Mexico’s Harbinger of Stewardship, LIBERO Santuario Silvestre

In my last article, I discussed the disturbing trend within Mexico of “self styled” foundations which utilize social media, flashy photos, and carefully structured facades of scientific importance in order to create a false presence in circles of conservation. These groups, when one looks deeper than their social media personas and self-serving rhetoric, often have little real life experience in the fields in which they claim to be leading authorities. This is something that is usually, and to the detriment of the animals in their care, overlooked or misunderstood by devoted followers and by the public in general. It’s also a driving factor behind the actuality that these well known foundations are simply new age versions of the same old exploitation that’s existed in Mexico (as well as other places throughout the world) for thousands of years.

Part of what the I.C.A.R.U.S. Foundation does is to develop a global network of conservation organizations working together to protect and care for animals, through the creation of new international laws, as well as the enforcement of existing laws. A functioning network of institutes and sanctuaries who can rely on each other for support and the spread of awareness is vital in order to have a beneficial impact on animals and the environment worldwide. Thus, institutions which by design focus entirely on what they do, and the animals they possess and/or take in, and how popular they are, and which imply that they know more, and are better at handling situations than any other organization in existence, (some of which have been around for decades) do not, in fact, benefit animals or the environment beyond the limited scope of their own walls.

Only by working together, toward the same collective goals, rather than toward personal gain and popularity, can sanctuaries and foundations worldwide succeed in giving back at least a small portion of the planet to the animals which are being systematically eradicated from its surface. So what a foundation or sanctuary does outside the gaze of the public eye is just as important as what they do when people are watching. If you are willing to cut corners, endanger both humans and animals, threaten other groups, verbally abuse other humans, lie, and so on and so forth when everyone can witness it, then what are you willing to do to the voiceless animals behind the scenes when no one is watching?

One of my favorite quotes, which is extremely relevant to the current trends of shady foundations and exploitation of captive wild animals in Mexico, comes from Thomas Babington Macaulay.

“The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.”

In this case, the character in question happens to be a woman.

Her name is Maria Garcia Dominguez, and she is the founder of LIBERO Santuario Silvestre.

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Truly the first of its kind, LIBERO is a foundation that, when distilled down to its most fundamental constructs, is a sanctuary in every sense of the term. LIBERO is a an institute that will always do what’s right for the animals, even if no other human is there to witness their actions.

Numerous social media-based groups–like Black Jaguar White Tiger–gratuitously tout the word “sanctuary” without understanding the profoundly hallowed etymology behind it, and without grasping the restraint and sacrifices required to embody that which it represents. In contrast to ubiquitous “social-media foundations”, you will not see LIBERO posting a plethora of vapid updates on their website, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook page multiple times a day, every day of the week. You will not see LIBERO showcasing photographs of cubs being cuddled and played with or celebrity guests bottle feeding them incorrectly, or of foundation workers running around being chased by captive big cats. In fact, you might not have even heard of LIBERO until reading about them in this article.

This is because LIBERO is focused on saving animals, caring for animals, protecting animals, studying them, and rehabilitating them.

They are dedicated to the animals not to social media attention and public popularity.

LIBERO does not participate in conservation in order to gain any sort of recognition. They’re not in it for any sort of admiration. They’re not even in it with a presumption of ever receiving simple gratitude.

LIBERO acts solely in the best interests of and on behalf of the animals they aid.

They have done so, in an individual manner, through the prior works of those who now comprise the human skeleton of the sanctuary since before they ever came together under the guidance of Maria and subsequently formed LIBERO. And they continue to work for, care for, protect, defend, heal, nurture, and exist entirely for the animals with whom they come into contact.

For LIBERO, social media is a tool for education and outreach, not a platform on which to build a celebrity status or cult following.

And that is exactly how a sanctuary should function.

I first discovered LIBERO through my research into sanctuaries within Mexico, or, more accurately, my research into the lack of sanctuaries and the lack of legal outlines and standards for sanctuaries within Mexico. After suffering more than one disappointment and false lead, I feared the worst when I first clicked on the link leading to the LIBERO website. You can check it out here. Maria has even made sure there’s an English option for those of us who aren’t fluent in Spanish. A margin of my wariness faded at just the mere sight of LIBERO’s homepage. Understated and elegant, lacking any pretension or declarations of being the best thing since sliced bread, or other ridiculous claims of intelligence so superior to anyone else that people who don’t agree with them are just too stupid to “get them” and their ideologies.

