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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Blessing of St. Francis

Artemis Grey

Advertisements

Why Let The Truth Get In The Way Of A Good Story? What Happens When News Outlets Only Report Half The Facts

I had an unexpected day off, yesterday, and I fully intended to use it to get much needed writing on novels done. However, I made the mistake of checking the I.C.A.R.U.S. email account first, and that’s when things ground to a halt. There, across the Yahoo news page, was yet one more headliner with a video of Eduardo Serio of Black Jaguar White Tiger standing casually against a stone wall while a black jaguar stalks him. The headliner, like so many of the videos from BJWT which are shared on the internet, made a joke of the fact that Serio was being stalked by a jaguar.

A little research into this latest “media splash” revealed posts on Snapchat, made by Serio excitedly boasting “Yahoo Front Page :)”

IMG_2942

and “Look who made it into Snapchat’s daily mail :)”

IMG_2940

There’s also an Instagram post referring to the Snapchat email.

“About time that (tags snapchat staff using Instagram handles) cut a flower from their garden hahahahaha Love you guys. But really, about time :)”

Yes, it’s about time that Snapchat recognized how important Eduardo Serio is, how much he does for them by posting hundreds of videos of his “rescued” big cats to their site. Nothing says narcissism like multiple posts on multiple social media accounts boasting about how you’re featured on multiple social media and news sites. Not for anything virtuous, but because you have a pet jaguar–who you insist isn’t your pet–stalking you like a house cat chasing rolled up socks.

You see, this, is what Serio cares about more than conservation, more than animals, more than humans, more than anything on the entire planet: Himself. And his own media greatness.

While I was stewing and trying to convince myself to just move on and ignore the flippant and ignorant news blip, my sister sent me a text with a link to another news article by CNN, one which showed the very same video.

I followed it, of course, and then followed other links and came up with numerous stories, all branching from the same video utilized in the Snapchat daily mail that Serio was so appreciative of (though he made it clear that the honor was quite overdue, thank you very much) and unsurprisingly, most of the videos and news blurbs said nothing of the ongoing issues with the foundation. Nor did they mention Serio’s recent and very public threats against any group speaking out in opposition to his foundation.

Only two stories I found, Chloe Bryan’s Mashable blurb, and Jeanne Moos’s CNN “backstory” clip, address the fact that handling big cats like they’re pets might not actually be the best thing to do in the name of conservation.

While Ms. Bryan’s blurb does cite at least two articles relating to problems that have been raised in regard to BJWT, and Ms. Moos’s clip features a brief statement from Kelli Heckman of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (which have set the standards the I.C.A.R.U.S. team uses when referring to sanctuaries as genuine, or pseudo) and does link to one, older article questioning BJWT, neither the blurb or backstory address the deeper issues of someone utilizing hundreds of animals in order to make themselves famous. Nor do they mention the fact that Serio’s “fierce critics” as Ms. Moos refers to them, are the focus of daily death threats, and threats of legal attack, or physical abuse–by not only Serio himself, but also the millions of followers he wields like a club in defense of his own actions. Neither article, while they question Serio’s practices, point out that he’s also a bully, who regularly threatens American citizens, along with citizens of other countries, when they disagree with him. Chloe’s article has already been inundated with BJWT followers criticizing her, threatening her, informing her of how wrong she is about BJWT, and defending both Serio, and BJWT.

Other stories, like this one put out today by Fox News offer nothing at all, even suggesting that keeping big cats as pets is a bad idea, aside from a one-liner at then end saying that they can’t endorse kissing a jaguar, but they do think you should check out the video.

Yes, by all means, check out that video of someone exploiting an animal, and share it.

Give the guy in the video more attention, and more reason to keep hoarding animals and calling it conservation. You’ve just secured the fate of countless more animals to captivity.

Animals like the most recent batch of cubs, most of whom were intentionally removed from their mothers for no reason–as Serio has admitted that the some of the mothers are owned by a friend and in no danger. Animals like “Arizona” the tiny tiger cub seen aspirating and nearly drowning in milk while being improperly fed in this video, which has since been deleted. Weeks after that video surfaced, and was subsequently deleted, Serio announced that Arizona is now having health issues, including “seizures” which he blames on “inbreeding”.

We’ll never know precisely what’s wrong with Arizona. However, aspiration pneumonia due to improper feeding techniques is considered one of the highest risks associated with hand raising captive big cat cubs, and it can cause seizure or tremors as well as dehydration.

