The Narcissism Of Animal Encounters

Several people, after reading my article on the epidemic of animal selfies, asserted that the “epidemic” wasn’t really an “epidemic” the way I portrayed it to be. So I thought I’d put together a little something in regard to the cub petting industry, which is based not simply on petting the animals, but also on the premise of taking photographs with those cubs (and which I cited in my selfie article)

Some places, like T.I.G.E.R.S., very carefully strategize and word their choices for photographs as by the group, meaning that each person in a group must pay to have a photograph, not of themselves with their cub, but of the entire group of paying customers with their cubs. Other places, often no more than private backyard zoos, give you the chance to hold and pose with cubs for just $20. Each place has its own guidelines and options and costs. I will post links to them so that you can see for yourself.

The only regulations in regard to cub petting in the US are provided by the USDA. They are meager, and read as follows:

Cubs cannot be handled before 8 weeks of age, because 8 weeks is the earliest point at which cubs can receive vaccinations. But the USDA defines a ‘juvenile big cat’ as being any cub over the age of 12 weeks and DOES NOT permit the public contact with cubs over the age of 12 weeks. Although the USDA laws should override any state laws, some states like Florida ignore the USDA regulations in favor of making their own. In Florida (where a number of cub petting operations exist) the public is permitted to handle cubs under the weight limit of 25lbs. This roughly translates to 12 weeks of age for the average big cat cub. However, Florida DOES NOT regulate the handling of cubs UNDER 25lbs, no matter how young they are.

So what does all of this mean?

Here is a list of establishments that came up when I plugged in the search perimeters of “where can I hold a baby tiger?” into Google. Many of these are IN THE UNITED STATES.

Black Jaguar White Tiger*
Dade City Wild Things
Chestatee Wildlife Preserve & Zoo
The Institute for Greatly Endangers and Rare Species
Zoological Wildlife Foundation
Brown’s Oakridge Zoo
Tim Stark Tiger Baby Playtime
Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park
Puerto Vallarta Zoo (this link goes to Trip Advisor, as their website is ‘under construction’)
Zootastic Park of Lake Norman
McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary
Maple Lane Wildlife Farm
Tuttle’s Interactive Exotic Tiger Safari Zoological Park
Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge
Big Cat Encounters-Karl Mitchell
Lion Park
Natural Bridge Zoo*
Virginia Safari Park*
Gulf Breeze Zoo*

*Black Jaguar White Tiger does not advertise public visitations/pay to play (I’m being completely fair to them by pointing this out) but their name did come up near the top of my feed, revealing that they do top the list of responses of “holding baby tigers”. *The last three parks on the list are all owned by Karl Mogenson/his family.

Now, according to the USDA, cubs can only be handled by the public for one month of their lives. Most of these sites do not list a specific ‘season’ for cub petting, it appears to be a service available year round. Presuming that the operators possess more than just one cub at a time, I went with estimating them to have 5 cubs. Some will have more available, some will have less.

But, supposing they all have 5 cubs available to the public, year round, and supposing that they all follow USDA guidelines (as many insist they do) each operator will go through about 60 cubs a year. There are 18 operators on the list who offer cub petting publicly. So every year approximately 1,080 cubs are bred and handled by the public through these establishments. Minimum. Supposedly ‘for conservation’. Then you look at a group like T.I.G.E.R.S. which has been in operation since 1983, and even if they had only five cubs available to the public at a time, T.I.G.E.R.S. alone has gone through 1,980 cubs since it was founded.

I say “gone through” because, well, where are these cubs now? That, is the million dollar question.

Because the cub petting industry is regulated by only a few flimsy sentences, which can be routinely ignored without any notable consequence, the operators who provide cub petting services are in no way required to document where those cubs come from, or where they go when their 4 week shelf life is up. Likewise, zoos are not obligated to make public where their surplus animals disappear to.

And this is just a small sampling of the available venues for direct interaction with big cat cubs. You could double or triple the numbers I’ve listed. We just don’t know, because no one is paying attention to how severe a problem this is. Not at the moment.

Serio isn’t entirely off the hook for this article’s purposes, either. In the cases of groups like Black Jaguar White Tiger, the fates of the cubs so adoringly ooed and ahhed over on social media sites becomes even more muddled. While BJWT is not “open” to the public, they maintain a continuous rotation of visiting celebrities who are all allowed to play with and take photos with their seemingly endless supply of cubs. And Every. Single. Photo. Or. Video. he posts of himself holding baby big cats, or a guest holding baby big cats has commenters who say ‘I want one!’ or ‘How can I do this???’ or ‘You’re so amazing, I want to do this!’

I spent several hours slowly plowing through BJWT’s Instagram feed–so popular with his nearly 5 million followers–making lists of cubs by name, by ‘pride’, and then by where they are now. Needless to say, I had a difficult time tracking down just how many cubs BJWT has had in its possession, and how many it still has in its possession as adults.

Serio himself claims to have personally bottle fed over 90 big cat cubs. I was able to come up with roughly 87 named cubs. Breaking that down over the three years that BJWT has been in existence (according to Serio) that’s roughly 7 new cubs appearing every four months. I say ‘roughly’ because Serio has a habit of changing cubs’ names, as well as nicknaming them with multiple nicknames. Thus, it took quite a bit of sorting to assure I wasn’t accidentally counting the same cats twice.