LIBERO’s site is easy to navigate (not every page is translated, but Google Chrome can do it for you) informative and detailed, captivating for those who already have an in-depth understanding of conservational issues, but also extremely accessible and educational for those who are just learning about conservation. That accessibility and assemblage of information is intentional. Education is something which Maria and her team believe is vital to changing the way in which residents of Mexico (and the world) perceive captive wild animals, and the environmental and conservational issues relating to them.

LIBERO subscribes to the principles of “One Health” which is a concept that dates from the mid 1800s and was far ahead of its time when it was first outlined and described by its creator, Rudolf Virchow. Of his own beliefs Virchow said:

“Between animal and human medicine there is no dividing line–nor should there be. The object is different but the experience obtained constitutes the basis of all medicine.”

I want to stress that the principle of One Health is not the belief that animals should be treated as if they were humans wearing fur, much like Eduardo Serio of Black Jaguar White Tiger treats his big cats, or, as he calls them, his “kids”. Followers of the One Health principles believe that animals are equal to humans in importance, emotional depth, and intelligence, but they do not support the anthropomorphizing of animals. Rather, One Health is the concept that the health of animals, the health of humans, and the viability of ecosystems are inextricably linked. This means keeping animals in their wild habitats, as active participants within the ecosystem, rather than living in peoples’ homes as pets.

Along with a sound system of principles, LIBERO has a dedicated team of professionals and specialists including doctors, engineers, lawyers, and more. You can read their individuate biographies here. Unlike the unseen, or vaguely referenced “experts” of other foundations, LIBERO’s team is forthright with their names, credentials and backgrounds. Likewise, LIBERO is dedicated honesty and transparency in all matters. You can research their financial information on their transparency page, here.

Maria herself has a career within conservation that spans more than a decade. She has worked with groups like The Humane Society International (HSI) World Animal Protection (WAP) and has collaborated on specific cases with Animal Defenders International (ADI) and In Defense of Animals (IDA), among other things. Up until 2013, Maria was a representative in Mexico for The Wild Animal Sanctuary, and was the national coordinators of rescues.

LIBERO is poised to be the harbinger of conservation stewardship in a country where captive wild or exotic animals can be more easily attained than clean drinking water. But unlike fallacious, media-driven institutes such as BJWT and the newly formed JITW, LIBERO does not yet have a fan base of millions to support them. Their refusal to exploit animals via attention grabbing videos, or for heartrending pleas for monetary support means that LIBERO cannot simply start slapping up “cutesy” incentives for people to give them money. They do not have the funds to offer “rewards” for donating to them, or, to start their own clothing line, or to offer, as with some of the foundations I’ve mentioned, “visitation rights” to those who donate larger sums of money. And as LIBERO embodies the very opposite of the exploitation so readily embraced by these well-known foundations, they cannot rely on any support from those institutes. Rather, they face competition from them, for if LIBERO is successful in changing the face of conservation, as they plan to, LIBERO will, in effect, make such exploitive foundations entirely obsolete.

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I have been in contact with Maria, and will be doing an interview article with her at a later date, and I look forward to writing other articles about LIBERO in the future.

As of the writing of this article, Maria was exploring the possibilities of seeking a stipend or other funding from the Mexican government. Supporting LIBERO would be an immense opportunity for current government factions like SEMARNAT and PROFEPA to both acknowledge the deep-seated problems occurring within their country, and to take a step toward the reform so desperately needed in order to begin assuaging the plight of captive wild animals all across Mexico. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, one of the greatest difficulties in seizing and/or rescuing captive wild animals from abuse, neglect, or exploitation in Mexico is the lack of appropriate institutes in which PROFEPA or SEMARNAT can then place animals that were removed from dysfunctional situations. LIBERO can, with monetary aid from government, expand and become the depository for confiscated animals, assuring that they will not be placed in yet another situation of exploitation, like the animals given over to BJWT.

To rescue an animal from one situation of exploitation, and place it directly into another situation of exploitation does not actually address the fact that the animal is being exploited, nor does it do anything to change the public mindset that having cubs run around a private home is somehow beneficial to the cubs and supportive of conservation. Maria and her staff understand that you cannot teach people that exploitation is damaging is by using exploitation as the basis for the lesson.

