Wildlife in Crisis: An International Think Tank

The ICARUS crew is absolutely thrilled to announce that we will be hosting an International summit in 2016 titled Wildlife in Crisis: An International Think Tank. It is our goal for this summit to bring together some of the greatest and most influential minds in the world of conservation today, and to develop strategies for further conservation efforts in the future.

The only thing the members of ICARUS want it to protect the animals and world we live in, and to educate those around us about the challenges involved with world wide conservation. When you choose to donate to ICARUS through this page, or our Facebook page, you aren’t paying us.

Your money goes directly to helping fund animal conservation through rescues, rehabilitation, and things like our 2016 International summit. The members of ICARUS are volunteer only, so all of our articles, and information is gathered and produced around full time jobs and late night hours devoted only to the conservation of the animals.

This is one reason that we took such a hard and forthright stance against hugely popular establishments such as the Black Jaguar White Tiger foundation, and Eduardo Serio 5 months ago when we first opened our WordPress account.

As a group devoted to hands off conversation, the ICARUS team does not condone the unnecessary handling or interaction with any wild animal. Sometimes during the rehabilitation process, handling is required, and as the members of our group have all been involved with wild animal rehabilitation, we understand this.

However, when one posts photographs on social media, or use social media to build themselves into a Celebrity Conservationist who is famous for no other reason than the fact that they post photographs and videos of themselves playing with big cat cubs, or adult big cats, they are not rehabilitating those animals, they are actively participating in their exploitation.

This Social Media Conservation, which so often highlights pseudo conservation is only one of the many global conservation issues that will be addressed at the 2016 International Summit which the ICARUS group will be hosting. Wildlife in Crisis: An International Think Tank will bring together conservationists from all over the world with the goal of addressing such issues as captive big cat ownership, wildlife crime, pseudo conservation groups and sanctuaries, rehabilitation ethics , legislation, and similarly the laws that govern exactly what foundation can describe themselves as rescue group or sanctuaries without actually obtaining the accreditation associated with being a sanctuary or rescue. Only through education can the public learn to see the difference between conserving wild animals in the wild, and exploitation of them by Celebrity Conservationists.

Author: Artemis Grey

Like A Bug On The Windshield Of An a380 Airbus

Do you remember high school? Okay, maybe some of you reading this post are stilll in high school. But if you’re older, do you remember what it was like? I mean, do you really remember?

Everyone experiences high school (or any level of school, for that matter) differently. Some of us have a great time, others barely survive, but one thing is certain: The longstanding tropes of Jocks, Cheerleaders, Nerds, It Girls, Outcasts, Drama Freaks, Rednecks, Art Dorks, and the most loathed of all, the Clingers, haven’t become tropes without reason. There are always a variety of stereotypes that kids either naturally fall into, or get pushed into. It’s not fair, but it’s been this way since the beginning of time.

While you’re in high school, everything social hangs on which group you fall into. Even if you don’t want to be in a certain group, you suddenly find that your entire life gets judged by which group you’re in, or at least by which group everyone else perceives you to be in. And if you can’t get into a group, you’ll be just a Clinger, and that’s social suicide because then you’re just fodder for everyone else.

Maybe you’re a badass on the trumpet, and love music, but then all of your friends go out for JV football. You don’t want to be the lame-o who didn’t try out when they did, so you feel like you have to go, even if you’d rather be in band. Also if your don’t go with the guys, you’ll never be able to hang out together because JV practices after school, so the Band Dweebs have to meet before school starts, and then they sit in front of you in math and smell like grass and old sneakers because they didn’t get to shower before school started. Besides, if your buddies make JV, and you throw in with the Band Dweebs, you’ll never hear the end of it when you do get to spend time with the guys. Bros stick together, after all, and you’ll be the one who ran out on them. Or, worse yet, if you don’t try for JV, and then you flub your band try out, you won’t be anywhere. You’ll be nothing but a Clinger. who doesn’t fit in anywhere, and just has to do their own thing.

So you go out for JV football, and you make the team with all your friends. And just like that, you’re a Jock. Even if you quit the team, it’s a done deal. Jock is your tagline for high school. And it does have its perks. Cheerleaders and It girls are all on the table, now. The Clingers, too, since they don’t even count because they’re always doing their own thing, so you can have your pick of them, and then still take Selena, that 9.5 Cheerleader, to Homecoming, because, well, Clingers aren’t real GF material, but they’re fun, once in a while. Yeah, let the Nerds and Drama Freaks duke it out for the Art Dorks and Band Dweebs, the real lookers are in your league, now. At least, the girls that everyone is into are in your league.