According to Ron Hines, DMV PhD:

“The most serious problem that can occurs for an inexperienced caregivers (or a distracted or rushed experienced caregivers) is allowing the milk formula to enter the cub’s lungs rather than its stomach – the formula “goes down the wrong way”.
The most common cause of this is feeding infant cubs in the wrong position. Never cradle and feed these exotic cats on their back as you would a human infant. These animals must have their stomach side down (belly down) when they suckle. Later, when the cub is more developed and able to walk, it can sit back on its haunches or stand and take the bottle in its front paws like the one in the photograph at the top of this article.

The younger a cub is, the more likely this problem is to occur. That is why inexperienced caregivers are much safer if they take over the chore when cubs are already 4-6 weeks old. Let an experienced person get you started right.

Here are some other tips to help you prevent this problem:

Feed the baby in the proper position

Use nipples that are the right size and that do not leak or flow too easily. (Pull on the nipple to be sure it is well seated. Enthusiastic cubs will pull nipples right off the bottle and can swallow them.)

Never squeeze the bottle when the cub is nursing

Be sure you stop feeding the cub as soon as it no longer sucks vigorously and greedily. Do not punch too many holes or too large a hole in the rubber nipple. Milk should not drip or accumulate on the bottle when it is held nipple-down.

Milk should never come out a cub’s nose.

Once a cub has aspirated, there is very little a veterinarian like me can do to improve its chances of surviving.

Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia are labored breathing, irregular breathing, gasping, pale or bluish gums. Later, tremors and listlessness and death.”

From the AZA website relating to the hand rearing of cubs (which it counsels against doing, unless the cub’s life is at stake):

“When feeding young felids, they should be placed on their stomach on a flat surface (e.g., table). Cubs held in an upright or head back position during feeding are more prone to aspiration and death.”

 

And a recent article on Tublr by Big Cat Awareness which cites AZA standards for the hand feeding of big cat cubs and showcases the GFAS standards such as: 

“Humans do not enter enclosures with felids. Direct physical interaction is limited to protected forms of contact, by experienced personnel, to minimize the risk of injury.
No direct contact between the public and felids occurs.”

After seeing Arizona aspirate enough milk that she regurgitated it through her nose, none of us who have even the most remote experience with hand rearing felids (domestic, or captive wild) are surprised to hear that she is now having health problems. But BJWT fans seem incapable of linking the fact that Arizona was improperly fed, choked on milk, and subsequently aspirated it, with the fact that she’s now having seizures, which could well be directly caused by the aspiration of the milk. And with Serio blaming “inbreeding” for practically every health care issue he admits an animal has, no scientific information on the risks of his continued hand rearing is being offered to the public who adores him.

It does not help, that media outlets so often just merely brush against the larger topics within their stories, without ever *actually* taking a stand on the matter.

The “backstory” Ms. Moos did for CNN can be broken down to a few sentences:

Eduardo Serio has hundreds of cats who love to kiss him. He has supporters and critics. Lots of celebrities love him because they get to pet big cats. Kelli Heckman says it’s a bad idea, and GFAS says it’s the wrong message. He says he rescues them from circuses and breeders. We couldn’t speak to Serio for the story.

Where, in that article is an actual position on the matter? There isn’t one.

Now, before anyone can say that it’s not the news media’s place to say something is right or wrong, I understand that in this modern era, the “shell game” of responsibility is stronger than ever. But it wasn’t always that way. It used to be that when a news agency reported on something, it was with an intent on ferreting out the truth behind that story, be it a good truth, or a bad truth. And then they stood with the researched truth. Now, that’s not the case. The internet is comprised of “fluff” pieces that either circumnavigate connotations of “good” and “bad” entirely, or arrange a few partial facts and leave the public to sort them out.

Ms. Moos included footage of celebrity “supporters” of BJWT, and she including an “expert” from the GFAS stating that what Serio does is not real conservation. However, she either didn’t research enough to find, or chose to omit facts such as celebrities lashing out at those who try to inform them that they’re participating in bad pseudo-conservation

IMG_2654

IMG_2947

or the fact that Serio has publicly attacked and threatened to destroy groups, “fierce critics” in Ms. Moos’ words, who speak out against him:

IMG_2505

IMG_2506

And while Ms. Moos raised questions about where those animals came from, she did not mention the fact that Serio has admitted to buying directly from breeders, and private zoos, or that buying from breeders directly supports the captive breeding of big cats.