Of the 87 cubs I counted, 6 can be confirmed as deceased. The causes of death, however, are not nearly as easy to pin down.

Karma is well documented as having ingested a piece of wood (something that could happen accidentally, in extreme fairness)
Tatiana and Keiko both supposedly died of ‘collapsed lungs’ both incidents were attributed by Serio to ‘genetic defects’.
Onix/Onyx died–again, according to Serio–of a ‘brain aneurysm’ which he also blamed on inbreeding.
Labai died of what Serio described as ‘his intestines scratching his colon’ something Serio claims the cub suffered from with his prior owners due to improper feeding. Strangely, all of the pictures portraying Labai as a young cub were taken at BJWT and no mention of prior intestinal issues was ever made.
Tibet is dead. That is all, I could find nothing else about him.
Itzamna ‘didn’t make it’ which isn’t uncommon because ‘all ligers are born with genetic issues’.

Let me remind you that even though Serio has lost so many cubs to “genetic” problems, he doesn’t believe in neutering or spaying because he wants to use his ‘kids’ to repopulate the wild.

Of the remaining 81 cubs, 25 have “gone dark” and simply disappeared from social media. This doesn’t mean that anything has happened to them. I have no proof that anything happened, and I’m not asserting that something did happened.

I’m simply stating that we don’t know where these cubs are now, because there is no accountability in taking thousands of photos and videos of people holding your big cat cubs and posting them to social media. Especially when you aren’t a GFAS accredited sanctuary, and have no oversight. And before someone comments, I know that Serio claims to have rescued all of the cubs in his care, and that he insists he’s never bred them.

The fact is, he doesn’t have to breed his cubs, because he buys them from breeders all over Mexico, which does nothing but support breeding them for profit.

There are other issues with Serio’s accountability, but this article isn’t the place to go into them. I listed the cubs here because he uses them to further the cub petting industry. No matter what Serio says he’s doing, what his actions show him to be, is someone who enjoys coddling with captive big cats, and who will allow his chosen guests to do the same thing. Someone who relishes his own celebrity for the act of cuddling with captive big cats.

The point is, taking selfies, or regular photographs or videos, snaps, vines–taking any form of media with big cat cubs is a million dollar business. It is an epidemic, and it is continuing to spread like a plague.

And until the public stops oohing and ahhing and starts demanding accountability, nothing is ever going to change.

Feature Image Taken From Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Thailand, one more place that capitalizes on photos with captive big cats.

Author: Artemis Grey

The Big Cat Facts About The Big Cat Public Safety Act

Recently there was great excitement within the conservation community in regard to the Big Cat Public Safety Act, as it was officially introduced into the Senate. There was also a less than enthusiastic reaction from the owners of pseudo sanctuaries who currently possess, and/or display big cats for profit, and/or allow the public to interact with big cats, or big cat cubs.

Then a news report aired wherein Lori Ensign-Scroggins of Safari Sanctuary was interviewed, and wherein she detailed some of the “problems” with the BCPSA. Lori alluded to the possibility that if the BCPSA was passed, big cats who were currently in the possession of private owners would be released into the wild where they would starve, and die, or that they would be confiscated from their current owners, and relegated to a life inside “cement horse stalls” and that “sanctuaries” like hers will go out of business, leaving other big cats in need of rescue to suffer and die.

Such speculations and assertions are designed to elicit responses from both animal welfare groups, who want to protect big cats from such fates, and at the same time, from the public, who will be equalled abhorred at the idea of animals being left to suffer, and terrified of finding a loose big cat in their backyard. And let me be clear that it was Lori Ensign-Scroggins, owner of Safari Sanctuary, not reporter Sharon Phillips, who made these assertions. Lori did so intentionally to try and raise opposition to the BCPSA, and make herself, and the big cats in her care, look like victims.

As the facts of the BCPSA are much, much different from the portrayal offered by Lori, I, along with others, promptly emailed Sharon Phillips, conveying our concerns about it and the inaccuracies with its portrayal of the BCPSA. In my own email, I pointed out the fact that Lori, herself, lost her USDA license back in 2012 due to repeated infractions and failures to comply with the USDA standards for a wildlife sanctuary. There has been at least one fatal mauling at Safari Sanctuary which can be attributed to failure to adhere to protocol.

I received a reply from Phillips in which she asked if I would be willing to speak with her on the matter. I told her I would be pleased to do so, but that she might prefer speaking with Jessica James, the founder of ICARUS, who was part of a team that worked on behalf of the BCPSA bill, and thus was more familiar with it. She said she hoped to make contact with Jessica, but we have not yet heard anything more from Ms. Phillips. Hopefully, we will hear from her, or she will make further contact with others who have participated in the making of the BCPSA, and who can subsequently provide her with correct information regarding it. As of right now, links to the article and video have been disabled with no explanation. We can only surmise that this was done in an attempt to gather more information and then alter the report accordingly.

