and mediocrity, you just called almost 5 million people stupid.’

For the uninitiated, his ‘kids‘ are the some 200 big cats he claims to have rescued. And again, although he now regularly refers to BJWT as “The Sanctuary” it is not accredited by the GFAS.

He goes on to say:

‘We have also been accused of being a petting zoo for celebrities. First of all, we don’t charge for this, but how on Earth can you change the world without getting everyone involved?’

Here is a screenshot of BJWT’s ‘Sponsorship’ page wherein they list the various options for ‘sponsoring’ the animals in their care.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 12.06.48 PM

So, no, they don’t have a ‘price list’ stating: Play With Our Cats – $1,000. However, if you pledge to ‘sponsor’ a cat for $1,000 a month, you *do* get a 2 day visit for 2 people to the sanctuary where you can – wait for it – play with the cats! Apparently, for BJWT, ‘getting people involved’ means soliciting monthly payments in exchange for the chance to handle and play with the seemingly inexhaustible supply of newborn-adolecent big cat cubs in BJWT’s care.

Just where that inexhaustible supply of baby big cats comes from is one of the questions that will get you swiftly blocked from any and all BJWT social media sites, and subsequently criticized by them for “hating” on all the good they do.

Also from BJWT’s FAQs page under the heading ‘Does the Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation spay/neuter their kids?’

‘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…’

The problem with this is that injection contraceptions are something still actively being developed. Even zoos do not entirely understand how they act on the animals who are injected. In other cases, implants are injected for contraception. What isn’t widely discussed in regard to implants is that unless the animal is cut open every six months, and the prior implant removed, a new implant is simply inserted alongside the old one. Meaning that over the course of the its lifetime, a cat might wind up with dozens of contraception implants under her skin. And no one is sure what sort of side effects this might have on their health.

Eduardo uses the term “injections” however, in my own research on the matter of contraception, I found that the term ‘injection’ was used interchangeably between literal injections of fluid contraception, and implants which are injected under the skin with a large gauge needle, so there’s no way to know for sure which type BJWT uses. What we do know, is that chemical contraception for big cats in general is considered tricky, with dosages requiring constant adjustment, and the long term side effects remain unknown. Overall, if one is trying to reduce the population of captive, privately owned big cats, it remains much more cost effective and efficient to simply spay and neuter the animals.

In regard to Eduardo’s desire to repopulate the wild with his ‘Kids’ in the future, at this point in time, it remains very questionable as to whether captive-bred animals released into the wild will meet with long-term success. Sustainable reintroduction practices of captive-bred big cats is tenuous at best, and likely decades away, at the minimum, something Eduardo admits when he says ‘perhaps 10 years or so things will change’ . Which means that the cats that BJWT refuses to spay/neuter now, will be far past the feasible breeding age in a decade or more when it might be possible to attempt captive breedings for wild release. There is also the question of muddied bloodlines. In short, there is no valid reason not to spay or neuter the animals he’s rescued.

Yet BJWT’s legions of fans remain blindly enamored of their practices. Thus it is refreshing to see news outlets beginning to report on the problematic actions of BJWT, rather than offering fluff highlights of whatever celebrity visited the foundation most recently and has plastered photos of themselves hoisting just days-old, vulnerable cubs around like they’re stuffed animals and not living things…

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Yes, hopefully the days of highlighting BJWT with articles exclaiming over the adorableness of mishandled cubs, and dangerous interactions with adolescents, and adult animals are finally coming to a close. Hopefully people are beginning to understand the inherent hypocrisy of a man and foundation who post multiple photographs and videos showing big cats being treated like house cats on a daily basis and then add the hashtag of #NotPets.

Maybe, just maybe, people are starting to wake up and “escape the Matrix” that Black Jaguar White Tiger has so carefully constructed via social media.

 

Author: Artemis Grey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Jaguar White Tiger, The Jim Jones of The Conservation World

Something the ICARUS group repeatedly talks about is the method of hands off conservation. It is one of the foundation stones of our ideology, which focuses on keeping wild animals wild. No, not every animal that is rescued or saved can be returned to the wild. Many are habituated to humans, and would never survive in their natural environment, and others, tragically, have no environment to even be returned to, were it possible. One reason that the ICARUS group is so vehemently against the handling of wild animals (as usual, excluding the handling necessary to rehabilitation and to medical attentions) is because it is impossible to justify handling in one instance, and condemn it in another. It is also why we so strictly consider only GFAS accredited sanctuaries as being genuine sanctuaries. The public has proven time and again that it is incapable of watching someone handle wild animals, and then refrain from engaging in the same behavior if given the opportunity to do so.