This leaves the news media in the very safe position of, well, not actually having a position.

I am grateful to Ms. Moos for having contacted the GFAS and gotten a comment from them. I’m grateful that she brought into question the fact that BJWT is not accredited by the GFAS, and the fact that no one knows where all of those cubs are coming from. I’m grateful that she brought into question the practice of handling big cats as if they’re pets, and allowing celebrities to pet them. If Ms. Moos has interest in seeing firsthand how BJWT followers react to anyone asking even the most minimal questions (something we deal with on a daily basis) here are some of the responses to her own CNN backstory:

IMG_2952

IMG_2953

IMG_2954.JPG

I particularly love the last one pictured wherein the commenter say Serio “doesn’t appreciate zoos”. Except for zoos bought by his friends, and from which he then takes more babies to hand raise so he can post more videos of himself playing with them. This is–in Serio’s own words–how some of the cubs he’s currently raising were secured. The first story he gave involved rescuing them from a zoo, and being unable to house the mothers of the cub. Later, however, Serio has admitted that one of his personal friends bought the zoo in question, which would indicate no great risk for the animals, and thus no real reason to remove them from their mothers.

Yes, Ms. Moos’s backstory is a start.

It is not, however, enough to even dent the ego and social media presence of someone who thrives off of being the center of attention on social media sites and in “fluff” pieces of news which only serve to promote him and his status. As of the writing of this article, the “cutesy, this is awesome” versions of the jaguar stalking video have spread around the world, being featured on news sites in Norway, Australia, Germany, Sweden, the UK, Serbia, Chile, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and nearly every state in the US. The video has been shared hundreds of thousands of times, if not millions. BJWT followers are hailing this as evidence of the spread of the “BJWT Nation” and a triumph for them.

A triumph for them.

Not the thousands of wild big cats slaughtered every year. Not the tens of thousands of big cats that languish in captivity. This media frenzy is not a “triumph” for any animal.

All of this attention goes strictly to one group. Eduardo Serio and his millions of worshipers. Which is exactly what Serio wants, and has always wanted. All of the attention on himself and his empire.

For those of us who actually care about animals, the fight against such horrendous misinformation as promoted in this article in the Irish Examiner, continues.

It bares saying that in this post:

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 5.15.01 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-30 at 5.15.22 PM

Serio threatens those speaking out in opposition of him, saying that he has “unlimited amounts of money” with which to sue us–from another country–until we’ve been destroyed, and that he’ll use those unlimited funds to get rid of us. Yet in the Irish Examiner article it clearly states that he’s “trying to raise money to expand the size of the sanctuary”.

Now, either he has “unlimited amounts of money” or he doesn’t. Either he’s lying about how much money he has that he intends to use to sue those of us who publicly disagree with him, or he’s lying about needing the money to expand the foundation, but you can’t have it both ways.

What sort to “daily abuse” that those like the I.C.A.R.U.S. Foundation deal with am I talking about?

Here’s an example of the rants we deal with, in which Serio rails against “Project Imbecile” for “trashing him” while blatantly lying about the “two women” who comprise “Project Imbecile” (check our articles yourself, we never said what he’s accusing us of saying) and erroneously associates “Project Imbecile” with big cat groups in Tampa. He goes on to say that he’s been accused of using the tiger, Achilles, seen in this video, for publicity, which he claims isn’t true. Despite that he’s making a video about Achilles on social media while talking about how he isn’t using Achilles for publicity.  Right after this section, Serio proclaims that the only real reason “Project Imbecile” hates him, is because he’s got 12k videos and photos posted on social media, and millions of followers, and we’re jealous.

Apparently, Serio bases expertise, and conservation on how many friends one has on social media, not what you actually do to aid conservation efforts. In Serio’s world, adding the hashtag #savetigers, or #savelions, or my favorite #notpets to videos of himself rolling around in his own bed with the aforementioned animals apparently somehow saves them, and shows people that they should never be treated as pets. I would link to the full length video, but I can’t find it. It’s either been deleted (something that happens often after a video has been posted) or it’s lost among the hundreds of videos posted since.

This is a vital point that Serio himself makes again and again, though.