It’s a decent system, really. No crossing the lines. You always know where you stand and what’s at stake and how things are supposed to work out. Kind of like that book you were supposed to read in English this year but didn’t because none of the other guys wanted to. You did catch the movie version, though, just so you’d be able to answer the questions on the pop quiz that everyone knew  was coming. The Outsiders, that’s the one. Yeah, there are more groups at school than just the Socs and Greasers but it’s the same idea. You stick to the rules and play whatever role you got handed and you’ll make it out just fine.

Fast forward a decade–maybe only a few years– and you pause while walking to the office and look back on your high school years. And you start laughing. Laughing  like crazy laughing. Crazy laughing like people on the sidewalk around you start to go extra wide to either side, unwilling to cross the street entirely, but making sure that some other person is more in reach, just in case you lose your shit and start grabbing at folks.

Why are you laughing like a maniac?

Because high school–and which clique you were in–had no more significance in the scheme of your life than a bug on the windshield of an a380 Airbus flying at 35,000 feet.

You can’t know more than you’ve experienced. If you’ve never made it through high school, or through the age at which most of us go through high school, you literally can’t know what’s beyond it. You can daydream about it, or theorize, plan, make achievement lists, or set goals like becoming the owner of your own law firm. But until you actually get on the other side of things, you can’t see what’s going to be there waiting for you.

Now here you are, standing on a sidewalk, still laughing, and you’re going to be late to work, which means the guy at the front desk will be sure to tell the third-rate clerk who works for you that you’re late and the clerk will ‘accidentally’ let that slip to your boss who does, incidentally, own the law firm where you’re just a junior partner. But all you can think about right at this moment is the fact that your boss, the guy who owns the law firm, has fifteen framed photographs of him playing the piccolo in marching band, and he never played a single game in football in his entire life.

It doesn’t matter that he was a Band Dweeb in high school. It doesn’t matter that you were a Jock. High school was four measly years in the span of what–gods willing–will be twenty times that over the course of your life. Maybe more, if you’re lucky. Who belonged to what clique fades into complete irrelevance.

Fads are exactly like that. And the phenomenon that I think of as Social Media Conservation is the hottest fad on the planet right now.

A fad is defined as “an intense and widely shared enthu- siasm for something, especially one that is short-lived” (Oxford English Dictionary 2013) and likely to fade away once the perception of novelty has gone.

Now, parts of social media are great, and serve to make a genuine difference in the world, and social media itself, is not likely to go anywhere anytime in the near future. However, the phenomenon of Social Media Conservation can’t die soon enough, if you ask me.

Just what is Social Media Conservation?

Besides being a pox on genuine efforts to conserve our planet and all the things living on it, Social Media Conservation is the phenomenon of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people taking to social media en masse to champion Celebrity Conservationists.

Not conservationists who happen to be movies stars, like Leonardo DiCaprio, but Celebrity Conservationists who, without their ‘conservation angle’ would not be celebrities or known names at all. Unfortunately, the majority of these Celebrity Conservationists often do far more damage to animals and conservation efforts than they do good.

Eduardo Serio of Black Jaguar White Tiger is the reigning king of Celebrity Conservationists. What he posts to his Instagram, and other accounts is completely irrelevant to conservation in any form and some of the posts are blatantly detrimental to the animals he claims to have rescued. His “sanctuary” is not accredited by the GFAS, though it is supposedly a sanctuary under Mexican law (I’ve seen no evidence of this, but since he threatens to sue and destroy anyone who claims otherwise, there it is) Yet his followers eagerly cheer the posts on, share them repeatedly, and basically flood the internet with them.

The content of Black Jaguar White Tiger’s Instagram account ranges from adolescent lions peeing on the walls of Eduardo’s own home, to Eduardo randomly spinning around in circles with an adolescent lion over his shoulders to Eduardo himself lying on the floor of his own bedroom (the cubs literally live in his walk-in closet until they’re a month or two old) covered in young lion cubs.