To this end, LIBERO intends to develop a facility where rescued animals will be housed within the freedom of individual habitats, liberated from human influence, and studied unobtrusively in order to better understand the complications for captive animal husbandry. Any animals which are deemed viable for rehabilitation and release will be appropriately cared for with the most minimal human involvement as possible, and their release will subsequently be orchestrated. Knowledge gained from such rehabilitations and releases will be funneled directly back into LIBERO and used within their educational outreach, furthering the cause of changing minds and perspectives.

Government funding could go a long way in getting LIBERO completely off the ground and flying. Now, more than ever before, Mexico needs a genuine sanctuary. Mexico’s animals need a genuine sanctuary. The question is, do SEMARNAT and PROFEPA–the very agencies charged with overseeing the welfare of wild, and captive wild animals within the country of Mexico–understand just how desperately those animals need a sanctuary like LIBERO? And even more importantly, will SEMARNAT and PROFEPA admit, by helping LIBERO to secure government aid, that it’s finally time for a change in how captive wild animals are perceived and treated in Mexico?

Only time will tell. But for now, I implore you. Follow the links within this article, or posted below, and discover Maria’s LIBERO Santuario Silvestre for yourself. Then share the information and encourage others to share and follow them. Mexico needs a true wild animal sanctuary, and LIBERO needs you to support them so that they can be the wild animal sanctuary that the animals of Mexico need.

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LIBERO Santuario Silvestre

LIBERO Instagram

LIBERO Facebook

LIBERO Twitter

Author: Artemis Grey

Reflections of Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But back to the current flooding crisis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“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

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.

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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.

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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:

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

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

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

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This tragedy happened because a human interfered with  wildlife.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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

Unicorns Do Exist, And Other Unpopular Truths

Unicorns exist, and I’ve done the research needed to say it’s true. The very name Monodon monoceros is derived from the Greek “one-tooth, one-horn”. Many ancient sea charts depict narwhals and some even refer to them as “sea-unicornes”. The narwhal’s horn was historically cherished and highly valued, often considered magical. Narwhal horns supposedly had the power to cure any disease, as well as neutralize poisons and bestow wisdom upon any who drank from vessels created from them. These facts, when viewed objectively clearly show that the unicorn many people think of today, is really just a bastardization of the narwhal itself. There are even historical references to the fact that the species might have evolved to exist both on land and in the sea. So, the truth is, narwhals are living unicorns.

Now, you don’t have to agree with me on the matter of unicorns existing. You don’t have to subscribe to that truth. We are still, predominantly, living in a free world, so you can choose not to agree or believe that unicorns exist.

However, choosing not to subscribe to someone else’s position on a matter does not mean that the truths they’ve presented are somehow untrue. You don’t get to decide someone is lying simply because you don’t like the idea which their facts support. Belief is up for grabs, but facts that have been presented don’t suddenly become not-facts. You can dispute them, if you really want to, but you can’t change the fact that they are facts.

For example:

Fact 1) Narwhals (Monodon monoceros) are currently swimming in the oceans.

Fact 2) The scientific name, Monodon monoceros is derived from the Greek “one-tooth one-horn”.

Fact 3) Many medieval manuscripts and medieval sea charts refer to, or illustrate the narwhal as being an animal of the ocean, sometimes referred to as a “sea-unicorne” and narwhal horns were considered to be magical and often sold to be used in the prevention of poisons, to heal, etc.

You can laugh and say that narwhals are not unicorns or you can agree with my position that narwhals are unicorns.

What you cannot do, is say that the facts I’ve presented are not scientifically accepted facts, and that I’m lying and not telling the truth.

You don’t get to just dismiss a truth because you don’t agree with it. You can extrapolate your own truth as derived from presented facts, but you don’t have the power to negate reality just because you don’t like how it’s being presented. That’s not how the world works. If it was, then simply naming your kid John Mark Millionaire Smith would somehow actually make him a millionaire. Don’t get me wrong, it’d be nice, but that’s not how it works.

The ICARUS team is, and always has been, concerned with facts. With gathering those facts and then presenting them, and the way they tangibly affect conservation, along with the wild animals of the world, and the captive wild animals of the world. In the matter of captive wild animals, we adhere to a strict set of guidelines as outlined by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, in dictating our definition of a sanctuary. We’ve made this position explicitly clear in even our early posts, and we’ve consistently backed up that position with facts and research.

Obviously not everyone will agree with our position and our truths. That’s fine. However, our position and truths have been built on facts, and as such, they can’t be obliterated simply by hating our position and our members because we publicly present that position.