After reading the best article to date calling out Black Jaguar White Tiger, by Jacalyn Beales, I decided to write an ICARUS article on the subject. My articles are not nearly as analytical–though I do research them– and instead my writing contains a more visceral component. One which is intended to set the reader back and make them think about what they’ve just read. Perhaps if several articles are released closely together, we can do better than making page 7-8 on a Google search regarding the failings of the foundation.

Major case in point: The vastly growing empire that is Black Jaguar White Tiger. Within the span of just two years, this foundation has become a world wide phenomenon touted as the leading edge of conservation, endorsed by dozens of celebrities, and monopolizing social media to the point of being able to shut down sites like Instagram just with the traffic associated with their account. If you Google the foundation including words like ‘abuse’ or ‘criticism’ or ‘controversy’ be prepared to flip an average of 7-8 pages over through your search before you find any article that actually contains legitimate criticisms about the foundation, rather than bait and switch wittily worded endorsements of it. Instead, what you’ll find is a “sanctuary” which only meets the barest minimums required by Mexican law.

The terrifying part of all this support and lavish praise? It’s all in regard to a man who raises lion cubs in his walk-in closet and allows them to run rampant inside his house. No, I haven’t accidentally started talking about Siegfried and Roy, I haven’t accidentally referred to a retired circus performer who hoards ‘rescued’ big cats in his central Texas cape cod home. I’m not being sarcastic, or overly dramatic.

Eduardo Serio, the owner and founder of Black Jaguar White Tiger keeps newborn big cat cubs in his walk in closet so that they can receive ‘around the clock care’ from him personally. Once they’re a few weeks old, they move from the closet into a ‘communal area’ in the main section of the house wherein they’re all fed together–something that can often result in dangerous fighting, and even mortal wounds in larger animals. Eduardo talks candidly about his grossly incorrect handling of his animals, and shockingly, the public hangs on his every word.  In fact, people pine for the chance to visit the foundation and join in the glorified mishandling.

A master of selling ideas, Eduardo runs multiple social media accounts followed by millions of people all over the world and they worship him for his exploits.

I mentioned the other day to someone that my personal house cat, Ari, who is dealing with end stage heart failure, now sometimes has trouble making it to the litter box. The person wrinkled their nose in disgust and suggested that it was ‘probably time to put him down, then, because he could live comfortably for months, yet, and think of the mess.’

However, Eduardo posted this video with the caption  ‘And of course, Ayrton’s signature pee on my wall…’ and within two weeks, it’s received 64,500 likes. Aytron is a wild animal trapped inside a house spraying on walls–repeatedly, and everywhere–to mark his territory, and in 14 days 64,500 people have liked the video and inundated it with comments like ‘That boy is so spoiled.’

Spoiled indeed. As well as continually mishandled.

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Similarly, in the summer of 2015 Dade City Wild Things came under severe fire (and rightly so) for allowing guests to swim with tiger cubs. Meanwhile, Eduardo posts videos like this and is rewarded with 30,500 subscribers to his YouTube channel. Often, his commenters compliment his “sanctuary” without realizing that it’s not actually an accredited GFAS sanctuary because of how he houses and exploits his animals.

Article after article after article lavishes praise on Eduardo and his Black Jaguar White Tiger foundation, all of them overlooking the simple basic failings of the situation. This article, dated in May of 2015 states that Eduardo has purchased 100 acres to house his growing group of rescues. However, this article, dated October of 2015 states that ‘Stage 3’ of Eduardo’s ‘rehabilitation program’ is ‘in the making’ and will eventually offer ‘thousands of acres’ for the cats. This same article lists ‘Stage 2’ as 8 acres where the older animals can run and play. This article also mentions that ‘Stage 3’ is ‘in the works’. But it also states that Black Jaguar White Tiger currently has 152 big cats in its care.

On 8 acres.

You can’t properly care for 8 horses on 8 acres, never mind 152 wild big cats. Every article I have cited, thus far, was published in 2015 and according to these articles the number of animals in Eduardo’s care varies (and let me remind you, Eduardo himself is giving these interviews) from 45 animals, to 152 animals. Meanwhile, Black Jaguar White Lion’s own website claims to have rescued and be houses 180+ animals. On, let me repeat this one more time, 8 acres. And one house.

If I told you that an Arizona housewife living on 8 acres had 180 house cats, you’d suggest I call animal control because she couldn’t possibly care for all of them properly. Even if she had help, there just isn’t room in one house and 8 acres for 180 house cats. But Black Jaguar White Tiger claims to be ‘rescuing and properly caring for’ over 180 200-500+pound exotic cats, inside a house that’s lived in by humans, and with just 8 acres of land. Yet, the praise and hero-worship continues in articles like this.