Not one of these videos serves any purpose in the world of conservation, or to raise awareness in regard to the plight of wild lions, or wild big cats. However, they do have a function, and that function is to make Eduardo–and his Black Jaguar White Tiger foundation–look like the coolest place on earth. And the videos work. Each of those three videos has been ‘liked’ by Instagram users anywhere between 68,600 (first video)  78,200 (second video) and 128,000 (third video) times and thousands of comments have been made on each one.

68,600 people have liked a video showing a captive lion cub pissing on the wall of a home lived in by humans

And these followers actually believe that the guy who owns that captive lion cub, and the house it’s pissing all over is somehow saving lions, saving our planet, and not keeping them as pets, as per the hashtags #SaveLions #NotPets and #SaveOurPlanet, which are very carefully included with virtually every photograph and video uploaded to the Black Jaguar White Tiger Instagram and other social media accounts. And there are tens of thousands of those photographs and videos, all carefully hashtagged #SaveLions #SaveJaguars #SaveTigers #SaveOcelots and most the most asinine claim #NotPets

Not pets? 

The guy is videoing exotic big cats and other exotic animals running around inside his house, pissing on the walls, sleeping in his bed, lying in his lap, rough-housing with the select high-name guests he brings in for more exposure and swimming in his in-ground swimming pool. 

But they are not pets. Right. I have a bridge I’ll sell you, too.

But dare to question the edict that the animals being exploited by Black Jaguar White Tiger are not pets and are not being exploited? Be prepared for personal attacks ranging from the mild ‘You’re an idiot, Eduardo is saving them from a horrible life!’ to the more heated ‘Fuck off, you’re a stupid cunt who’s just jealous of Eduardo’s bond with his cats’ to the unhinged ‘Keep it up, bitch, and someone’s gonna come piss on your walls!’ *These are not actual threats I’ve received, but a sampling of actual responses made to other, similar to what you’ll get if you have the gumption to actually question Black Jaguar White Tiger and what they’re doing.*

Unsurprisingly, when such gang-ups occur, the commenter who challenged the status quo is often battered vehemently, and then the entire post is immediately deleted, and the original commenter blocked. Unless you take screen shots as it’s occurring–something that most people don’t think to do while they’re trying to defend themselves and their position–there is no evidence it ever happened at all, leaving a situation of ‘he said she said’. This is the savagery of Internet bullying and assault. And, tragically, it is incredibly typical within the circles of Celebrity Conservationists. This is how they insulate themselves from answering questions or being held accountable for their actions. They gather devotees and then simply let those mindless followers do all the dirty work of defending them.

Social Media Conservation is a self-fullfilling phenomenon. The ‘cooler’ a Celebrity Conservationist is, the more followers they get, the more exposure their foundation receives–even if it never produces any tangible evidence of conservation efforts–the more their name and that of their sanctuary or foundation is spread, the more followers it gathers, the more those followers talk about it, the more they share posts, the more unimpeachable the Celebrity Conservationist becomes until their presence is so immense, their influence so insurmountable that to speak out against them is to invite the unified wrath of the millions who worship them.

And suddenly, we find ourselves stepping back through a wormhole into the era of high school cliques. Instead of Jocks or Cheerleaders, there are Celebrity Conservationists, and a planet full of people obsessed with getting into the cliques formed by those Celebrity Conservationists. And if you aren’t in those cliques, then you’re immediately degraded to being just a Clinger hanging around the edges and taking potshots at them simply because you’re jealous that you’re not involved. Your facts, and science, and utterly valid arguments are devalued and belittled by accusations of personal vendettas and ignorance. You’re either jealous of the Celebrity Conservationist, or you don’t understand them.

But this is the incontrovertible truth about these Celebrity Conservationists and their social media empires:

They’re no more significant in the scheme of conservation and the survival of the planet and the animals on it than a bug on the windshield of an a380 Airbus flying at 35,000 feet.

Yeah, Black Jaguar White Tiger has 4.3 million followers on Instagram, and almost 10,000 posts on Instagram. Big fucking deal.

What has Black Jaguar White Tiger done to help wild animals in wild habits, in real life situations? Not what have they talked about doing, or discussed doing, or promised to do, but what have they actually done?

The answer is nothing.

