“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t be a Darla.

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

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

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

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

It’s All In How You Put On The Show

A month ago, I wrote an article for ICARUS about Eduardo Serio and his newest “rescue” a horribly damaged tiger cub he named Achilles. I have since gone back and added numerous addendums to the article linking to videos as posted by Serio. In my original article I stated that no rational vet would have suggested pursuing treatment in a cub that had 10 fractures throughout all four limbs, as well as other fractures, calcium deficiencies and spinal problems.

Let me be clear, at no point in my first article did I say that the cub should be euthanized because it would not live. The reason I said that euthanasia was the more responsible choice (and that is presuming that the cub actually had all of the injuries and issues Serio claimed that it had) is because should it survive, it would suffer from constant pain, would not live a natural lifespan, and would never have what the ICARUS team considered to be a “quality of life”. Just as the ICARUS team believes in hands off conservation, we also believe that the quality of a rescued animal’s life is of utmost importance.

There are times where an elderly long-suffering animal is rescued, and GFAS accredited sanctuaries have the chance to provide for that animal and give it a comfortable existence until the end of its life-which often comes much sooner than the animal deserved. However, in cases where a young animal is facing a lifetime of suffering, along with insurmountable defects or conditions caused by malnourishment, or injuries, we believe that it is the job of the rescuer to make the decision which will bring the most peace and comfort to that animal, not the decision which will drum up the most publicity. Yes, there are horrible cases in which an animal might make a full recovery. There are also cases in which the animal will never have a normal life, or even a comfortable one, and in those cases it is self-serving for a rescuer to keep that animal alive simply so they can say that they rescued it.

In the case of Achilles, Eduardo Serio has intentionally used the sleight of hand he’s known for with his “miracle” recoveries, acting not in the best interest of the animal, but in whatever manner will make him look like a savior able to heal anything “through love and positive thoughts”.

When Serio first posted photos of Achilles 5 weeks ago “just after his arrival” Achilles appeared to be about 2 months old. In the most recent videos wherein Serio and his followers are proclaiming Achilles’ “miracle recovery” and ability to “walk” the tiger cub looks–at least in body–to be approximately 6 months old. Achilles’ head, however, seems abnormally large for his body. This could mean that he’s actually even older than 6 months, and that his body is so shriveled due to lack of nutrition early on that it’s permanently stunted.

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We can’t know for sure, and details like that are brushed aside by Serio as inconsequential, and anyone who tries to find them out is labeled as a “hater” and blocked from his accounts. But nonetheless, something does not fit with Serio’s timeline of Achilles arriving, and only 5 weeks later appearing 4 months larger and older. Again, we can’t know the cub’s true age, because it’s something Serio doesn’t consistently admit to. It is just one more coin under the cups he constantly shuffles, revealing only what he wants the public to know. Serio’s lack of accountability is something well documented, and pointed out by others, like Jacalyn Beales.

By and large, the fact that Achilles can perform a sort of shuffle-limp-walk for several yards before collapsing has been lauded as a “miracle” by Serio’s followers, and accepted as proof that Serio can cure the ravaged with only the power of his love. The fact is, animals are indomitable in their drive to find some way of functioning, no matter how much pain it takes to do so. I have personally witnessed, during my years in the field, animals–both wild and domestic–walking on stumps of bone, functioning while missing entire portions of their skulls, with multiple broken bones, and with entire lower jaws blown off by shotgun blasts. These animals lived, sometimes, for years, with these catastrophic injuries, and without the aid of human intervention. The mere fact that Achilles is capable of attaining a walk-like gait for a few yards, or that he can slither-crawl onto a low mattress, does not indicate that he’s no longer in pain. Just as the fact that the cub has “been under the care of a veterinarian” does not indicate that he’s being treated by a vet who specializes in big cats, instead of one who specializes in, say, exotic birds.

While Serio’s followers are elated to see these videos, the ICARUS team aches inside, knowing all too well what sort of future problems Achilles is still facing. Problems he’ll have no choice but to suffer through as Serio continues to tout him as evidence of his own superiority. Unlike a proper tiger’s conformation–with prominent shoulders, vertical, straight, forelegs, a long flat back, powerful haunches, and well angled hind legs–

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Achilles’ forelegs lack muscle development, his right foreleg sports visible deformities to the bones, and that foot turns under unnaturally, his back is prominently bowed in the center, and never flattens in a smooth line as it should, his hind legs show visible atrophy of the musculature and are extremely sickle-hocked, and he walks in a hunched manner, on his heels, rather than up on his toes as he should.