Similarly, in the cases where confirmable facts could not be secured even through dedicated research, we have made the absence of those important facts a focal point. Sometimes the absence of securable facts is as evidentiary as facts which can be cross-referenced multiple times. In cases where more questions than answers were found in our research, we have left the interpretation of the truth up to our readers, stating that for whatever reason, we could not find reliable facts, and thus we could never know the truth about whatever subject was being discussed.

Again, the fact that we sometimes present questions we cannot answer–and clearly state that we cannot answer them due to lack of attainable and confirmable facts–is not a lie. You literally cannot be lying about something if you simply present questions you have and then state that you can’t answer those questions because you are lacking–for whatever reason–verifiable facts. All you are doing at that point is raising questions, something that occurs in journalism all the time. Engaging the public and encouraging them to think on their own and ask questions is what conservation journalism is all about.

The ICARUS team began as an idea, and it has grown into an establishment. We’ve held our first International Summit, and we are gaining members across the globe every day. We hope that our readers will continue with us on our journey into a world where eventually there will be no captive wild animals, but instead only wild animals in the wild, where they belong, permanently protected from human interference and encroachment.

The ICARUS Team

Accountability Is Our Responsibility

The law is supposed to matter. It’s supposed to represent guidelines. That’s the entire purpose behind why laws were ever created in the first place. Laws are supposed to mean something. Far too often, however, laws are negated, emasculated, by loopholes, privilege, or the almighty dollar. Everyone, everywhere, has experienced the sensation of powerlessness and abandonment created when someone who has broken laws, hurt others, and sometimes literally gotten away with murder, walks off into the sunset without so much as a slap on the wrist, often with ill-gotten gains lining their pockets.

We all know what it feels like to watch injustice unfold.

So, Why do we let it happen?

I don’t mean why do we “let” the court system fail us. We can’t control the courts (not even from a position in the jury) so it’s literally impossible for us to stop injustice insomuch as it’s permitted by the courts in their lackluster support of existing laws.

We can, however, hold those who commit injustices accountable in the courts of public opinion.

It is our job to never forget what the courts failed to acknowledge. And it is our job to do whatever is required to make known the atrocities, abuses, and horrors that have been committed and subsequently ignored by our government, or any other government.

Yesterday, it was announced that Theo Bronhurst, the hunter and tracker who led dentist Walter Palmer on the infamous hunt which resulted in the illegal death of Cecil the Lion, was acquitted of smuggling 29 sables without paperwork. This after Bronhurst was caught redhanded with the 29 un-papered sables. His trial was repeatedly postponed, and he attempted to bribe a dismissal of the charges entirely. After all that, when he did go to trial, the judge acquitted him of all wrongdoing.

Bronhurst’s acquittal is only the most recent, and most public of case dismissals, or instances wherein grievous offenses of animal abuse are completely disregarded by courts, even when there are laws which could be enforced. In the matter of domestic animals, a Texas veterinarian, Kristen Lindsey is currently fighting to keep her license after shooting a neighbor’s pet cat in the head with a bow and arrow. Arguing–despite evidence of the contrary–that the cat was “feral” Lindsey says that she did nothing wrong. And the American court system agreed by proxy when the District Attorney chose not to indict Lindsey on charges of animal cruelty. Now, cat lovers everywhere wait to see if the Texas Board of Veterinary Medicine will agree that shooting a domestic cat in the head with an arrow is acceptable behavior for a licensed small animal vet.

In the world of captive exotic animal abuse, the list of those guilty of abuse, and those who still own and exploit captive exotic animals, are largely one and the same. Wherever you find a history of animal abuse accusations, fines, court cases, and acquittals, you will invariably also find someone who operates under more than one name or titles, who has owned or operated more than one business or “sanctuary”, who still maintains a pseudo-sanctuary, someone who still allows direct interactions between captive exotic animals, and someone who is still exploiting captive exotic animals in exchange for money. These abusers undoubtedly also still claim to be acting in the name of conservation.

But their own irrefutable histories reveal the truth.

I am going to list just a few of these repeat offenders, many of whom are still lauded by the public as excellent sources for “learning about exotic animals”.*

Joe Schreibvogel Maldonado

Has operated under the names:

Joe Exotic
Joseph Maldonado
Aarron Alex
Cody Ryan.