He can’t even get a GFAS accreditation. In all Eduardo’s supposed fundraising, and supposed efforts at conservation, the only thing he has actually done is con 4.3 million people (and countless backers and Hollywood celebrities) into thinking he’s the best thing since sliced bread, while amassing a hoard of some 180+ captive big cats which are currently crammed into a residential house (location unknown) and caged on an 8 acre plot of land (location unknown) and with a promised several thousand acre ‘paradise’ to be built for them in the future.

Just like high school, this fad of Social Media Conservation is going to pass. In another five years, no one is going to be infatuated with how many followers they have on Instagram. No one will even remember Instagram. All of the popularity that is so vital to Celebrity Conservationists will disappear. And without the 4.3 million followers worshiping every inexplicable farce they engage in with their ‘rescued’ captive wild animals, these Celebrity Conservationists will fade away. If they’re lucky, they’ll become a nothing name. If not, and if our laws in regard to animal rights and protection increase, maybe they’ll be in jail for all the damage they’ve done to the animals they claimed to be helping.

But no matter what happens to the Celebrity Conservationists, the animals they used to attain their brief throne will remain. Likely thousands more animals will remain, since places like Black Jaguar White Tiger maintain a constant stream of newborn animals, and do not believe in the practice of spaying and neutering.

And all of those captive wild animals will still need to be cared for, on top of all the wild animals still in the wild who need to be protected so that they might remain in the wild.

A crisis that will fall onto the shoulders of genuine conservationists who toil tirelessly in the shadows, without any expectation of public thanks, because simply seeing wild animals in the wild where they belong, or seeing captive wild animals properly housed in spacious wild-like enclosures, unbothered by humans, is all the thanks we need in order to feel good about ourselves. 

 

Author: Artemis Grey

 

 

We Are Legion… If We Decide To Act Like It

Some of you might have seen the headlines in regard to Lumber Liquidators, and the fact that they have now admitted to importing, and subsequently selling, hardwood which was illegally harvested from the habitat of the highly endangered Siberian tigers and Amur Leopards in the far east of Russia. Since I’m in Virginia, which is where the company is headquartered, I’d heard back in the beginning of October that something fishy was going on, but details as to what, exactly, were not yet available. Then, on October 8th PilotOnline.com ran an article on the matter, which shed a little more light on it. You can read that one here. There still wasn’t much National attention on the subject, though.

Now, that’s changing. Multiple news sites like CBS, CNBC, NBC, and The New York Times, are picking up the story and making noise about it. Their coverage ranges from blurbs, to more in depth information. Overall, most people involved seem to be satisfied with the ‘hefty fines’ that Lumber Liquidators has agreed to pay. But the term ‘hefty fine’ means something different to the lawyers, and judges, than it does to me. Or to Lumber Liquidators. Oh, I’m sure that they’re wailing internally, but let’s examine this ‘hefty fine’ in the format of numbers.

The company will pay $13.2 million dollars in fines. Seems legit. Written out, it looks like this:

$13,200,000

But in stark contrast, the company made about $1.05 billion in profits last year, which looks like this:

$1,050,000,000

So basically, the company is giving up just over one percent of the total profits they received in just one year of existence.

Look at it this way: You find a $100 bill, and your big brother takes it from you and gives you a $10 bill instead. Sucks hind tit, right? Now, imagine that your big brother came into your room, stole a bunch of your super hero figurines that you’d been collecting , sold them for $100, and you caught him, and he said he’d give you $10 because he’s sorry. On a very simplified scale, this is what Lumber Liquidators did.

Between 2010 and 2015 they pulled in roughly $5.6 billion dollars in profits. That’s $5,600,000,000. They’re paying only $13.2 million dollars, or $13,200,000 in fines.

And they only have to do it once.

Next year they’re (probably) going to make another $1,000,000,000. And the year after that. And so on and so forth. If the company only stays in business one more year and does well, it’s still going to make over 7 times more than what they paid in fines. Presuming, of course, that they actually pay the fines now, and don’t drag their feet about it. With a hearing not even set until February of 2016, a speedy payment doesn’t seem too likely. But according to the Justice Department, Lumber Liquidators’ fine is the largest financial penalty ever imposed for illegal timber trafficking, and it is a huge success.