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This motion puts strain not only on all of his joints, but also on all of the connective tissues. The more Achilles moves in this fashion–and he likely can’t move any other way, due to his injuries and deficiencies–the more his muscles will develop incorrectly, and the more permanent these deformities will become. These are not things which can be corrected by love, no matter how much of it you give to him. He will continue to grow heavier–eventually reaching 500-700 pounds, and his own weight will continue to crush the deformed bones that are barely–infrequently–able to support the weight of a cub.

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In his first posts about Achilles, Serio mentioned multiple times that the cub had pins which had been incorrectly placed in his hind legs, pins which were causing some of his problems. He stated more than once that “in about 10 days” Achilles would go into surgery to remove the pins, as they were causing more harm than good. 5 weeks on, and no mention of any surgery has been made. We don’t know if the surgery has happened, if it’s not needed, if it’s still going to happen. All that Serio is talking about is how he “cried like a baby” when Achilles first did his walk-shuffle, and how his follows should continue to “think blue” and help heal the tiger cub. Again, the lack of transparency with Serio’s “rescues” and how they receive treatment raises more questions than it offers answers. To be honest, we don’t even know that Achilles actually had all of the fractures and problems that Serio said he had. It would not surprise me if some of the problems had been fabricated simply to make the “recovery” seem more miraculous. After all, the fact that Serio publicly lies, is something I’ve discussed before. The point is, scientific details aren’t something Serio cares about, and since BJWT isn’t accredited by GFAS, it’s not something they’re required to care about.

What Serio cares about is looking like a hero.

We will never know if Achilles has actually been at BJWT for months unable to walk, before Serio first posted videos of him, whether Serio waited to make sure the cub would live before revealing him to the public as if he’d just arrived, or whether Serio overplayed what was actually wrong with the cub, just so he could later defend himself against “haters” like us, and “prove” that his love could heal an animal not actually that badly injured. The unanswered questions about Achilles’ injuries and physical inconsistencies seen between the much younger looking animal in the first videos, and the much older looking one we see now, are just more shadows over the pseudo-sanctuary Serio takes such extreme pride in.

Achilles’ future looks no brighter. The best case scenario is that he’ll live for a while, dragging himself through Serio’s videos and acting as a poster child for a man who swears he can heal the sick and injured just by loving them (or perhaps “recover” completely because in truth his issues did not involve permanent bone damage) at the worst, he’ll disappear from BJWT’s social media accounts, just as numerous other cubs have.

The only sure thing about Achilles, is that we’ll never really know the truth about him.

We’ll only know what Serio wants us to think.

Artemis Grey

I decided to come back and put an addendum on this post, as Serio just put up a new video on Instagram wherein “The Starving Union” as he dubs them, “visits” Achilles while he’s eating. Our problem with Serio’s feeding situations aside, this offered a prime comparison between Achilles, who seems so much larger than his portrayed age would suggest, and two cubs who are approximately 5-6 months old, as per their appearance and introduction on Instagram by Serio. Shortly after Khloe Kardashian’s prominent visit to BJWT (wherein she learned all about the plight of wild lions and tigers, by bottle feeding and lying on the floor with newborn cubs) back in mid October of 2015, several new cubs appeared, and one was named after her. That would make the tiger cub in this photo, Khloe, between 5-6 months old. Yet she and the Sonny, the lion cub are dwarfed by Achilles, who is actually, according to the presentation on Instagram, supposedly younger than the other two. More questions without any answers. This is one of the ways in which cubs are shuffled and disappear, at BJWT, because ages are a never given, and thus cubs seem to come and go without being able to track their growth or lifespan. Again, something that’s enabled by the lack of GFAS accreditation.