There is, very unfortunately, a huge pressure on today’s reporters to produce not necessarily the ‘boring’ facts of a matter, but instead, the emotionally galvanizing, and tantalizing stories relating to it. The reporters have no control over the contrived falsehoods offered by their interviewees which are often designed to further the interests of specific parties beyond the control of the reporter doing the interview or spotlight. A little more digging before stories run, however, will usually shed light on the truth of those so eager to go on record condemning bills such as the BCPSA.

So, here are the big cat facts about the Big Cat Public Safety Act.

Under the Big Cat Public Safety Act:

No member of the prohibited wildlife species currently held in private captivity will ever be released into the wild. Nowhere within the BCPSA is there any stipulation or suggestion that any member of the prohibited wildlife species currently held by private owners should be released into the wild. To suggest such would be both unethical, and in direct conflict with the entire purpose of the BCPSA, which is to maintain the safety of both big cats, and the public.

Nowhere in the BCPSA does it state that big cats who are currently in the possession of private owners will be taken from those owners. Big cats born before the bill, and currently being privately held (with certain exceptions, based on situation) will be ‘grandfathered in’ and allowed to remain where they are. Their owners simply will not be allowed to obtain, through breeding or rescue, any new members of the prohibited wildlife species.

Under the general terms of the bill: It is unlawful for any person—
(A) to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase a live animal of any prohibited wildlife species–
(i) in interstate or foreign commerce; or
(ii) in a manner substantially affecting interstate or foreign commerce; or
(B) to breed or possess a live animal of any prohibited wildlife species.

This hardly needs translation, as it means exactly what it says. The general public will be prohibited from owning, or engaging in any of the aforementioned activities with any member of a prohibited wildlife species.

4) There are exceptions to these limitations.
Paragraph (1) does not apply to any person that–
(A) is an institution accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums;
(B) is a facility that–
(i) has an active written contract with an Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan or Taxon Advisory Group for the breeding of prohibited wildlife species; and (ii) does not breed, acquire, or sell prohibited wildlife species other than the prohibited wildlife species covered by a contract described in clause (i);
(C) is a State college, university or agency, or State-licensed veterinarian;
(D) (i) is a wildlife sanctuary that cares for prohibited wildlife species;
(ii) is a corporation that–is exempt from taxation under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and described in sections 501(c)(3) and 170(b)(1)(A)(vi) of such Code;does not commercially trade in prohibited wildlife species, including offspring, parts, and byproducts of prohibited wildlife species; does not breed the prohibited species; does not allow direct contact between the public and prohibited wildlife species; and does not allow the transportation and display of prohibited wildlife species offsite.
(E) has custody of the prohibited wildlife species solely for the purpose of expeditiously transporting the prohibited wildlife species to a person described in this paragraph with respect to the prohibited wildlife species.

This is a long one, but the meat of it is very simple. If your sanctuary is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the BCPSA won’t affect you. Similarly, if you have a contract with the AZA, so long as you do not exceed the boundaries of said contract you are in compliance. If you’re a university, agency or state-licensed vet, you are exempt. Most importantly, you  cannot breed, sell, trade, transport or allow the public to interact with your animals. To recap our recap, don’t exploit the prohibited wildlife species, and you’re in the clear. Easy peasy.

5) Five is really a continuation of four, but I wanted to break it up because four was already pretty long. So 5 or, in the bill as it’s properly listed, (F) is
(i) is in possession of a prohibited wildlife species that was born before the date of enactment of the Big Cat Public Safety Act of 2016
(ii) no later than 180 days after the date of enactment of the Big Cat Public Safety Act of 2016 is registered with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service;
(iii) does not breed, acquire, or sell prohibited wildlife species after the date of that Act; and
(iv) does not allow direct contact between the public and prohibited wildlife species;

Remember back up at 2) where I said that big cats who are currently in the possession of private owners would not be confiscated or–inconceivably–released into the wild? Well, above is the verbatim wording from the BCPSA itself. Anyone who is in possession of a member of the prohibited wildlife species that was born before the date of enactment of the BCPSA, and who registers with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and agrees not to breed, acquire, or sell those prohibited wildlife species after the enactment of the BCPSA will be allowed to keep their animals.

The stipulation of not breeding prohibited wildlife species after the enactment of the bill is vital to stopping the use of cubs for cub petting, which is one of the most prominent exploitations of big cats. Breeding cubs and allowing the public to handle them is never about conservation of a species, no matter what anyone says. It’s about making money by charging the public to handle the cats.

So, if the Big Cat Public Safety Act is passed, no captive animals will be released into the wild. No captive animals will be stolen away from their current owners and condemned to cement prisons. No big cats are going to be left to suffer or languish because there are no longer sanctuaries to rescue them. For as long as there are big cats who need to be rescued, there will be accredited and licensed sanctuaries to rescue them and subsequently house and care for them.

When viewed objectively, the Big Cat Public Safety Act seeks to end the continued breeding, selling, and exploitation of captive big cats, while curbing the illegal trade and trafficking of wild big cats, and eradicating the highly publicized and then instantly forgotten incidents of mauling and fatal interactions between captive big cats and those around them. All of these goals are rational, and reasonable goals.

The only people and industries that will be damaged by the enactment of the Big Cat Public Safety Act are those who subsist on monies derived from breeding, selling, trafficking, and exploiting the animals being protected by the Act.