This is one of the greatest, and most heartrending issues within the conservation community. Laws, both those of specific countries, and global, are woefully underdeveloped in regard to the current, and continually growing needs of the environmental world. Humans have been recording history for about 5,000 years, but the first American environmental law dedicated to protecting the environment was passed in 1899. We’ve only been legally protecting our world and the animals within it (in America) for 116 years. Just 116 years out of 5,000. And the number one penalty for breaching the laws we do have, is paying a simple fine, and promising not to do it again. As a rule, there is no loss of business licenses, or jail time given, even to those who made the decisions to break the laws in the first place.

Not only is that just not good enough, it doesn’t even work to penalize anyone. After all, why should companies stop cutting corners, and breaking rules when the only consequence of doing so is to make slightly less profit, when their proft line has already been doubled or tripled by skirting or ignoring those rules to start with? In business (and military) terms this is called Acceptable Loss. The term Acceptable Loss is used to indicate casualties or destruction inflicted by the enemy or market situation that is considered minor or tolerable.

Minor and tolerable. For the company who is making money.

There is nothing minor or tolerable for the Siberian tigers, and Amur leopards who lost thousands of acres from an already dwindling habitat. There is nothing minor or tolerable about the fact that of the just 500 Siberian tigers and 57 Amur leopards left in the wild, a portion of them will likely starve, or die in altercations over the meager, and much too small, habitat they ‘re forced to share. Habitat that is now even smaller.

What our law enforcement groups consider to be massive success stories are nothing more than footnotes in the annals of companies’ histories. Acceptable losses within the churning mechanisms of huge corporations who plow onward in their endeavors, continuing to rake in profits hand over fist. So inconsequential are these payouts that most businesses actually set aside money to be used for them if they crop up. They often pay their own lawyers more to render a settlement on their behalf than they pay in the actual settlements themselves.

But we have more power than any court, or judge, or law enforcement agency in any country anywhere in the world. We can bring these companies to their knees, and we don’t even have to exert ourselves in order to manage it. The only thing we, the people who must live under the umbrellas of these inconceivably colossal  entities, need to do in order to tear them apart, is to not give them our money.

It’s not easy to find out exactly where your food comes from, or where all of the products we use in our daily lives come from. No one has time to google their toothpaste, their rice, or juice, or napkins and see how they’re made, and whether or not the mother company is environmental conscientious. Women, you know what it’s like just trying to see if your sanitary products are 100% cotton, instead of full of chemicals and manmade fibers. It’s incredibly hard to sort out the origin of many of the things we use.

However, it is easy to find out about some of the products we use. The internet is full of farms which focus on producing pesticide-free heirloom fruits and vegetables – more than you would ever imagine, if you google your own area. Small farmers are slowly fighting their way back into the market. Reclaimed lumber is now thoroughly in the mainstream, and many companies focus on using it in their building projects. There are log home companies which specialize in environmentally conscious timbering. Organic dairies are springing up everywhere, along with rabbitries and farms which raise hormone-free beef and even bison. By and large, these products don’t cost more than the conglomerate stuff, they’re just not as ‘in our face’ as the former.

We have the power to choose to utilize these things. We have the power to choose to not use the products of huge corporations. At least some of the time. And you know what? Some of the time beats the hell out of none of the time.

If every single person out there decided that buying a little less of something grown, made, or reclaimed within a hundred miles of their residence, was more important than buying more of something that was imported, or made by a large corporation, those corporations would notice. If every single person who’s never done something like try fresh milk from a herdshare, or rabbit meat (better than chicken) or bison meat (leaner than beef) chose to just try something new, instead of going right for the old stand by microwave chicken tenders, it would make a difference.

A huge percentage of the damage done to the wild spaces we have left in this world, and to the wild animals who live in those wild spaces, is done either to create land which will be farmed by corporations, or to render a ‘cheaper, easier’ product for the consumer. And we keep taking the bait.

These incidents of gross negligence, and the disregard of giant corporations will not be stymied by any law, or fine. It’s like throwing rocks into a swift-running creek. The only way to change the course of that much water is to change the landscape it’s running through. We are that landscape. Us.

We are Legion, if we but stand up and unite.

It will not happen all at once, but it will happen. We have the strength and ability to turn the flow of the consumer river in any direction we want. All we have to do is start.

 

Author: Artemis Grey

Feature Image Credit: Tapiture

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

____6731155_orig

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.

image

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.

????????????????????????????????????

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.