He’s successful on social media and has millions of followers, and that is why he has “haters” who question his practices.

To Serio, it’s not about conservation of animals, about proper handling techniques, about captive big cats or about how they aren’t pets. It’s about the fact that he has millions of followers.

It’s about the fact that because he has millions of followers on social media sites, companies are willing to donate products, or services, to him, not because they care about the animals, but because they know that Serio’s followers will eagerly buy and support products that Serio uses and associates with, which will bring them a boost in sales, and money. It’s about the fact that for every one article that raises questions about BJWT, hundreds of ignorant articles are shared celebrating them, and erroneously likening the exploitation they use to a “special bond” never realizing that the animals featured have been hand reared and specifically selected just to be used in those videos. Articles like this one from Today, actually categorize the video and article under “pets” not conservation, something that is actually truthful.

Nothing BJWT does, aside from the ubiquitous hash tagging, has anything to do with conservation. It has to do with pets, and animal exploitation.

This is capitalism at its finest. We’re right back to kids buying Wheaties for no reason besides the fact that there is a celebrity they love on the box. Only in this case, the advertisement isn’t to become a star athlete. The message in this case, is to pet, coddle, play with and fawn over dangerous big cats as if they were pets. It’s to overlook the fact that by buying cubs from breeders, you’re supporting the breeding of captive big cats. It’s to be one of the “cool crowd” and play with big cats like celebrities do. It’s to exploit animals which do not belong in captivity, and would not be there except for people like Eduardo Serio who keeps them like pets, and promote the act of doing so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cyanide-fish-collection

Victims-of-cyanide-fishing

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

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

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

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

Don’t be a Darla.

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

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

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

The Greatest Griefs Are Those We Cause Ourselves

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

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

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

I am responsible for Harambre’s death.

So is my sister.

So are my parents.

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

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

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

humanzoo_story

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

musebrothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservationists must set an example for the public to follow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why The Word Sanctuary is Just a Word

The I.C.A.R.U.S. team has posted about the “sloth sanctuary of America” in Oregon and their questionable behavior and pseudo-sanctuary status. Now, it’s the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica’s turn to be put under the spotlight. It isn’t the first time that the Sloth Sanctuary has had questions raised, but it is the first time that two doctors of veterinary medicine have stepped forward to professionally denounce the “sanctuary” and its deplorable “behind the scenes” treatment of the sloths in its care.

Hopefully this exposure will help set changes in motion, though first it’s likely that any of us who dare to post the article or question the “sanctuary” will suffer attacks. After all, this is the first time the “sanctuary” or any of it’s associates (who are also not strangers to questionable behavior) have ever been publicly confronted with their failures and misrepresentation.

You can read the article on the Dodo here.

The Problem With Humans Thinking That They Know Best

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

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

13164473_10207299021212992_8736358767459553017_n

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

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

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

Unknown

This tragedy happened because a human interfered with  wildlife.

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

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

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

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

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

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

33D0928700000578-0-image-a-46_1462882565415

33D0943D00000578-0-image-a-71_1462884642662

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Sometimes Out of Sight is Better Than Out of the Area

Following yesterday’s post in regard to the preservation of all wild animals, not just the cute and cuddly ones, Artemis had the opportunity to aid yet another less-adorable animal neighbor, and decided to share the experience.

Living in the country snakes are as common as hay fields. There are venomous, and non-venomous varieties, and both are important to the ecosystem. While cohabitation with venomous snakes might be difficult, or in some cases, not possible, keeping non-venomous snakes around is as easy as just leaving them alone. At this time of year, snakes are just starting to come out and shed their winter skin and move about. Often they can be found sunning alongside roads, or footpaths. Unfortunately, many are killed by passing cars, intentionally, or by accident. Whenever possible, snakes should simply be left alone.

They help control rodent populations, and thus also help control diseases which can be carried by fleas and/or ticks. Wonder why bubonic plague doesn’t spread like wildfire across the continent? Thank a snake. Because the plague is still found in some areas, carried by fleas and spread via contact between small animals. Animals which serve as prey for the local snake population.

Sometimes, though, a snake might show up, or attempt to move into an area where cohabitation with it is not possible. It’s important to note that snakes will return to the place where they hatched in order to lay their own eggs. So if you’ve been having “snake problems” for a long time, it’s safe to presume that the snakes have been there for generations, and you’re the one technically intruding. But if it’s a matter of having a snake just passing through in early spring, or summer, relocating–temporarily, anyway–the unwanted visitor is possible.