I challenge anyone reading this article to research any person who has publicly spoken out against the Big Cat Public Safety Act. You will not do so and find a person who is not actively breeding, selling, or allowing the public to handle their big cats. You will not find anyone who has not either lost an USDA license or failed to ever obtain one, or who is already registered with the associations mentioned in this article. The only people who are fighting the BCPSA are the ones who are hurting the big cats now. Yes, there are private owners out there who love their big cats, but those owners are not going to lose their animals. They’re only going to lose the ability to breed or purchase more big cats. This is not a Federal “gun raid” wherein “big government” is treading on fundamental human rights.

This is about conservation, and protecting what wild animals we have left, while keeping them wild. It’s about protecting what captive big cats currently exist, and keeping them from being any more exploited than they already are. And it’s about protecting the public, who may not even know that their neighbor owns a big cat, until one day their child wonders next door and never comes home.

So please, do your research, decide for yourself whether or not the Big Cat Public Safety Act (HR 3546 / S 2541) is a good thing. And when you agree that it is, call your local Senator, and Representatives and ask them to support the bill. Every voice will matter, and every voice will make a difference. And remember, if someone is in opposition of the BCPSA, check and see if they’re a GFAS accredited sanctuary, or if they’re someone who actually uses their animals for making money through exploitation. If you need more information on how to contact your local Senator and Representative, check here.

Author: Artemis Grey

We Are Legion… If We Decide To Act Like It

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

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

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

$13,200,000

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

$1,050,000,000

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

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

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

And they only have to do it once.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Author: Artemis Grey

Feature Image Credit: Tapiture

True Facts about the Turtle!

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

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brrrrrr…

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

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

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

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“Figaro, Figaro, FIGAROOOOOO”

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

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“Hey Lettuce, lookin’ good”

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

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

Sarah

The Price of Conservation

Conservation can be many things, and it can occur in many ways. The one constant, however, is that conservation is not free. Maybe you donate time to helping spread public awareness, donate effort in organizing local rallies, or offer both time and effort into joining local protests or pushes for legislation which will protect animals or provide care for animals themselves. Or maybe you choose to donate money to organizations that do all of the above.

ICARUS is a group run by people donating their time, their own money, and all the effort they can muster to help animals all over the world, but we can’t be successful without the help of folks like you. There has been speculation within the comments of some of our posts that we’re somehow affiliated, or funded by Big Cat Rescue. This is not true. We do agree with BCR’s policies of hands-off conservation. However, we have no formal affiliation with them, nor do we receive any funding from them, or any other established conservation organization.

To assert that we’re funded by a group simply because we agree with them and what they do would be to assert that we’re also affiliated with, and funded by, the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Ian Somerhalder, Ricky Gervais, Betty White, and countless other celebrities whose conservation efforts we support and agree with. Trust me, if we had funding from such people, you’d know about it because we’d be shouting about it from the rooftops.

The truth is that right now, we’re funding ourselves (much to the agony of our bank accounts) and working by donating time and effort to ICARUS on top of the time and effort devoted to full time jobs elsewhere. Some of us are also balancing other carriers along with full time jobs, and ICARUS work, and the daily care of our own domestic animals. The result is a hectic shell game of time, energy and money that only other animal advocates and owners can understand firsthand. It is worth every moment of struggle, though, to be able to say that what we’re doing is helping animals all over the world. Every movement must start somewhere, with a few steps into the unknown future. Sometimes, you can’t know how things will turn out, but you do know that moving forward is the only way you’ll ever find out the answer.

Such a leap of faith is often the driving force behind conservation projects. It just can’t be the only force behind them. If conservation and animal rescue could be carried out on faith and love alone, then there would never be cases of hoarders or failed rescue centers.

The hard truth is that while conservation efforts can be started with ideals and determination, they must, at some point, also start bringing in monetary support. To this end, the ICARUS project has added a donate button to our blog, and we hope you’ll consider donating to our efforts. Be assured we are seeking funding from many sources, not merely the public but every dollar matters, even if it doesn’t seem like much. Donating just five bucks might mean there’s enough gas to get our field researchers to an undercover animal swap where they can expose illegal activity, or it might mean that they can afford to buy milk replacer for an orphaned baby sloth, bandages for a burned sloth, or it might provide the last money needed to purchase a tracking collar for a to-be-released big cat, the study of which can help with the conservation of that species. No matter how small an amount, any donation will help us continue our research and help animals everywhere.

Rescuing animals is expensive and hard. Often the animals have suffered abuse and neglect. They are difficult, or impossible to handle for bandage changes or medication. You worry about them constantly, and are forced to watch them suffer further during treatment, knowing all the while that they still might die, many times from simple things which were left untreated, things that an animal should never die from. If they do survive, then rehabilitation looms large on the horizon, creating further trials that must be overcome in order to reach true recovery. And I’m just talking about domestic animals. Add the factor of the animal being wild, and completely unaccustomed to human interaction – or accustomed only to abusive interactions – and it takes rescue and rehabilitation to a whole new level of struggle.