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

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It could be any sleepy Caribbean town, swaying palms over sandy beaches and a strong Jamaican influence, and it is. But is there a dark side to this tranquility? Living off the land/the ocean is something that has been in existence for hundreds of years in Costa Rica, a simple way of life. Unfortunately though it is still a culture that is poaching turtles, iguanas and other outlawed animals. Now we at ICARUS can agree with culture to a certain extent and it certainly isn’t the locals catching the occasional turtle who are the real issue. The real problem lies with the mass industry of fishing trawlers, with poachers who are doing it to more than one turtle in their droves to make an easy buck and also, as it turns out, tourists visiting this country and exploiting its cultures.

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Now we are not here to name names or get people in trouble, firstly getting someone thrown in jail for a few weeks for poaching hardly solves the problem, secondly it’s not exactly safe to do that either. Conservationists have often been murdered for standing up for the wildlife here (and the government doing jack all to help their countries animals). One of the most important things we want to do here on our return is education. That is the only way that you can help to change a practice that is only harming rather than doing any good for the community. One of the things we are fundraising for is to start a community outreach program, one that isn’t patronizing as they often are, but helps the community, teaches the children about their wildlife and why it’s so important, and most importantly, helps find solutions.

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Recently two ICARUS members went undercover at an illegal food market that happens every Saturday in a town in Costa Rica. We were told that every week there is turtle meat, eggs, iguana meat and others, all highly illegal. This is the story of that day and what we discovered, all names have been changed.

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We met Henry outside the house where the meat was cooked every week, we did not have the opportunity to go inside with him but he went for us and purchased us a meal of turtle stew, for $10. We waited in the car while he did this and then drove to a nearby beach to meet with a friend of his, Abigail. Abigail is Dutch and is ironically doing a thesis on ‘ethical tourism’, it is clear she is not doing the same as us and getting information but does this every weekend with Henry, an American. We all sat in a boat and ate our relevant meals, all turtle, except for Henry who, after being berated by ICARUS member Jess about eating turtle, feels guilty now. Wonder how long that will last. Turtle for the record, tastes EXACTLY like beef, we were told Iguana tastes like chicken. The mass farming industry is a travesty but when you are eating endangered animals that have no difference in taste to easily accessible animals, and legally, it does make you wonder. We were eventually joined by ANOTHER American, in her 60’s who came to Costa Rica to do yoga, called Diane. We recorded the entire event and I have scripted below the more pertinent parts of the conversation:

Henry: (opens a box) this is turtle, this is for you.

(passes the box to us)

Henry: I’m sad there are no eggs, that’s like the best part to try

ICARUS 1: This does taste exactly like beef, it’s kind of like a beef stew

Henry: I’m just upset there’s no eggs, I really wanted you to try the egg

ICARUS 1: Well thanks for arranging this Henry

Henry: No worries, it’s a good experience for you to try

ICARUS 2: Have you eaten Iguana before?

Henry: Oh yeah

ICARUS 1: It tastes like chicken right?

Henry: Similar

Henry: I went hunting with some friends for them, we knocked it out the tree. You just shoot them and they fall out

Abigail: (points to something in her turtle meal) what’s that?

Henry: I think it’s like the tripe, from the turtle’s stomach

Henry: I feel bad I can’t get hold of my friend

ICARUS 1: What did you get her?

Henry: I got her turtle also

ICARUS 2: Do you know what kind of turtle it is?

ICARUS 1: I was going to say that, there are so many different species

Henry: Green turtle

(Diane arrives)

ICARUS 1: (to Diane) have you tried it before, the turtle?

Diane: Yes I have, in Florida. (to Henry) Is this a river turtle?

Henry: No, ocean

Diane: What kind?

Henry: Green

Diane: Wow that is good (the food)

ICARUS 1: What was the name of that gerbil thing you said they cooked too?

Henry: Agouti

Diane: They do this every week?