If the snake is venomous, call an expert. DO NOT under any circumstances attempt to capture a venomous snake alive.* You’ll end up hurt, the snake will end up dead, and no one will be satisfied with the outcome. If you wish to have a venomous snake relocated, find a local removal agency to perform the task. Remember, the snake will try to return to its own territory, so completely removing it permanently means relocating it miles and miles away.

Now, if the snake is non-venomous, getting it out of sight it is a much simpler matter. Remember, though, you’re simply moving the snake somewhere where you don’t have to see it. The snake will still be sharing your space, and this is a good thing. Most people don’t like *seeing* snakes, but if they were completely eradicated, you would be overrun by small mammals like field mice or rats.

In Artemis’s case today, a small eastern black rat snake had decided to sun itself directly beside the screen door of a friend’s porch. This is not ideal for several reasons. 1) the friend is deathly afraid of any snake 2) the friend has a dog, which will kill snakes 3) if left there, the friend would prefer the snake dead

Thus, for the safety of the snake itself, Artemis moved it far away from the house (which is situated on 40 acres with plenty of “safe” space for a snake) where the owner did not have to see it, and the snake was protected from dog attack.

When people discuss moving snakes, often time visions of reality tv shows with snake handlers leaping wildly about, pouncing on their targets flash through everyone’s mind. The reality is often more like “bend over, gently pick snake up, walk to new location, set snake down”. Remember, this is in regard to non-venomous snakes. Non-venomous snakes are, despite how they’re often described, are not aggressive. Not if one does not act aggressively toward them. You have to understand that from the snake’s perspective you are a towering giant, a threat to their life, and if you act like you’re a threat, they will defend themselves. But they–unlike humans–don’t enter a situation will ill-intent or presumptive violence.

Snakes do not like to be restrained, or dangled. Their first reaction when gently lifted is to coil around the object holding them, just as they would a tree branch. Do no attempt to control them, just allow them to hold on to you the only way they can. Move slowly, and calmly. If the snake tries to slither away, simply use your hands to collect it again. This is why using your hands is preferable to scooping a snake up with a shovel or, other artificial tool. If you are not an expert with a snake hook, you can kill or damaged them easily. Once you have the snake, simply walk to a new location, and then lower it to the ground. The snake will immediately vacate you for its natural location. Remember, you’re just moving it to where it can’t be seen, not taking it away.

IMG_2613

Notice in these photos that Artemis is not actually restraining the snake, but simply allowing it to use her as a “tree branch”.

IMG_2617

Here the snake has moved forward, again, without restraint.

Handling wild animals is not ideal. They are not pets, even when they docilely allow you to handle them. Handling them should be done as a last resort only, in situations wherein the only other option is killing the animal.

However, in the case  of non-venomous snakes, picking them up and moving them is preferable to trying to “chase” or “herd” them away. If you attempt to “shoo” a snake with a broom or stick, the snake will coil up defensively and attempt to bluff you into leaving it alone. This is because once it extends its body to slither away, it is vulnerable, and exposing its long back, providing the perfect opportunity for a predator to kill it. Thus, you’ll just find yourself in a standoff–in which the snake will not “run away” and will eventually try to bite you. Poking a snake with sticks can badly injure it, as can trying to grab it and pin it in an unyielding grip.

By removing the snake without terrorizing it, the snake will be gone from sight without conflict. However, it’s important to reiterate again, that you are sharing the world with these animals, and by moving them, you are making yourself more comfortable while also allowing the snakes to live naturally.

Here is a video of the same snake once Artemis released it. When she attempted to expedite the snake’s departure, it responded by coiling up, and mimicking a rattlesnake by vibrating its tail against dry leaves. This bluff is the only defense a non-venomous snake possesses. The next step would be to bite. While their bites can break the skin, they posses only ridges inside their jaws, which aside from possible infection, will not do anything to protect them.

Snakes–even venomous ones–are a vital part of the environment, and it’s important to do everything we can to exist alongside them peacefully. So the next time you have the chance to move a non-venomous somewhere out of sight, rather than out of area, do so gently. The world will thank you for it.

 

* If you are unsure whether the snake you see is venomous or non-venomous, it’s always best to leave the snake alone.