These are the kinds of things that the ICARUS field team are dealing with on a daily basis. Watching the suffering of animals, documenting it, and doing what they can to stop it. It wears them down emotionally, physically and mentally, yet the team continues because it’s what they must do in the name of protecting animals all over the world. And along with all of the animal-associated stress they endure, there’s the monetary stress as well, the not knowing if they’ll be supported by others, or if they’ll end up penniless and stranded in a foreign country in the middle of their research. So while twenty-five bucks, or ten bucks might seem pointless to donate, it isn’t. It’s twenty-five dollars that can be used to help save an animal, to help educate those who are exploiting animals, or to help set up communities with options that protect animals, instead of harming them.

Rather than load this post with terrible pictures of suffering animals like those commercials on TV that give us nightmares, I’m using photos from two of my own rescues stories, that of Francesca the miniature Sicilian donkey, and Muffet, the cat. Fran came to us free because the rest of her herd had been sold off and no one wanted her. When she arrived, her condition was a complete shock, and we were forced to choose in a split second whether to turn her away, or take her and pray we could treat her and keep her alive. Muffet was a slightly different story, but both cases involved simple neglect which led to complex medical conditions.

IMG_2074.JPGFran hopped off the trailer about 150 pounds overweight (she stands only about three feet tall at the shoulder) suffering from chronic founder, with feet that had gone untrimmed for years.

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IMG_2566.JPGOnce her feet had been properly trimmed (all of that growth was ‘dead’ tissue) we had to keep her feet wrapped with dressings. Because the tissue had be grossly stretched, any piece of dirt could travel up into the the depths of her foot, causing an abscess which would then rupture at the juncture of hoof and leg (the coronary band) Each ruptured abscess came with the possibility that the abscess would spread along the coronary band and create an ‘unzipping’ effect that would cause her foot to detach entirely from her leg, a fatal complication. It took over a year of constant dressings on all four feet in order for her feet to grow out and the tissue to resume proper form.

226378_4385109427412_2120300939_nBecause Fran had been neglected, and then put through painful procedures, it took time for her to trust adults again. Children, however, she was instantly drawn to, and protective of. Here she is with my niece, who calls Fran her ‘Donkey-Sister’. The two are inseparable. Fran’s ears are abnormally shaped due to untreated frostbite, and her tail is only a stump as a result of an untreated wire wound, which became infected and caused her tail to fall off. Her ears and tail stump still require maintenance, as she’s susceptible to both sun burn, and frostbite. The black object on Fran’s nose in the header photo is a grazing muzzle which restricts how much grass she can consume. Donkeys are incredibly efficient processors of food, therefore in lush areas like Virginia, artificial restrictions must be used in order to prevent them from overeating, and foundering. This can mean keeping them in a dirt lot, or utilizing a grazing muzzle which only allows her to consume small quantities at a time.

IMG_8733Muffet was another case of simply not caring. She at some point received a minor injury, possibly just a scratch, which became infected.

IMG_7354.JPGWithout treatment, this infection created an abscess which then became infested with maggots. Over a thousand were removed from the wound.

IMG_7498.JPGHere’s the site several days after the initial debridement and suturing. The skin required careful monitoring as it healed.

IMG_7443.JPGThough suffering, Muffet was much easier to treat than Fran, as she was at least accustomed to human interactions, whereas Fran had been abandoned in a large field and left to fend for herself for several years.

Both of these cases of neglect cost thousands of dollars to treat and months/years of attention, and the cost would have been higher if I didn’t have the skills to perform tasks like dressing changes and suture removal. Now, imagine relatively simple situations like this with wild animals who cannot even be touched without sedation. Imagine the time, and effort and skill required to treat wild animals.

Yes, conservation carries a high price, both literally, and figuratively. We hope that you will help the ICARUS group by donating to our research and conservation efforts, no matter the size of the donation, and then share our page, and help spread the word. It is our hope that in the future, there will be no need for anyone to donate to conservation, because we hope that conservation itself will become obsolete, and that care for the natural world will become the norm. Until then, we need your help so that we can help animals in need all over the world.

Author: Artemis Grey

Poison Bananas: peeling back the truth on the wildlife crimes in your fruit bowl

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Don’t get me wrong I LOVE Costa Rica and it is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but something dodgy is going on. Costa Rica is portrayed as being a green, safe haven for wildlife. But what most people don’t seem to realise is that alongside this protect the world image they are also the number one user of pesticides in the world. It’s not a small number either. Costa Rica use over 50kg of pesticides per ha in comparison to number two on the list, Colombia, who only use 16.7kg per ha. That’s a BIG difference.

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The big fruit companies in Costa Rica; Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita do not have a good reputation here. They may provide jobs but they also provide poor working conditions, work around toxic pesticides that has made most of the male workers infertile, and the occasional murder. And that’s just the workers they’re effecting. They also cause mass deforestation, deadly Fer de Lance snakes are thriving as a knock on effect and all of these pesticides run off in to the water killing fish and poisoning the water supply.

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Out of all of the producers here in Costa Rica, Chiquita International are probably the worst. Supposedly they are environmentally friendly on 100% of their farms according to The Rainforest Alliance. It seems The Rainforest Alliance must have been high on the fumes from the pesticides they use (or the smell of thousands of dollars) to have given them this status. A dark history has plagued Chiquita International and for good reason. One of their most famous evils was genuinely funding terrorism in Colombia, no I’m being serious, this actually happened. They were even fined $25 million by the US government for doing this and sued by 4000 Colombians whose relatives had been straight up murdered. How is this company even around still let alone one of the main producers in Costa Rica?!