Has run businesses including but not limited to:

5 Continent Productions
Garold Wayne Interactive Zoo
G.W. Exotic Animal Park
G.W. Exotic Memorial Animal Foundation
G.W. Exotic Memorial Animal Park
Alex Productions
Awakening Productions
Awakening Rescue
Big Cat Rescue Entertainment Group
Corley’s Exotics
Mystical Magic of the Endangered
Tigers in Need
Welch’s Entertainment Group
Welch’s Tiger Experience
Welch’s Great Cat Adventure
World Magic

Joe Schreibvogel Maldonado owns 1500 exotic animals, including more than 150 tigers on just 16 acres of land. Current USDA regulations allow an adult tiger to be kept in a cage smaller than an average parking spot. Think about that. A 700 tiger contained–permanently for its lifetime–in an area the size of your car. A large portion of Joe’s income is derived from constant breeding of cubs, which are used in cub-petting scenarios, hauled across the country to shopping malls and other venues. When the cubs are too old to be handled, they’re “donated” or sold or retired to his own breeding group, where they’re used to perpetuate the abusive situation. Over the last decade, Joe Exotic has been cited repeatedly by the USDA, and is currently under investigation by the USDA in relation to the deaths of 23 individual cubs between April 2009 and May 2010. PETA has also investigated Joe.
Mahamayavia Bhagavan Antle

Has operated under the names:

Keven Antle
Dr. Bhagavan Antle
Doc Antle

Has run businesses including but not limited to:

Buckingham Zoological Park (VA)
T.I.G.E.R.S. Wildlife Park (Sevier TN)
T.I.G.E.R.S. (with two separate “public education” exhibits in Myrtle Beach SC)
R.S.F. (Rare Species Fund, Myrtle Beach SC)
Wild Encounters (Miami Beach FL)
Jungle Island (kept tigers at this institute)
“The Tale Of The Tiger” (yearly production, Boston MA)

“Doc” Antle has been breeding, exploiting and abusing captive exotic animals since the 1980s. He first opened, and then inexplicably abandoned a “zoological park” in Virginia. Officials found animals trapped in enclosures and left to fend for themselves. Just a year or two later, Antle made headlines when he allowed a model in NH to pose with one of his lions at a local fair. The lion subsequently bit the model on the head and face. Antle fled the state, taking the lion with him, while the model was in the hospital, leaving her to receive 70 stitches and rabies vaccines. Antle’s taste for mixing sexy models with captive big cats has persisted, however, and to this day T.I.G.E.R.S. features scantily clad women feeding adult tiger, lions, and ligers from baby bottles. Cub are continually bred in a production-line format, taken from their mothers immediately, and transferred to one of his two Myrtle beach sites. They are then used exclusively for “educating the public” which in Antle’s case, means being used as photography props. The cubs are also taken on the road to a variety of fairs and exhibits where they hare handled by hundreds of paying customers a day. All in the name of “education”. In addition, Antle breeds unnatural crosses between lions and tigers, and uses these “ligers” to draw in crowds, misleading the public to think that these crossbred animals are “rare” species. He touts his Rare Species Fund as a fund where the public can donate money which is then used to support wild conservation. However, the IRS has no record of such a nonprofit, nor is there any such entity under Antle’s name registered in the state of SC. Antle also claims to work closely with the Feline Conservation Federation. However, this is simply a private group which advocates for private ownership of exotic animals, and has nothing to do with actual conservation.
Bill Meadows

As operated under the names:

Bill Meadows

Has operated businesses named:

Tuttle’s Interactive Exotic Zoological Park, Tiger Safari

Just like the others, Bill Meadows has a laundry list of USDA violations against him and his park. At least one undercover investigation has shown proof of animal starvation and abuse, and multiple animals have died under Meadows’ ownership. He has received a multitude of warnings, each resulting in just enough compliance that farther charges are dropped. In at least once case, when Meadows was unable to properly house an animal, Joe Exotic traveled from his own zoo to take custody of the animal while Meadows fixed the enclosure. At that time, Joe Exotic himself was under investigation by the USDA for violations of his own.
Joe Exotic continues to operate his various enterprises, continues to breed animals, and continues to exploit animals. How can this be, you might ask? Because the law cannot be counted on to stand up for the rights of captive exotic animals, and in the absence of the law, the public continues to pay for the privilege of holding and petting baby big cats. The public continues to paint Joe as someone living the American dream and they continue to pay to visit the establishments owned by Joe, and the movie industry continues to pay him for use of his animals.