All Wild Animals, Not Just The Cute And Cuddly Ones

While I.C.A.R.U.S. spends a great deal of time discussing animals tha most people would consider “cute” and “beautiful” or else wise attractive, we are just as defensive and protective of the less lovable members of the animal and floral kingdoms. Fisher spiders, for example, are not what most people want to see first thing in the morning. But spiders in general are invaluable to the environment and its deepest workings. If we were to eradicate spiders, the earth would suffer irrevocable damage. Not to mention how many other insects we’d find ourselves dealing with.

Thus, when I.C.A.R.U.S. member, Artemis discovered that a fisher spider had made a home for itself in an outdoor structure on her property, she welcomed the not-so-small neighbor.

Here is another, slightly smaller, wolf spider (wolf spiders and fisher spiders are often viewed interchangeably, though the two differ scientifically) that Artemis found while mowing. This one has an egg sack with her.

FullSizeRender-3

Even though it meant occasionally opening a door and walking directly beneath aforementioned neighbor. Artemis’s mother was not as welcoming, but the fisher spider was left alone. It gobbled up insects drawn in by the light of a white light heat lamp that was in use, including mosquitoes, which can transmit the Zika virus.

After a week of cohabitation, the fisher spider, this morning, was caught in an amazing and rarely seen (by civilians in daily life, anyway) in the natural world. The shedding of its skin. Like snakes, many spider species shed their skin as they grow. They are incredibly vulnerable during this process, and thus seek out a place of safety. Artemis’s allowance of the spider to share her space provided it just such a “safe zone”.

Check out the video here!

The spider will hang for some time, allowing its new exoskeleton to harden before returning to its position of insect patrol.

Here are some still shots of the shedding.

FullSizeRender-4

IMG_2607

Remember, in this world of “cute and cuddly” cubs and baby big cats, it’s the considerably less attractive and lovable animals that keep our planet turning, growing and sustaining. So consider giving them a little love by way of just letting them live. Even when it means sharing your space with them. Because every wild animal is important, not just the cute and cuddly ones.

Media Misnomer: How Anti-Intellectualism And Misinformation Is Allowing Animal Exploiters to Get The Public On Their Side

Someone tagged me in a shared Facebook post a few weeks ago, about how Anti-Intellectualism was on the rise. It was a very relevant article, and was subsequently followed by several more on the subject. If you’re not familiar with the term “anti-intellectualism” the definition of anti-intellectual is:

-a person opposed to or hostile toward intellectuals and the modern academic, artistic, social, religious, and other theories associated with them.
-a person who believes that intellect and reason are less important than actions and emotions in solving practical problems and understanding reality.

While these articles do not specifically refer to conservation, or captive wild animals, what they say about our society in general is shockingly accurate. In today’s world dominated by social media, people become famous simply because they are rich, and are subsequently given both absolute authority and broad expertise by the masses who adore them. In truth, these people might know nothing about that of which they are speaking, yet their statements, or actions are instantly accepted by their admirers as legitimate facts, made so by nothing more than their position as celebrities. Any naysayers are often viewed as “jealous” or “resentful” of the wealth and position of the celebrity, rather than as having a different, and possibly more educated understanding of the situation.

No one wants to hear a Debbie Downer disagreeing with the Hot and Fabulous celebrity. No one wants to hear that their idols might not actually know what they’re talking about. No one wants to be told that the “cool club” might be totally wrong. All of these things make people feel awkward. And no one wants to feel awkward.

The result is that people no longer want to be intelligent, they want to be comfortable.

Aside from the fact that the public en masse is more concerned with feeling good than facing facts, there is a certain theme of self-fulfilling prophecy with celebrity expertise. If one of your fellow celebrities makes a very public statement supporting something, you, as a celebrity yourself, aren’t likely to cut their legs out from under them and contradict that public support. If you do, you’ll look like an asshole, and other celebrities will remember what you did. It doesn’t matter what kind of celebrity is involved, actor, actress, musician, or one of those “famous just because they’re rich and famous” sorts, that virtually unbroken taboo of “thou shalt not speak out against a contemporary” remains.

The combination of society’s current preference of anti-intellectualism, and abstinence of celebrities in regard to publicly countering each other creates a prime seeding ground for misinformation, usually spread through social media.