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The three producers; Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita have been sued over and over again. Remember me mentioning about the pesticides making their workers infertile? Dole was one such company famously sued for this and ended up paying some of the workers in compensation. Chiquita have been constantly accused of violating it’s workers basic rights and endangering them (also don’t forget the actual mass murder) and just last month a lawsuit has been filed against them for polluting local water sources and then COVERING IT UP.

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It’s not just the human populace that this is effecting, the animal population is also suffering. Fish are constantly seen floating upside down in droves when it rains and the pesticides flow from the plantations into Costa Rica’s natural water sources. Crocodiles in the local areas have also been noted as being in poor health compared to other areas. To utilise all of that land for banana’s and other fruits also means chopping down a lot of pristine rainforest – not good for the planet or the animals that live there. That brings me round to Sloths (of course), I have seen multiple sloth babies with varying degrees of deformities. Although full research has not been completed on this it’s not a big jump from crop dusting banana plantations and the surrounding area to sloths eating the leaves with pesticides on to babies being born with genetic deformities. It doesn’t take a scientist to work out the correlation. In fact a study last year showed that wild sloths in the area had pesticide residue embedded on their hair, nails, teeth and skin. How does a country that perpetuates itself as being green and a haven for wildlife allow this to happen? Unfortunately a different kind of green $$$ is always more important.

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All of this makes me rather sad, Costa Rica is such a wonderful country. It seems that just because all of this isn’t happening in a Western Country no one really seems to give a crap. Out of mind out of sight eh? Well let’s put it another way; the banana’s that YOU are eating from these companies are not only destroying natural habitats, violating people’s basic human rights, polluting water sources and making animals ill are also pumping tons of poison into those yummy banana’s that you eat everyday. Those banana’s are covered in pesticides before they start growing and are then effectively fumigated in the heaviest toxins while they grow for weeks in pesticide bags. How are you feeling about that banana now? To put this into even better perspective for you – Costa Rica isn’t the richest nation in the world, sometimes a truck breaks down full of bananas and they are left by the roadside while it gets fixed. Despite the offer of free food, even the poorest Costa Rican’s will not eat banana’s grown by Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita. They would rather starve than put that poison in their stomachs. And that’s food for thought.

Sarah Kennedy

Other/Further Sources:

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2005/mar/13/foodanddrink.globalisation

http://www.crsurf.com/news/environment/agri-pollution.html

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture_in_Costa_Rica

http://thinkprogress.org/world/2014/08/02/3466915/chiquita-colombia-ruling/

http://news.co.cr/is-costa-rica-really-drowning-in-agricultural-pesticides/30663/

http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1616991,00.html

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/dec/19/chiquita-lawsuit-green-marketing-bananas-water-pollution

http://time.com/3534631/history-bananas/

http://www.mediaite.com/online/chiquita-bananas-blocking-911-victims-bill-to-avoid-punishment-for-funding-terrorism/

http://www.care2.com/greenliving/chiquita-bananas-accused-of-contaminating-drinking-water.html?onswipe_redirect=no&oswrr=1

http://www.makefruitfair.org.uk/get-involved/appeals/end-violation-women-s-rights-chiquita-dole-and-del-monte-plantations

Sloths & The Pet Trade in America

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In the Middle East there are plenty of instagram accounts where the Middle Eastern rich have a crazy array of pets. But they are not alone in this, it’s certainly easy over there but in the US it is just as simple (state dependent). In fact you can also get pretty much any pet that you wish for in the good ole Westernised USA too.

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Last year I visited Big Cat Rescue in Florida with my good friend and now co-worker Jessica James of ICARUS. If you get a chance to go you should, they are really doing conservation and animal care the right way. One thing I was shocked to learn on my visit there that there are more tigers living in people’s backyards in Florida than in the wild. How is that even a thing?? If your tiger escapes you don’t even have to notify your neighbours!! People have literally woken up with a stray tiger in their back yards. This is just an example of the craziness of the pet trade in America. A tiger…as a pet…

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So clearly you can have anything from a tiger to a kangeroo to a sloth as a pet. Nearly all of these will have been stolen from the wild for the pet trade (or for Zoo’s – this still happens!) or they come from dubious ‘breeding programs’. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that this is not ok. Either these animals are taken directly from the wild for immediate sale or they are implemented in a breeding program straight off the ship. These places are akin to puppy mills where their young will be taken and sold off at the youngest age possible and then bred again. With Sloth babies you can earn a cool $2000-$5000 per Sloth. Looking at you Oregon “sloth sanctuary” by the way. This delightful place has been researching Sloths for 20 years and yet doesn’t have a single scientific paper to it’s name. Suspicious already. Not only that but they have over FOUR HUNDRED Sloths in their care and allow their guests to have Sloth SLEEPOVERS. Sloths are classed as dangerous mammals in zoos and having worked with both wild and captive Sloths for years I can categorically say that this is not a good idea, not just for the animals but also the people who are paying to do it. The ‘sanctuary’ owner is well known for selling Sloths on forums and considering Sloths are not native to Oregon, guess where they get their Sloths from. Yep, the wild. Most of the animals won’t survive the journey and some will die once they reach the shores of the USA. It amazes me that this country was once seen as a land of freedom, but for these animals it will be a new prison from their old jungle homes. This kind of makes my blood boil, especially as this place is perpetuating itself to be a conservation center.

