The law is supposed to matter. It’s supposed to represent guidelines. That’s the entire purpose behind why laws were ever created in the first place. Laws are supposed to mean something. Far too often, however, laws are negated, emasculated, by loopholes, privilege, or the almighty dollar. Everyone, everywhere, has experienced the sensation of powerlessness and abandonment created when someone who has broken laws, hurt others, and sometimes literally gotten away with murder, walks off into the sunset without so much as a slap on the wrist, often with ill-gotten gains lining their pockets.
We all know what it feels like to watch injustice unfold.
So, Why do we let it happen?
I don’t mean why do we “let” the court system fail us. We can’t control the courts (not even from a position in the jury) so it’s literally impossible for us to stop injustice insomuch as it’s permitted by the courts in their lackluster support of existing laws.
We can, however, hold those who commit injustices accountable in the courts of public opinion.
It is our job to never forget what the courts failed to acknowledge. And it is our job to do whatever is required to make known the atrocities, abuses, and horrors that have been committed and subsequently ignored by our government, or any other government.
Yesterday, it was announced that Theo Bronhurst, the hunter and tracker who led dentist Walter Palmer on the infamous hunt which resulted in the illegal death of Cecil the Lion, was acquitted of smuggling 29 sables without paperwork. This after Bronhurst was caught redhanded with the 29 un-papered sables. His trial was repeatedly postponed, and he attempted to bribe a dismissal of the charges entirely. After all that, when he did go to trial, the judge acquitted him of all wrongdoing.
Bronhurst’s acquittal is only the most recent, and most public of case dismissals, or instances wherein grievous offenses of animal abuse are completely disregarded by courts, even when there are laws which could be enforced. In the matter of domestic animals, a Texas veterinarian, Kristen Lindsey is currently fighting to keep her license after shooting a neighbor’s pet cat in the head with a bow and arrow. Arguing–despite evidence of the contrary–that the cat was “feral” Lindsey says that she did nothing wrong. And the American court system agreed by proxy when the District Attorney chose not to indict Lindsey on charges of animal cruelty. Now, cat lovers everywhere wait to see if the Texas Board of Veterinary Medicine will agree that shooting a domestic cat in the head with an arrow is acceptable behavior for a licensed small animal vet.
In the world of captive exotic animal abuse, the list of those guilty of abuse, and those who still own and exploit captive exotic animals, are largely one and the same. Wherever you find a history of animal abuse accusations, fines, court cases, and acquittals, you will invariably also find someone who operates under more than one name or titles, who has owned or operated more than one business or “sanctuary”, who still maintains a pseudo-sanctuary, someone who still allows direct interactions between captive exotic animals, and someone who is still exploiting captive exotic animals in exchange for money. These abusers undoubtedly also still claim to be acting in the name of conservation.
But their own irrefutable histories reveal the truth.
I am going to list just a few of these repeat offenders, many of whom are still lauded by the public as excellent sources for “learning about exotic animals”.*
Joe Schreibvogel Maldonado
Has operated under the names:
Has run businesses including but not limited to:
5 Continent Productions
Garold Wayne Interactive Zoo
G.W. Exotic Animal Park
G.W. Exotic Memorial Animal Foundation
G.W. Exotic Memorial Animal Park
Big Cat Rescue Entertainment Group
Mystical Magic of the Endangered
Tigers in Need
Welch’s Entertainment Group
Welch’s Tiger Experience
Welch’s Great Cat Adventure
Joe Schreibvogel Maldonado owns 1500 exotic animals, including more than 150 tigers on just 16 acres of land. Current USDA regulations allow an adult tiger to be kept in a cage smaller than an average parking spot. Think about that. A 700 tiger contained–permanently for its lifetime–in an area the size of your car. A large portion of Joe’s income is derived from constant breeding of cubs, which are used in cub-petting scenarios, hauled across the country to shopping malls and other venues. When the cubs are too old to be handled, they’re “donated” or sold or retired to his own breeding group, where they’re used to perpetuate the abusive situation. Over the last decade, Joe Exotic has been cited repeatedly by the USDA, and is currently under investigation by the USDA in relation to the deaths of 23 individual cubs between April 2009 and May 2010. PETA has also investigated Joe.
Mahamayavia Bhagavan Antle
Has operated under the names:
Dr. Bhagavan Antle
Has run businesses including but not limited to:
Buckingham Zoological Park (VA)
T.I.G.E.R.S. Wildlife Park (Sevier TN)
T.I.G.E.R.S. (with two separate “public education” exhibits in Myrtle Beach SC)
R.S.F. (Rare Species Fund, Myrtle Beach SC)
Wild Encounters (Miami Beach FL)
Jungle Island (kept tigers at this institute)
“The Tale Of The Tiger” (yearly production, Boston MA)
“Doc” Antle has been breeding, exploiting and abusing captive exotic animals since the 1980s. He first opened, and then inexplicably abandoned a “zoological park” in Virginia. Officials found animals trapped in enclosures and left to fend for themselves. Just a year or two later, Antle made headlines when he allowed a model in NH to pose with one of his lions at a local fair. The lion subsequently bit the model on the head and face. Antle fled the state, taking the lion with him, while the model was in the hospital, leaving her to receive 70 stitches and rabies vaccines. Antle’s taste for mixing sexy models with captive big cats has persisted, however, and to this day T.I.G.E.R.S. features scantily clad women feeding adult tiger, lions, and ligers from baby bottles. Cub are continually bred in a production-line format, taken from their mothers immediately, and transferred to one of his two Myrtle beach sites. They are then used exclusively for “educating the public” which in Antle’s case, means being used as photography props. The cubs are also taken on the road to a variety of fairs and exhibits where they hare handled by hundreds of paying customers a day. All in the name of “education”. In addition, Antle breeds unnatural crosses between lions and tigers, and uses these “ligers” to draw in crowds, misleading the public to think that these crossbred animals are “rare” species. He touts his Rare Species Fund as a fund where the public can donate money which is then used to support wild conservation. However, the IRS has no record of such a nonprofit, nor is there any such entity under Antle’s name registered in the state of SC. Antle also claims to work closely with the Feline Conservation Federation. However, this is simply a private group which advocates for private ownership of exotic animals, and has nothing to do with actual conservation.