489606_orig

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?

costa-rica-turtle-egg-poaching1

The green sea turtle, poached into extinction

or…

Baby-Green-Turtle-Sandro-Abderhalden-(Read-Only)

The green sea turtle, thriving and free

We know what we would prefer, To Be Continued…

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

DSC_0093

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

IMG_5267

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

379311_10152411956065632_848104194_n

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

SP_Oct11_1-3-680x452

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

269070_1919775483186_392084_n

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

DSC_0096

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

IMG_5262

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

DSC_0110

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

=

Why The End Will Never Justify The Means When It Comes To Conservation

Conservation is a complex issue, with complex answers, and complex situations, and very rarely can matters within it be distilled into a single, rigid policy. However, the single issue on which there is no room for discussion, is the subject of handling, and directly interacting with captive wild exotic animals. Aside from issuing medical attention or for purposes of rehabilitation, there is no benefit for the animal, in having humans handle or touch it. For the members of team ICARUS, this is nonnegotiable.

It is not, under any circumstances, acceptable for anyone, regardless of their supposed expertise, to play with, or directly handle, or socialize with captive exotic animals. This ‘special bond syndrome’ is most prevalent in big cat species, and is the leading reason so many big cats are privately owned by citizens. Every well-meaning owner believes that they have a special bond with their animals. Tragically, this very often results in injuries or death to the owners, or their acquaintances, and subsequently to the big cats themselves, who are nearly always euthanized after being involved in an attack.

Even more disturbing than the private citizens are the highly publicized ‘self-described animal behaviorists’ (traditionally a true animal behaviorist is someone who has obtained a graduate degree in related fields and has obtained a post-graduate certification) who routinely handle and interact with big cats, claiming that they do so through a special bond. The most easily recognized of these is the so-called ‘Lion Whisperer’ of South Africa. One needs only Google the title to find hundreds of pages, all filled with videos of him cheerfully playing with full grown lions or leopards, as well as spotted hyenas. The Lion Whisperer has been hosted on nearly every major network, all of which focused on his ‘amazing bond’ with the lions and animals of his sanctuary. They show a plethora of clips of him interacting with the lions, napping with them, and fondly dictating the story of each one – nearly all of whom he’s raised from either adolescence or cub-hood. It’s always mentioned that his sole purpose is to ‘bring attention to conservation matters’ and to ‘end the cub-petting industry’. The fundamental problem here, is that he’s participating in cub-petting with adult animals.

Conservation is not, and never will be, aided in any way by publicizing the act of playing with an animal. If one goes to Youtube and searches for the Lion Whisperer, they’ll be greeted with pages and pages of him playing with the lions. Where, in all of that dream-worthy special bondness is any conservation of remaining wild lions? All of the animals featured in the programs live on one of his reserves, or in his sanctuaries. Many of those have actually been imported from other places, and were not rescued, or rehabilitated. Not one animal, in the history of his sanctuaries, has ever been released into the wild. They cannot be released because they are thoroughly habituated to human interaction. A habituation that is continually reinforced through daily interactions. The fact that he has, indeed, rescued many animals from deplorable conditions, is completely overlooked by the fans who fixate on his highly publicized videos of playing with the animals.

The Lion Whisperer has thousands of loyal fans and followers who will defend him and his actions vehemently, but for the ICARUS team, actions speak louder than words. Despite all of his claims of being focused on conservation, and the fact that he has actually rescued animals, he also maintains private reserves and sanctuaries, he plays and interacts with the animals in his care, and he trains them for use in movies that he writes and produces. And those actions keep his sanctuary from being GFAS accredited. In this case, the good he does, is vastly overshadowed by the fantastical persona of Lion Whisperer who plays with lions, other big cats and wild animals. It is that persona that the public worships.

If he were a civilian who owned ten big cats and made movies with them, much of the public would consider him to be part of the problem with animal exploitation. However, they embrace the Lion Whisperer and his ‘amazing bond’ with his animals, and seem to find nothing wrong with his behavior because he’s ‘doing it for conservation’. But how many people actually associate the term ‘conservation’ with the term Lion Whisperer? The title Lion Whisperer is synonymous with the image of a man playing with a pride of lions, not with the ongoing plight of Africa’s wild animal population.