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I also find it confusing that people calling themselves “conservationists” can have a sloth as a pet as well (or other exotic animals). Last year I saw some articles and a Buzzfeed list on these guys. First I was annoyed that my friends baby, Daisy, would not be the first baby to meet a Sloth, but then I thought about it and realised that they have a Sloth… as a pet. They are apparently Sloth conservationists by the way but, again, have a pet Sloth. They also seem to like dressing it up in human clothes and making it wear flower hair clips, super natural right? This one makes me sad more than angry, as lovers of Sloths in the wild they should know better. Unless conservation is actually now about taking animals from their natural habitat? As much as I would love to have a Sloth as a snuggle buddy they would a) hate it b) be miserable and c) THEY’RE WILD ANIMALS NOT A TOY! Most of the people who seem to be writing about having a Sloth as a pet and giving people advice, even more worrying, also seem to have no idea about Sloths in the slightest. I came across this beauty earlier who suggests that Sloths love to play peek-a-boo and have parasites. I just…can’t.

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Like Slow Loris’s who have their teeth removed for the pet trade often causing infection and death, Sloths also suffer a similar fate. Usually their claws are removed so they don’t hurt their new owners. SLOTH FACT: Sloth claws are actually BONE. They are basically having their fingers removed so they will make cuddly pets. Remember I mentioned that most of the animals will die when transported from the wild so it’s best to ship more? That death rate is around a 80-90% chance of not making it, all so you can have a cool pet.

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Please remember that even if you are buying an exotic animal from a breeder that the original ones will ALWAYS have come from the wild. You are literally supporting animals being stolen from their natural habitat just so you can have a status symbol. Spend your dollars on visiting them where they live and seeing them in the wild and not taking them for your own selfish enjoyment and pride. They may be very cute but that doesn’t give you the right to make them an effective prisoner.

Sarah

With Great Celebrity, Comes Great Power

Following yesterday’s post in regard to making mistakes, and the fact that everyone makes them, it’s how we learn from them that matters I’m going to share an open letter written by our founder, Jessica Janson. It’s been published several locations, but unfortunately, the number of celebrities partaking in – and then posting on social media about – cub-petting has only continued to grow, despite that the cubs used in these situations outgrow their usefulness within weeks, and are subsequently sold into the captive breeding, or canned hunting industry.

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Beyonce and husband Jay Z in Phuket

So much damage to animals committed in only a few minutes of media. As long as celebrities with millions of fans continue to support, and subsequently advertise, the pay-to-play game, it will remain an uphill battle to counteract. But then, the ICARUS crew happens to be accustomed to hard work, so we’re prepared for the task! Please take a moment to follow the link and read Jessica’s open letter and then share it, to help us in our climb to conquer the mountain of pay-to-play schemes!

http://www.examiner.com/article/open-letter-to-beyonce

Author: Jessica James

The Innocence of Ignorance

One of the main things that the members of the ICARUS project want to counter, and eventually eradicate, is the practice of handling and playing with wild animals of all kinds. We, as a group, do not endorse private ownership of wild animals, be they native or exotic, dangerous, or benign. It is a complex subject, but the fundamental keystone of the matter, is that humans should not in any way exploit wild animals. Exploitation of wild animals includes owning one as a pet, paying for the opportunity to hold/play with/swim with/take photographs with an adolescent or adult animal, riding elephants, or owning and utilizing a wild animal for profit, or hunting them for sport or pleasure.

Most of us have either dreamed of getting the chance to directly interact with a wild animal, or have actually done so. As children, there was nothing more magical than the circus, and who hasn’t gone to the zoo? Movies and books only feed this primal desire that humans have to somehow commune with wild animals. The media has always been littered with imagery displaying human/wild animal interactions. But this is an instance in which reality is starkly different from fantasy. Captive wild animals will never be wild the way they were born to be, nor will they ever be truly domesticated. Rather, they exist in a dangerous limbo between the two. The list of how captivity adversely affects wild animals is extensive, and not something to be addressed in this particular post.

Instead, what we want to focus on here, is the fact that directly interacting with captive wild animals is something that has become so ubiquitous that few of us have gotten through life without participating in it in some fashion. The ICARUS team wants to change the way people perceive this problem, and teach them to recognize such interactions as the animal abuse that it is. But that doesn’t mean we condemn anyone who’s ever attended a circus, or held a big cat cub. People make mistakes. That’s how we learn. All of us have made them in the past, but now that we’ve learned better, we try to do better. Mistakes made in innocence can be forgiven. But learning from them is important, because there is a distinct difference between making an innocent mistake, and making an informed excuse.

People who do not understand the depth of suffering that goes on behind the scenes of cub-petting situations, or circuses, or road side attractions cannot be expected to know that they’re participating in a form of animal abuse. But people who have been exposed to the scientific facts behind these situations, and still choose to endorse certain institutions involved with them, are no longer innocent, they are actively supporting the problem.