Aside from Jacalyn’s article, I was able to find only one other article (I did not include articles I’ve written for ICARUS) that cited the problems and misplaced trust in Black Jaguar White Tiger.

‘What if someone told you that animals treat us as equal as long as you give them love?’

‘And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.’

Both of these are inspirational quotes, provoking a deep reaction of unity with the world around us.

The first one is a summary of Eduardo Serio’s beliefs about big cats, taken from an article that goes on to wax poetic about the kindnesses he’s done for the 180+ animals crammed on 8 acres and how love is the end all when it comes to helping animals. The article ends with this purple prose humdinger: ‘All you need is a few minutes on the Black Jaguar, White Tiger Instagram account to feel like a better person. Eduardo and his team share moments of love, between feline and human, that we never thought were possible. He shares the stories of each lion, tiger or jaguar that lives in the organization, showing us time and time again that all is possible with love.’ And, of course, there’s a link for donations!

That second quote, such a mirror image to the first in proclaiming that we’re all one and the same with love? Yeah, that’s from one of Jim Jones’s sermons. If you’re under the age of about 35, you’re going to have to Google Jim Jones. I’ll save you some time and put in a link here. But if you don’t want to even bother with that, I’ll give you the high points.

Jim Jones was a preacher who did something no other church in his time (mid 70s) had done. He ran a church wherein everyone–literally everyone–was equal. I’m talking black, white, illegal immigrants, gays, lesbians, bisexual, transexual. Everyone was welcome and seen as equal in the People’s Church. The entire point of Jim’s ideals were that we were all the same inside, just like Eduardo claims we’re all the same. It was great. Up until Jim Jones lost his shit and orchestrated the largest mass suicide you’ve probably never heard of. 914 died that day, 5 of them shot to death as they tried to escape via airplane to warn the government of what was happening. 909 people died because they drank the cyanide-laced Kool-Aid Jim Jones told them to drink.

I can almost hear your eyeballs rolling around in your head now–those of you who support Black Jaguar White Tiger, anyway. You’re thinking ‘How could 909 people be so stupid as to listen to one guy telling them to kill themselves?’ Meanwhile Eduardo’s supporters are sharing the photos and videos and every other social media shareable thing of a man who has anywhere from 45-180+ captive big cats crammed onto 8 acres of land the location of which is a closely guarded secret. They might as well be giving money to the government to help feed the aliens living at Area 51. They’ve got the same level of proof that the cats in Eduardo’s care are alive and well as they do that aliens are hiding at Area 51.

This is the danger of social media in 2016. If enough people–especially wealthy, celebrities– say something, then it must be true. So a few dozen celebrities have gone down there to Black Jaguar White Tiger. *If* they saw abuse, how many of them do you think are going to come back up here and announce that a man who basically owns Instagram, among other social media outlets, is a liar and fraud? Do you really think these celebrities are going to ruin their careers over this? How many celebrities have kept silent for decades about sexual assaults or worse because the perpetrators were people in high places who could ruin their careers?

It’s up to us as individuals to not get sucked into the social media frenzy. Think of Instagram as the supermarket tabloid of the internet. Not everything you see on the cover is the truth. Now go read Jacalyn’s article again, and think twice about sharing that oh-so-adorbs photo of what’s-her-fabulous-face cuddling a baby lion or tiger at Black Jaguar White Tiger.

 

Author: Artemis

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

There is No ‘But’ In the Word Conservation

In an earlier post titled ‘Why The End Will Never Justify The Means When It Comes To Conservation’ (which you can read here) ICARUS wordsmith Artemis Grey focused on the issue of ‘hands off’ conservation, particularly citing the world famous ‘Lion Whisperer’ who insists that his main focus is animal advocacy and conservation, even while he, himself, interacts with the lions under his care, and engages in the exact activities that he condemns as animal exploitation in other situations. As expected, we received a great deal of defensive response from fans and supporters of the Lion Whisperer, every one of which contained some version of the statement ‘He does those things, but…’

But he raises awareness. But the animals are well cared for. But he does more good than bad. But he has a special bond. But the only reason you’re attacking him is because secretly, you’re jealous of him. But you can’t compare what he does to ‘real’ cub-petting. But he didn’t breed his lions (up for debate) so it’s not the same. But other experts do it, so it’s not fair to single him out. But, but but….