“Doc” Antle has a 20+ history of violations with both the USDA and numerous state agencies, including injuries to humans, escaped animals, and premature deaths of animals. Yet he’s worked on movies like Ace Ventura, The Jungle Book, and Mighty Joe Young. Hollywood, apparently, does not care how many animal abuse charges, or violations you’re associated with. And everyone who paid to see those movies (and any others Antle worked on) supported Antle’s abuse, and continued celebrity status. Even Rolling Stone overlooked the rampant abuse in favor of writing a fluff piece that not only cheered on Antle’s deplorable actions in building a fortune off animal exploitation, but teasingly stated that his enemies “hate him for it”.

Despite graphic photographs of animals in the last stages of starvation, as well as documented cases wherein veterinarians were bribed, or else wise involved with covering up abuse for Bill Meadows’ park, Meadows continues to operate. Not only that, but he continues to receive good publicity via news stations and travel ratings.

Now is the time to stand up for the exploited, to speak out against the injustice being suffered by these animals. One of the most important things to do which will help the animals being exploited in America, is to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act.

All of those listed in this particular article have faced law enforcement, and the judicial system, and in every case, every one of them has escaped without tangible, and lasting changes. Until American laws are changed for the better, it’s up so us, the public, to charge these abusers with accountability. We must step in to protect animals by not supporting the institutions which abuse them. Boycott the circus, that’s great, but don’t then turn around and go visit an “exotic animal encounters” park where captive exotic animals are kept, bred and exploited.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act can’t do anything to protect animals outside the USA, however.

This is the major problem with Eduardo Serio and his Black Jaguar White Tiger, which is based in Mexico. As I’ve said before, Serio is not famous for saving big cats, Serio is famous for being the man who plays with big cats. And for, if the “donation” to BJWT is large enough, being the man who can “hook you up” with the chance to visit BJWT and “play with his angels”. Right now, BJWT is running, and repeatedly advertising the chance to win a trip for two to their secret location so you can meet the cats. Serio is a man who blatantly and extravagantly exploits the big cats in his care right in front of millions of people, and no one seems to grasp what he’s doing. They don’t even seem to notice when he lies about genuine sanctuaries in an attempt to divert attention from the fact that his own pseudo-sanctuary doesn’t actually rescue animals. Nor do they grasp the fact that Serio cannot make BJWT a sanctuary simply by calling it one. And even if they fall under the term “sanctuary” as defined by Mexican law (I’ve seen no proof of this) BJWT is not GFAS accredited. Period.

Let’s be realistic. A civilian who privately owned a big cat, shared their bed with the big cat, and allowed it to live in their house, allowed their guests to play with the big cat in exchange for money would not ever be seen as a “rescuer of exotic animals”. They would be seen as someone incorrectly housing a big cat, and exploiting it. This is exactly what Serio does every day on his Instagram account. And yet, he’s touted by more than 5 million followers as being a “savior” to the cats he continues to exploit.

In Mexico, there is little to no oversight in matters of captive exotic animals. Serio regularly buys cubs from breeders to “save” them, and “receives” cubs from people he claims no longer wants them. Legally, there is nothing that can be done at this time, about Serio or BJWT. As long as he meets the requirements to own big cats under Mexican law there is not authority which can question what Serio’s doing. But that does not mean we should not try to have an impact on him.

Check out this petition in regard to a horribly damaged and neglected tiger cub, named Achilles, which Serio has possessed for more than a month now, without allowing the cub to be properly monitored by a big cat specialist. This situation goes beyond posting adorable videos of lion cubs snuggling in his bed. Serio is now putting up videos of an actively suffering creature, while claiming that he–and his followers–can heal it simply through the power of love and positive thinking. Meanwhile, Achilles continues to suffer the agony of multiple fractures.

As long as the public clicks on Serio’s videos, and shares them thousands of times, Serio will continue to make those videos. As long as the public continues to perceive sleeping with baby tigers, holding them, taking photos with them, and mishandling them in general as something “adorable” something to aspire to do, Serio will keep bringing in celebrities to pay to play with the animals, and post videos for fans to fawn all over. It is our job to hold Serio accountable for his atrocious behavior and exploitation. The petition to save Achilles might well be the first step in demanding that accountability. So please, sign it and share.

Law enforcement can only do so much. It’s the public who has the power to condemn the actions of people who cannot be reached by the Law.

Author: Artemis Grey

*I have drawn the statistics used for this article from various websites. Because the people listed here actively attempt to evade disclosing facts about their animals and businesses, it’s possible that the number of animals in their possession is either higher, or lower.