The goal of the ICARUS team is to teach the public about the differences between beneficial sanctuaries, and damaging ones, but we never want those who follow us to feel guilty or shamed for having visited a harmful institution, or having participated in things like cub-petting or elephant rides. Rather, we want them to be inspired to act in support of animal welfare. There is no debt to repay for making an innocent mistake, but they can now help the animals still suffering by supporting groups like ICARUS who are fighting to remove animals from abusive situations.

A term we like to use in regard to wildlife in general is ‘If you love us, leave us wild.’

It’s simply the best way to protect the animals. Wildlife should never be owned or handled by members of the public, and no reputable sanctuary or rescue institution will participate in activities that allow the public to directly interact their wildlife. It’s vitally important that our children have the opportunity to appreciate wildlife, and embrace the very wildness which makes the animals so special, but there are ways of doing it without supporting things that harm them. GFAS (Global Federation Of Animal Sanctuaries) accredited sanctuaries are the standard to which we refer when we say “accredited sanctuary” and the GFAS guidelines are that to which we prescribe.

The members of team ICARUS are excited to engage the public, young and old, in helping to keep wildlife wild, contact us on our Facebook page, or through Twitter to find out how you can be a part of the movement.

Author: Artemis Grey

Don’t Wait For A Better Tomorrow When You Can Create A Better Today

For many the future is, well, the future. It’s something that will happen eventually. Something they’ll face when tomorrow gets here. Something they don’t want to waste today worrying about. For others, the future is something they strive to shape and change, something that they spend all of their todays working on, so that they can make a better tomorrow.

The ICARUS team sees the future slightly differently. We see the future the way animals see it. We see the future as now.

For the hundreds of thousands of captive exotic animals, and suffering native wildlife across the globe, the word ‘future’ is meaningless. Animals do not concern themselves about what might happen, about how someone might help them, about how laws might change in order to protect them. The concept of a future, is a purely human one. For animals, there is only now. Thus, the ICARUS team looks at conservation in the terms of ‘What can I do now, this very instant, in the name of animals and conservation?’

Don’t be mistaken, we plan for the future. The ICARUS team sees the long term changes we want to make, how we want to effectuate the evolution of conservation until the evolution itself negates the need for conservation to exist at all, and we have plans for how to aid in that evolution. But every movement, every step, begins with the flexing of minute muscles, which happens now, to drive and perpetuate the larger motion that follows.

In conservation terms, that means little actions done today are every bit as vital as the huge events which might occur as a result later. By now, you’ve heard of Cecil the lion, and the tragedy of his death. If you’ve shared a post about him, you’ve done something to aid conservation. Don’t shrug and say ‘It was just a post I shared.’ In our world of social media and Internet activity, sharing one post can potentially  create an interaction with thousands of people. If you saw a post about someone defending trophy hunters, or worse, suggesting that canned hunting is acceptable, and could somehow ‘fix’ the problem of trophy hunting, and you took a few minutes to calmly and concisely rebut that post, then you’ve done something to aid conservation.

Think of the future the way an animal does. Think of it as now. Help a turtle cross the road. It takes a few minutes out of your life, but those few minutes might be the difference between a lifespan of seventy-five years or seventy-five seconds for the turtle. If you see a garden spider in your window, choose to leave it alone. Simply not removing it and its web means the difference between survival and death for the garden spider, and you didn’t have to do anything except allow it to share the outside of your window. Never underestimate how much one small act might have an immense effect on the world around you.

A prime example of this is the recent phenomenon of celebrities taking selfies with captive big cat cubs, or even adult big cats, and then posting them to their Instagram and Facebook accounts. It’s takes little more than a few seconds to do this, yet the ramifications are exponential. With millions of fans around the world, the celebrities are setting the precedent that wild animals are a commodity, an accessory to be flaunted, a toy to be played with and coddled, photographed and subsequently forgotten about. The truth is that fully 100% of the big cat cubs you see in these celebrity selfies will live a life of caged captivity, a life often grossly shortened by either malnutrition, disease, or the fact that once the cubs make it to adulthood, they’ll be sold into the canned hunting industry, or used as breeders to produce more cubs for more selfies with celebrities and tourists for however long their bodies can hold out. And then they’ll die. A disposable commodity no different from last year’s had-to-have purse style. It is an irrefutable truth, despite that the self-proclaimed sanctuaries who allow this behavior argue against it.

It’s the nature of social media to allow for this massive spread of ideas and information, and the grand part is that everyone has the capacity for achieving it. One small act began the popularity of these ‘big cat selfies’ and small acts can help to counter it. To this end, the Tiger Selfie app was developed. It’s just $0.99 at the App Store, and 50% of profits from the sales go to Tiger Sanctuaries in the U.S. many of whom were rescued from ‘pay-to-play’ schemes.

Simply buy the app, and use it to create your own ‘big cat selfie’. Then share it on Facebook, or Twitter, and help spread understanding about how taking selfies with real big cats doesn’t actually help conservation, but rather feeds the underworld of captive big cat breeding, and subsequently canned hunting and other abusive situations.

It only takes a few minutes out of your day, but it can make a difference. It’s something small that you can do now. And now is the only thing that exists for the animals who are suffering across the globe. Don’t wait for a better tomorrow when you can create a better today. 

Author: Artemis Grey