ICARUS 1: I think every Saturday

Henry: But it’s a secret ya know (sic)

Henry: It’s illegal

Henry: I didn’t eat turtle today because I kind of felt bad, I already ate it twice. I’ll let you all do the bad part

(after some more general conversation we all went our separate ways)

All in all we were together with the group for forty minutes, the food is cooked by a local’s mother and although I’m sure that the locals go to get food for lunch etc it was incredible that all of the people we ate with and who go regularly are foreign. As I mentioned previously these recipes have been in Costa Rican culture for a long time, it is not surprising that they still exist. The shocking thing though is the tourists and ‘gringo’s’ who are exploiting those cultures to have a ‘fun experience’ in Costa Rica and they can go home and tell all their friends they ate turtle. Frankly that is pathetic. I am all for experiencing culture. I LOVE immersing myself in the culture of another country. These kind of egotourists though, who are only in it to have a cool activity, and not actually contribute anything to the society that they want to experience are incredibly selfish and ignorant. Not only that but they are causing actual harm, they are funding illegal activities that hurt not just the turtles they are eating but also the country and it’s people. It’s because of these horrendous individuals that our planet is entering the sixth mass extinction, all thanks to the human species. One day we can look back and blame people like the ones we ate with for the reasons the green sea turtle no longer exists. And personally I find that completely unacceptable.

What would you rather out of the two below images?

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The green sea turtle, poached into extinction

or…

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The green sea turtle, thriving and free

We know what we would prefer, To Be Continued…

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

The Hollywood Walk of Shame/Fame – The Oscars for the Best Animal Celebrities & The Worst

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But first….lemme take a selfie! 

Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, the world is obsessed with celebrities. They therefore have the power to do amazing good with the attention they receive or cause a great deal of damage. A good example of this is that tons of celebrities have recently taken pictures with baby tigers, lions etc and the response has been HUGE. Unfortunately that response has been “OMG. WHERE CAN I SNUGGLE A BABY TIGER??!!”, “This is so cool! Jealous!”… etc. This is an incredible example of the bad things celebrities can do for conservation and animal welfare. We have covered why cub petting is so abhorrent and the unfortunate truth is celebrities are just furthering this abusive practice and worse, making it look cool to millions of people.

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Yep, that’s me with a baby tiger

Now, we are not here to vilify these ‘bad’ celebrities, every single person of the ICARUS team has done something they were not proud of in regards to animal welfare. I personally have, swam with dolphins in a tiny pool, spent hours at SeaWorld feeding dolphins and been to the infamous Tiger Temple in Thailand and played with baby tigers. I doubt there is a person on this planet that hasn’t done something like that. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and instead of enabling these practices you should speak out against them. So without further ado here is our version of the Razzie awards for celebrities causing animal crimes and also the Oscars for celebrities doing amazing things for our fluffy friends.

THE RAZZIE’S

Worst ensemble: The Kardashians

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Where should we start with the Kardashians? Well Kim loves her fur and wouldn’t even give it up even after Khloe became a PETA advocate. Kylie and Kendall have had numerous pictures cub petting at Black Jaguar White Tiger and Khloe, the most disappointing one, is also a huge fan of selfies with baby big cats and a fully grown Jaguar. Not cool ladies.

Worst Dressed: Beyonce

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Oh Beyonce, we do love and admire you, but man do you do some silly things sometimes. Getting your tiny daughter to play with baby tigers whilst also wearing the most insane headdress?! As we all know, Beyonce has an incredible following and has taught millions of people that this kind of activity is not only cool but also a good thing. And this is someone who has a vegan line people.

Worst use of props: Justin Bieber

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Justin Bieber certainly has quite the record for doing upsetting things with animals; cub petting, handing over live hamsters to screaming fans and also abandoning his adopted pet monkey at a German border when he couldn’t take it with him. This is like Adam Sandlers career in comedy – getting worse & worse. However recently Justin has been doing some work with PETA so maybe he’ll turn it around. We sure hope so!

Worst Styling for a Movie: The Trump Family

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Where do we start with the Trump Family, let’s face it, they are probably irredeemable. The sons are massive trophy hunters and Donald literally said, they like to hunt. Personally I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse, this man is running for president and he clearly has no issue with crimes against animals, as well as, lets face it, crimes against humanity (and toupes).

Worst Performance: Bindi Irwin

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I am not the biggest Steve Irwin fan, I think he did a lot for conservation but he also had a career of basically pestering animals. His daughter decided to help the animals by becoming an ambassador for SeaWorld, basically one of the worst places on the planet. Biggest disappointment ever. I really hope she can turn this around, she’s young, beautiful and clearly cares for animals. She certainly has the tools and compassion to do it.

The Oscars:

Thankfully there are so many wonderful celebrities trying to do good for the animals, we had a hard time choosing who to list!