After consideration, Artemis decided to write a second post on the matter of hands off conservation, expanding it. After all, she did, indeed, focus primarily on the Lion Whisperer, and he isnt the only ‘expert conservationist’ who mishandles the animals in their care, and he’s not the only well-known “sanctuary” which fails to qualify for GFAS accreditation because of direct contact with animals.

The ICARUS group maintains a strict policy against handling captive wild animals, except for the purposes of rehabilitation or medical treatment. Have the members of ICARUS made mistakes? Yes, you can read one of the first posts we ever published wherein we acknowledge that we’ve made mistakes, and subsequently learned from them, and strived to do better, here. It’s human to make mistakes. It’s exploitive to continue making those mistakes and label it as conservation.

It might be best to start with the original ‘Father of Lions’ himself, George Adamson. There is virtually no one on earth who hasn’t heard of Elsa the lion, and her offspring, or of Joy and George, the folks who raised Elsa and other lions. What isn’t well known, is that Elsa herself died tragically young (widely believed because of a tick-borne illness, but the truth might have more to do with human predation, though the pressure to cover it up is immense) and all of her offspring also died within a few years, killed either by game wardens for predation on livestock or attacks on humans, or killed by farmers as they were attacking livestock. In addition, one of the very lions used in the making of the famous movie Born Free, injured staff during filming, and was subsequently shot by George himself after mauling a child, and then killing one of George’s assistants, whom the animal had known since birth.

tumblr_loowclyMlV1qbo67vo1_1280 Joy with Elsa, considered ‘Conservation’

0Tourist who paid to play with lions, considered exploitation.

It’s possible that if they were alive now, both George and Joy would have regrets about their inadvertent exploitation of the lions in their care (and of course, GFAS accreditation did not exist while they were alive). Actress Tippi Hedren shared similar experiences with lions as a young woman, but Tippi, now 85, advocates against ever possessing a big cat as a pet or otherwise exploiting them.

The word ‘but’ in regard to conservation is a dangerous, and insidious thing. When you are dealing with a public looking to you for examples of how to protect wild animals, you must make yourself an ideal example. A child who witnesses domestic violence, even if as a child they are told that hitting people is wrong, is at a much higher risk to subsequently abuse their domestic partner. While this statistic does not directly relate to animal abuse, it does represent the scientifically accepted fact that a child who witnesses something they understand to be wrong is more likely to engage in that behavior at some point, than a child who witnesses correct behavior. Applied to conservation, this means that children who idolize adults mishandling animals in their care might understand that the animals shouldn’t be handled that way, and yet still engage in that behavior themselves. It is far better to simply refrain from doing things you don’t want the public at large to do.

The late Steve Irwin is another example of someone with the best intentions, who did not necessarily set the best example. I adored Steve, I still adore Steve and his family. I think they have the best intentions, and they’ve certainly helped to bring conservation into the limelight. However, Australia Zoo continues to allow the public to walk with, take pictures with, and feed tigers and other wild animals, for a starting price of $400.00. I would never slander Steve. I simply do not condone the behavior of his Australia Zoo.

16-year-old-bindi-irwin-crocodile-hunter-fathers-legacy-australia-zoo-4Bindi, with one of Australia Zoo’s tigers. Bindi remains a leading name in conservation.

Thailand-Tiger-Park-reopens-after-mauling-650x487 Tourist paying to play with an adult tiger, considered exploitation.

s-Steve-IrwinSteve feeding a tiger at conservation-based Australia Zoo

QGlZuLPTrainer feeding Hercules (a hybrid animal called a liger) at T.I.G.E.R.S, a group devoted to the conservation and preservation of rare and endangered species

61637656bd560c478e961aa9391c4df4Tourist participating in a pay-to-play scheme.

The human capacity for rationalizing is inexhaustible, much to the detriment of the animals in their care. Often times, ‘experts’ with a comparable amount of experience with their animals are differentiated by how they’re presented, not what they’re actually doing. Humans will rationalize away blatant similarities simply because they like one expert over another, or because they feel that what one expert is doing with their animals is somehow more righteous than what another is doing, when in fact both experts are exploiting their animals.

400393 01: World-renowned illusionists and conservationists Siegfried & Roy pose with Pride, the Magical White Lion in this undated photo. The Las Vegas entertainers, honored as Magicians of the Century, perform at The Mirage where they have been the longest and most successful entertainers in the history of Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of Siegfried & Roy/The Mirage via Getty Images)
Siegfried & Roy pose with Pride, the Magical White Lion. Many members of the public feel that Roy finally ‘got what he deserved’ after years of exploiting his big cats in his show.