You cannot teach people that wild animals are not pets by producing movies wherein you treat wild animals like pets. You cannot teach people that wild animals should not be bred in captivity, or held in captivity, while you stroll through a created pride of captive-bred lions. There are no ‘buts’ in the terms of conservation. Experts do not have the luxury of doing things that they are actively trying to ban the public from doing. If cub-petting feeds canned hunting, and harms big cat conservation, you cannot claim that producing multiple movies that highlight your own adult-petting aids in conservation.

This is why the members of team ICARUS have a strict policy against cub-petting and direct interaction with wild exotic animals, and why we look to the standards for GFAS as a guidline. What Dade City Wild Things is doing by allowing the public to swim with tiger cubs, is no different from the Lion Whisperer swimming with adult lions. In both cases, humans are interacting with captive wild exotic animals not because it benefits the animals, but because it makes the humans feel special.

In the words of Jane Goodall, “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

The question is, do you want to create a world where it’s acceptable for certain people to exploit animals in order to bring attention to animal exploitation? Or do you want to create a world wherein there is no animal exploitation at all?

The ICARUS team hopes that you will choose to become the latter. Don’t be dazzled by those who make a name for themselves by using the animals they should be caring for. Don’t allow them to convince you that it’s acceptable for them to treat animals in a way that no one else should, simply because they’re special. Remember, the animals they claim to have a special bond with have been hand-raised from birth, no differently than the cubs in cub-petting schemes. They’ve been conditioned to accept human interaction. The only difference is that while the cub-petting schemes sell their cats into the canned hunting industry, people like the Lion Whisperer simply continue to make money off their adult animals.

Author: Artemis Grey

The Greatest Act On Earth

With the events currently taking place at the Missouri State Fair in regard to the tigers being exhibited there, the ICARUS team felt that it would be a good idea to address a few things relating to the matter. During this investigation there have been varying opinions as to the condition and treatment of the tigers involved. The USDA has received hundreds (at minimum, full numbers have not been disclosed) of complaints about the tigers, but at the same time the trainers of the big cats claim they are well cared for, and numerous attendees of the show, have claimed that the cats look fine, and seem to love their handlers. So, how does a member of the public decide whether or not an exotic animal being used in a show like this is, or is not, suffering from abuse or mistreatment?

Firstly, don’t be afraid to do research. Google can be a very good source of information, so long as you are careful to ‘check your sources’. Don’t take one webpage and use it singularly, check out a number of pages or results. If you find numerous pages stating the same problems, then likely, there are legitimate issues. The best thing to do if you have questions in regard to a certain group, or animal’s condition is to take a few moments on your smart phone to research the subject. This could be as simple as a google image search for ‘healthy elephant’ You can then look at the resulting photographs, while looking at the elephant standing in front of you. It will, at the least, give you a basic idea of whether whatever you’re seeing that seems strange is, in fact strange, or if you’re finding dozens of different animals which all look similar. In the same vein, it’s often fairly easy to learn whether or not specific shows or animal trainers have a history of violations or issues by simply Googling their name. Likewise, if the questionable trainer or owners claim to be aiding with conservation by owning the animals, a quick Google search can counter that. Many times trainers will claim to be aiding in the conservation of white tigers, or ligers when, in fact, there has never been a wild population of white tigers, or ligers. The truth is that white tigers are a genetic mutation achieved through extreme inbreeding (and for every white tiger you see, dozens of normal colored tiger cubs, or grossly deformed white tiger cubs have been destroyed) and ligers are created by the forced crossbreeding of a lion and a tiger, which, again, often results in genetic maladies and deformities, and a very shortened lifespan for the cats.

Do not look at the subject of captive wild animal welfare in terms of ‘I’m just a member of the public and they’re the experts’. It’s not the mindset you’d have if you were going to a car dealership to buy a car, is it? You would educate yourself on the car you wanted and its features. It’s not the mindset you would have when buying a house, or booking a vacation, either. Instead, you’d research the housing market or the area you’re planning to go on vacation. Most people aren’t professionals at everything they do. You don’t need to have decades of experience in order to have a basic understanding of situations. So if you feel that something is amiss in a situation involving captive exotic animals, but the owners/trainers assure you that everything is fine, don’t feel like you have no choice but to accept their answers.