A perfect example of this phenomenon is the recent announcement that Ringling Bros. will be “retiring” all of their elephants. The news has spread like wildfire, often with headlines like “Ringling Bros. Elephants Settle Into Retirement”. The problem with articles like this, is that they fixate on the term “retire” which brings to mind old folks taking off across the country in Winnebagos to go sightseeing. The reality is a cramped breeding facility where during a past “court-ordered inspection of the CEC, an independent elephant-care specialist observed that elephants spent so much time chained that they had worn grooves into the concrete.”

These elephants are not being “retired” to spend their remaining days in “relaxation”. They’re being taken out of the public eye and introduced into a breeding facility where they will continue to work and make money for Ringling Bros by repeatedly producing offspring which will be sold to zoos and “educational parks” all over the country. There is, as of yet, no instance–not one single instance–in which an American captive bred Asian elephant has been transported to another country and released into the wild in their natural habitat. There is literally no precedent for it. Yet this is one of the things that Ringling Bros alludes to being involved with when they describe how “retiring” their elephants will “allow us to focus on our conservation efforts and really boost our breeding program to ensure that these guys are around for many, many generations.”

What Ringling Bros means is that they’re going to make sure that Asian elephants are “around for many, many generations” in a cage, zoo, or other form of captivity. But what they lead the public to think is that their captive breeding will somehow cure the conservation crisis of wild Asian elephants. And tragically, few seem to be looking any farther than the bold cheerful headlines containing the word “retirement”. I’ve been tagged about a dozen times thus far by well-meaning folks who want me to see the “success” of “freeing the elephants” and none of the articles I was tagged with mentioned the lingering questions of animal abuse, the accusations of mistreatment, or the unexplained deaths.

4285640

Gone is any recollection of the numerous incidents and documented cases of abuse committed by Ringling Bros against its animals, elephant and otherwise. Out of mind, are the eye witness accounts of brutal treatment, and deaths. And forgotten is the fact that this “retirement” facility has the highest rate of tuberculosis of any elephant housing unit in the country. All the public looks at now, is the word “retirement” and they cheer about the “step forward” in the treatment of animals. They take the statement of a liar at face value and feel good about it. Meanwhile, the elephants they’re cheering for are facing a life of confinement, chained in cement shed rows, forced to produce offspring which will be taken from them at birth to be sold to other establishments. Presuming that tuberculosis, arthritis, or foot disease doesn’t kill them off quickly.

5773.Lota_5F00_465

The only reason misinformation like this works, is because people choose to embrace it, rather than question it. Many times, the facts are only thinly veiled. Sometimes, they’re sitting right before readers’ eyes alongside the misinformation.

In cases like the Ringling Bros decision to “retire” its elephants, it’s a matter of the public simply seeing and hearing what it wants to see and hear. They want elephants out of the circus, and Ringling Bros says it’s going to “retire” them to a posh 200 acre “sanctuary”. So the public is choosing to believe that a known for-profit animal exploiter and abuser is going to suddenly give up all its profit and essentially hemorrhage money for decades just to allow animals who once made it huge amounts of revenue to do nothing but enjoy life.

In cases wherein celebrities are making public statements, and have vast numbers of fans hero-worshipping them, the reasons behind choosing comfort over reality are often less idealistic.

The vector for the recent very public and painfully immature social media attack against groups like I.C.A.R.U.S. was nothing more than misinformation at its finest. Amidst a childish (to put it kindly) tantrum it was asserted by one of the pseudo-sanctuaries we have discussed more than once, that they were, in fact, a sanctuary, and that anyone who said they were not a sanctuary had lied, and that if those undisclosed groups did not remove their statements from their websites they would be facing “the biggest lawsuit ever”. The accompanying photograph supposedly proved that the facility in question was a “sanctuary”. It was in Spanish, with no translation offered, but the word “santuario” was tantalizingly obvious even to non-Spanish speakers.

Supporters of this pseudo-sanctuary went to war on social media forums, stirred to a frenzy by their self-designed idol-like leader. Death threats were issued by the dozens, names of “haters” plastered across the Instagram account of the pseudo-sanctuary, anyone who ever asked a question, or suggested that they did not support the group in question was thrown into the pit for savaging. Even before any of the groups who had been not-really-called-out-but-threatened-with-lawsuits could discern if they were, in fact, one of the groups being threatened, the crazed followers of the pseudo-sanctuary had sought out anyone they perceived to be a “hater” and begun showering them with explicit language, threats of bodily harm, legal action, and all manner of other attacks.