5I9ZeAwThe Lion Whisperer relaxing with one of his white lions, vehemently defended by his fans as a ‘conservationist with a special bond with his animals’. His television shows depicting such interactions are not considered animal exploitation by his fans, but rather, advocacy.

It is not merely individual highly visible people who engage in this sort of ‘It’s okay for me to do it, I’m an expert’ behavior. Dade City’s Wild Things has been in the media recently after coming under fire for allowing tourists to swim with tiger cubs (for a price) but the park adamantly defends its decision to allow public interaction with its animals as outreach and conservation advocacy that gets the public involved.

Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation is an extremely recognizable foundation which claims to be a rescue center and a sanctuary. However, while it is a private organization, celebrities are often invited to come visit and play with the many young animals, and it is not a GFAS accredited sanctuary. Despite that the group advertises itself as a conservation center, the animals are uncut and allowed to breed at will. With hundreds of thousands of defending fans, Black Jaguar White Tiger is acclaimed and its founder, Eduardo, is worshiped as a savior of the animals in his possession. The truth is that he permits breeding, and handling, using the massive draw of adored celebrities playing with captive wild animals to provide constant social media exposure. This, in turn, brings in huge donations which he uses to maintain his facility.

2a242649face8e02afca920ae7e4dc29Eduardo’s foundation is strictly for conservation and rescue, he claims.

340x252-1432844013635669142439325897-543589299_BlackJaguarWhiteTiger_facebook.jpg?f4e9c5Eduardo, and various celebrities, at the Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation. The large number of cubs is not maintained through ‘intentional breeding’ Eduardo and his supporters insist, but rather, through ‘allowing nature to take its course’.*29137009.sfimages

T.I.G.E.R.S. (The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species) of Myrtle beach fame is another group that runs multiple parks, and multiple opportunities for the public to hold and play with the animals the group is supposedly breeding and raising in the name of conservation. Though their very name insinuates that they deal in endangered and rare species, one of the animals they’re most famous for, Hercules the liger, is not a naturally occurring species at all, but rather, a hybrid created by humans through the forced breeding of a lion and a tiger. Though T.I.G.E.R.S. says it donates a great deal of money to conservation, most of that money is made by allowing the public to play with captive big cats, and there is little evidence that any of it actual goes to conservation. They are also not GFAS accredited, despite their use of the word “sanctuary”.

hercules_-_largest_living_cat_webpage2_guinness_world_records_500x388Hercules, of T.I.G.E.R.S. with a trainer. They advertise themselves as experts helping to preserve endangered and rare species.

rajani-ferrante-riding-liger-herculesHercules of T.I.G.E.R.S. with another trainer.

hqdefaultThe Lion Whisperer, defended as an expert conservationist with a ‘special bond’ by his fans, riding one of his ‘fellow pride members’.

1282976243119-adventure picsTourist participating in a pay-to-play exploitation of big cats.

Lion tamer riding one of his circus lionsLion tamer during his act, something that everyone who supports conservation would condemn as exploitation.

And there are many, many more groups and people who engage in behavior that is damaging to their animals. It would literally be impossible to include every single one in one post. There will always be one more person or group who is ‘worse’ or ‘less responsible’. It remains an uphill battle to speak out against such activities, as fans and followers will always defend those they adore, but the ICARUS group remains firm in their position. It is entirely possible to love a person or group, and yet not condone what they do. It is possible to disagree with their actions openly without slandering them. It is also possible to feed and shelter an animal, and still do it a terrible injustice by exploiting it.

The photographs in this post are designed to highlight the dangerous problem with using the word ‘but’ in regard to the handling of animals by people, experts or otherwise. This is one reason that the ICARUS group is evenhandedly against ever handling captive wild animals aside from giving them medical care, or rehabilitative therapy, and one reason that we chose to embrace the strict guilders of the GFAS. Humans will always attempt to rationalize why it’s acceptable for one person to carry out exploitation while it’s unacceptable for others to do the same. Thus, we take the stand that it is never acceptable. The justification of an expert’s behavior is a slippery slope the ICARUS team refuses to even start down. Instead, we choose to approach conservation and preservation by setting an example of what the public should do in regard to both wild animals, and captive wild animals, rather than showing them what they should not do.

In the words of Thoreau ‘Wildness is the preservation of the world.’ 

If you love wild animals, keep them wild. Support groups like ICARUS who are working to keep them wild, not treat them like pets in the name of conservation. Actions speak louder than words. If someone is receiving money in exchange for allowing public interaction with captive wild animals, or receiving money in exchange for their own interactions with captive wild animals, then they are not acting in the name of conservation, even if they are speaking about it.

Author: Artemis Grey

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