Remember this very important fact when it comes to traveling shows that involve captive exotic animals: The trainers for these shows are actors. They might have a experience with the animals involved, and they might have raised those animals from adolescence, but they are, first and foremost, actors. And the show is just that. A show. Their number one priority is to make money from people like you who are paying to watch, just as a television show’s number on priority is viewership. Keep in mind the times you’ve seen a movie wherein the onscreen chemistry between two actors was electric, but long after the blockbuster was done with, the public discovered that in real life the two actors absolutely hated each other, and nothing of the ‘electric chemistry’ that seemed to exist on screen, actually existed at all. It was simply an illusion created by two very talented actors. So the truth is, these trainers might not care about the animals in their show at all. Maybe they do, but it’s completely possible that they are simply putting on an act.

Another vital thing to consider is the fact that the animals in these shows do not have a choice in where they are and what’s being done to them. Many times, the public sees these animals ‘showing affection’ to their handlers, and they take those actions at face value. What bears remembering is the fact that from the time these animals enter the ‘arena’ for a show, to the time they exit it, they are performing and following commands from their trainers. Therefore, any ‘show of affection’ is likely nothing more than yet one more subtle trick performed for the audience. People often find such a suggestion offensive, but when one objectively looks at the fact that the animals are wholly dependent on their trainers for food, shelter and any other need, and that they’ve been trained to respond to commands – sometimes through violence – then it seems much more reasonable to think that their ‘affection’ might simply be trained response. If a human child is kidnapped and raised by someone other than their parents, they’re still considered prisoners by the public. They often remain with their abusers, even if they’re suffering, and will lie to authorities and tell them that their abusers are kind and caring. We understand innately that in the case of human children, this is a direct result of the abuse they’ve suffered during their captivity, but for some reason, much of the public does not make the same connection in the case of captive wild animals.

But why should you believe groups like ICARUS instead of the trainers and exhibitors of these captive exotic animals? What makes us qualified to assert that the animals in these situations might be suffering? The truth is, only you can decide who to believe. All we can do is present you with scientific facts.

However, some things to consider in situations like the one out at the Missouri State Fair, or any similar situation include:

Is the person, or persons in charge of the animals in question using the animals to make money?

Does their business depend directly on exhibiting the animals?

If an institution calls itself a sanctuary, do they allow the public to have direct contact with the animals, holding and playing with them in exchange for either monetary donation, or publicity?

Does the person or persons in charge of the animals claim that they are breeding and exhibiting them to ‘promote conservation’?

Does the person or persons in charge of the animals claim to have a special bond with them? Do they claim that the animals perform because they want to? And that the animals enjoy performing?

In the case of groups who are opposed to captive exotic animals, do the members act openly hostile?

Do they engage in violence, and reckless acts, like opening cages and setting animals free?

Do they promote violence in general?

If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, then there is cause for concern. Justifying the exploitation of captive exotic animals is a clear sign that those doing the exploiting do not feel like exploitation is wrong if the ‘right’ people are doing it. And in contrast, if those who do not believe in animal exploitation endorse or call for violence agains their opponents, then they are more interested in making a political statement than they are in the welfare of the animals.

Responsible animal advocates, like the members of team ICARUS, will calmly state why they are opposed to the exploitation of animals, and will offer supporting facts. They will be willing to work with others to solve the problem, and will never suggest that violence or slandering is the answer. We might vehemently disagree with the actions of trainers and private owners, but we will never condone harming or otherwise attacking those persons. The way to create change is through outreach and the spread of information. We don’t want the public to agree with us because they believe what we’re saying, we want them to believe in us and what we’re doing because it’s the right thing for the animals.

There is no function for the public performance of a captive exotic animal other than for human entertainment. There is no need for them to ‘earn their keep’ because there is no reason for them to be ‘kept’ at all. The only thing that requires a wild animal to be held captive is for purposes of exploitation. This is why the ICARUS team strongly disagrees with the practice of allowing the public to have direct contact with cubs or adult animals – even by well meaning sanctuaries. Such activities cross the line into exploitation.

We understand the need for sanctuaries to support themselves, and public tours which do not involve touching the animals are a great way to do that. There are many ways for people to support the protection of captive wild animals, that doesn’t involve exploiting them, you just have to look. In fact, GFAS accredited sanctuaries must abide by strict regulations in regard to how their animals are kept or handled.

For more information about captive exotic animal and how to protect them, check out the Facebook page of ICARUS for links to reputable sanctuaries and rescue organization. And remember you have the power to educate yourself, make informed decisions, and help animals in need.

Author: Artemis Grey