Best On-Screen Couple: Ian Somerhalder & Nikki Reed

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Along with being, let’s face it, one of the most attractive couples ever, Nikki & Ian are doing TONS for animals. Ian even has his own foundation – The Ian Somerhalder Foundation to educate the public. They’re pretty damn cool. He even called out his ex & co-star, Nina Dobrev, on Twitter after she posted pictures feeding baby tigers. That had to be awkward at work the next day…

Best Dressed – Glenn Close

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No I’m not talking about the time she played Cruella de Vil! Along with being a general badass, Glenn Close has advocated against ivory poaching, getting service dogs for American Veterans of War and recently helped to support and promote the #IFAKEIT campaign for organisation Panthera. You go, Glenn Coco.

Best Breakout: Maisie Williams

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I actually love Maisie Williams. She’s spunky, has protested with tons of people in London against dolphins in captivity/the dolphin hunts in Japan and also did a skydive to bring the spotlight on to this cause. Legend.

Best Action Sequence: Steve-O

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Steve-O has been bringing great attention against SeaWorld recently and has definitely suffered the consequences! He has been arrested twice for performing “inconvenient” stunts that have resulted in fire rescue services and the police having to be called out. They call it time wasting, I call it genius. Steve-O we salute you and your services.

Best Comedic Performance: Ricky Gervais

Rebecca Francis Extreme Huntress Rebecca Francis targeted online for hunting pictures Francis, who grew up in Utah and in 2010 won a US-based reality television show competition called Extreme Huntress, says she learned to hunt from an early age and wants to

Among other animal causes, Ricky’s fights against trophy hunters have been down right hilarious as well as it resulting in a HUGE awareness for this cause. He’s witty, sarcastic and gets these hunters all riled up and defensive. It’s sheer brilliance. ­­

Lifetime Achievement Awards:

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Bob Barker, Harrison Ford & Pamela Anderson

There were so many people we wanted to put in for this, which is why we ended up with 3!

Pamela has been a huge supporter of PETA for a long time as well as advocating politicians for animal rights and campaigning in the field for Sea Shepherd. Boobs and Brains! (and she’s gorgeous!)

Bob Barker, where do we start! He has given millions of dollars to various universities with animal welfare programs and is one of the key people to stop animals in the circus and probably the most well-known. His work has been influential.

Have you heard the quote: When the buying stops then the killing can too? Well that was the wonderful Harrison Ford who first said that. He has done so much in terms of trying to stop the illegal sales of tiger parts as well as many other causes.

In Memorium: Sam Simon

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I was actually really sad when Sam Simon died. Not only was he a huge part of creating laughter for millions of people with, The Simpsons, but when he was diagnosed with colon cancer he spent his last months on Earth saving tons of animals. He also bequthead his millions to various animal charities when he died. So instead of spending his last few months of life on a last jolly round the planet he spent his time and money on saving animals. An honest to God wonderful man.

Reformed Performers: Proof that you can turn it around

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Ric O’Barry: Ric started his career as a dolphin trainer for TV show Flipper. But when one of his trained dolphins died in his arms he did a complete 180 and is now probably the top advocate for ending the dolphin hunts in Japan and dolphins in captivity. He is a brilliant man.

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Prince Harry: Last year Prince Harry was outed for hunting big game, today he is out in Africa, in the field, stopping poachers. That’s pretty special.

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Tippi Hedren: Once an owner of a male lion, Neil, letting it completely into their family and even letting him sleep in her daughters bed, Tippi is now a HUGE advocate against owning big cats as pets. She has a big cat sanctuary and is lobbying congress to stop them being bred for pets. That’s definitely a big turnaround.

Honorable Mentions – too many to list in entirety but here are some favourites: Ellen, John Stewart, Jared Leto, Johnny Depp, Maggie Q, Jason Biggs, Hayden Panettiere, Leonardo DiCaprio, Betty White, Lupita Nyong’o and many many more! Thanks guys for everything you do!

Dishonorable Mentions: Kristin Davis, Kellan Lutz, Paris Hilton, Kanye West, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Katy Perry, Sarah Jessica Parker, Shaquille O’Neal, Mike Tyson, Nina Dobrev and so on!

Sarah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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