What ensued was a mixture of calm retreat–the primary theoretical targets of the original threat darkened our sites, conferred with lawyers, and were unsurprised to confirm that we had never done anything wrong–and defensive reactions–secondary groups who agree with our journalism fought back, against the fans of the pseudo-sanctuary, giving their attackers as good at they got on social media.

The irony of all of it, was that the “proof” which was offered in regard to the pseudo-sanctuary being a “real” sanctuary was 1) Not proof of anything aside from a zoo/for public entertainment facility being registered under a name that includes the word “sanctuary” in it and 2) Off point entirely, at least as far as I.C.A.R.U.S. is concerned, because we use the GFAS as our standard, and as of today, the pseudo-sanctuary is still not accredited by the GFAS, which is all we have ever asserted about it as far as its status as a “sanctuary” goes.

Nowhere is society’s current fixation on anti-intellectualism more evident that in the some 2,300 comments on the original post where the threat of lawsuit was made. Despite that the attached photograph (which can easily be translated and researched) contains nothing stating that the facility is a sanctuary–does not even contain the word “sanctuary” in it at all, aside from the name of the facility–commenters obsessively refer to the “ignorance” of those speaking out against the pseudo-sanctuary. Along with the ubiquitous “haters gonna hate” (and more suggestions that anyone like I.C.A.R.U.S. be killed, or destroyed, or shut up for good) “stupid people” “they are jealous” “full of crap” “make up stories” “disgusting information” “idiots” and “shit ton of nonsense” are some examples of what fans of the pseudo-sanctuary have said in regard to anyone who does not agree with their idol.

Perversely enough, the document offered to prove us “wrong”–the one fans are so aggressively defending–actually proves that the facility they’re supporting is not a sanctuary as defined by the GFAS.

The document says directly in its text that the facility with the word “sanctuary” in its title is registered as a zoological park or public entertainment facility. Careful research into the various numerals and citations within the document reveal nothing but references to guidelines such as the fact that animals maintained by such facilities should receive certain rights, that “breeding should be managed” in a manner that is sustainable (but this facility repeatedly insists it doesn’t breed, so that makes one wonder why a specific Article in regard to breeding has been cited…) and that the “exhibition of live wildlife must be done” in a way so as to “prevent” “stress, suffering, trauma” etc. (which, if you follow the sanctuary, you’ll know this is questionably adhered to, at best) and so on and so forth. Again, no use of the word “sanctuary” anywhere in the document aside form the facility’s name. At the bottom of the photo is indication that it is either the second page of two, or that there is a second page following it, but that missing page remains, well, missing, so we have no way to know what it contains.

What we do know, is that the provided page does not, in any way shape or form, declare this facility to be anything but a “zoological park or public entertainment facility”.

Again, this is a textbook example of how those in a position to do so manipulate the media in order to use misinformation and their own followers’ preference for anti-intellectualism to throw facts out the window in favor of “feel good” popularity. Often at the expense of the animals in their care. Those of us who use even the simplest of tools in order to educate ourselves in depth about these situations are left high and dry on an intellectual rock, unable to grasp why no one else can see the obvious facts. I often feel like Hogarth in The Iron Giant as he rambles about bullies beating him up for “being too smart” when they’re every bit as smart as he is, they just refuse to do their homework.

 

gujrols0p78vw

 

Please, for the sake of the animals, do your homework. The truth is not always comfortable or fun, but it’s all that matters in the end. If you’re truly interested in supporting conservation,

Conservation: the action of conserving something, in particular.
◦ preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife.

then please check out this list of GFAS accredited sanctuaries, whose primary goal is to create a  world where no sanctuaries are needed because the animals are preserved in their natural habitats. Also see this list of some of the best conservation groups out there. The word conservation is another favorite often used to lend a group weight and pedigree, but it’s not something that can be taken at face value without further research. If all you can find in regard to a group’s “conservation” activities is where it “donated” money to other groups (many times groups which are actually owned by the same entity that owns the primary organization) or forums where the group discusses conservation, but has no evidence it has ever actually participated in wild conservation actively, chances are, it’s just using the word to sound more legitimate.

Ignorance is a choice. Choose intelligence instead, and help I.C.A.R.U.S. and groups like us defend the animals of the world, both wild, and captive wild.

Author: Artemis Grey