As operated under the names:
Has operated businesses named:
Tuttle’s Interactive Exotic Zoological Park, Tiger Safari
Just like the others, Bill Meadows has a laundry list of USDA violations against him and his park. At least one undercover investigation has shown proof of animal starvation and abuse, and multiple animals have died under Meadows’ ownership. He has received a multitude of warnings, each resulting in just enough compliance that farther charges are dropped. In at least once case, when Meadows was unable to properly house an animal, Joe Exotic traveled from his own zoo to take custody of the animal while Meadows fixed the enclosure. At that time, Joe Exotic himself was under investigation by the USDA for violations of his own.
Joe Exotic continues to operate his various enterprises, continues to breed animals, and continues to exploit animals. How can this be, you might ask? Because the law cannot be counted on to stand up for the rights of captive exotic animals, and in the absence of the law, the public continues to pay for the privilege of holding and petting baby big cats. The public continues to paint Joe as someone living the American dream and they continue to pay to visit the establishments owned by Joe, and the movie industry continues to pay him for use of his animals.
“Doc” Antle has a 20+ history of violations with both the USDA and numerous state agencies, including injuries to humans, escaped animals, and premature deaths of animals. Yet he’s worked on movies like Ace Ventura, The Jungle Book, and Mighty Joe Young. Hollywood, apparently, does not care how many animal abuse charges, or violations you’re associated with. And everyone who paid to see those movies (and any others Antle worked on) supported Antle’s abuse, and continued celebrity status. Even Rolling Stone overlooked the rampant abuse in favor of writing a fluff piece that not only cheered on Antle’s deplorable actions in building a fortune off animal exploitation, but teasingly stated that his enemies “hate him for it”.
Despite graphic photographs of animals in the last stages of starvation, as well as documented cases wherein veterinarians were bribed, or else wise involved with covering up abuse for Bill Meadows’ park, Meadows continues to operate. Not only that, but he continues to receive good publicity via news stations and travel ratings.
Now is the time to stand up for the exploited, to speak out against the injustice being suffered by these animals. One of the most important things to do which will help the animals being exploited in America, is to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act.
All of those listed in this particular article have faced law enforcement, and the judicial system, and in every case, every one of them has escaped without tangible, and lasting changes. Until American laws are changed for the better, it’s up so us, the public, to charge these abusers with accountability. We must step in to protect animals by not supporting the institutions which abuse them. Boycott the circus, that’s great, but don’t then turn around and go visit an “exotic animal encounters” park where captive exotic animals are kept, bred and exploited.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act can’t do anything to protect animals outside the USA, however.
This is the major problem with Eduardo Serio and his Black Jaguar White Tiger, which is based in Mexico. As I’ve said before, Serio is not famous for saving big cats, Serio is famous for being the man who plays with big cats. And for, if the “donation” to BJWT is large enough, being the man who can “hook you up” with the chance to visit BJWT and “play with his angels”. Right now, BJWT is running, and repeatedly advertising the chance to win a trip for two to their secret location so you can meet the cats. Serio is a man who blatantly and extravagantly exploits the big cats in his care right in front of millions of people, and no one seems to grasp what he’s doing. They don’t even seem to notice when he lies about genuine sanctuaries in an attempt to divert attention from the fact that his own pseudo-sanctuary doesn’t actually rescue animals. Nor do they grasp the fact that Serio cannot make BJWT a sanctuary simply by calling it one. And even if they fall under the term “sanctuary” as defined by Mexican law (I’ve seen no proof of this) BJWT is not GFAS accredited. Period.
Let’s be realistic. A civilian who privately owned a big cat, shared their bed with the big cat, and allowed it to live in their house, allowed their guests to play with the big cat in exchange for money would not ever be seen as a “rescuer of exotic animals”. They would be seen as someone incorrectly housing a big cat, and exploiting it. This is exactly what Serio does every day on his Instagram account. And yet, he’s touted by more than 5 million followers as being a “savior” to the cats he continues to exploit.
In Mexico, there is little to no oversight in matters of captive exotic animals. Serio regularly buys cubs from breeders to “save” them, and “receives” cubs from people he claims no longer wants them. Legally, there is nothing that can be done at this time, about Serio or BJWT. As long as he meets the requirements to own big cats under Mexican law there is not authority which can question what Serio’s doing. But that does not mean we should not try to have an impact on him.
Check out this petition in regard to a horribly damaged and neglected tiger cub, named Achilles, which Serio has possessed for more than a month now, without allowing the cub to be properly monitored by a big cat specialist. This situation goes beyond posting adorable videos of lion cubs snuggling in his bed. Serio is now putting up videos of an actively suffering creature, while claiming that he–and his followers–can heal it simply through the power of love and positive thinking. Meanwhile, Achilles continues to suffer the agony of multiple fractures.
As long as the public clicks on Serio’s videos, and shares them thousands of times, Serio will continue to make those videos. As long as the public continues to perceive sleeping with baby tigers, holding them, taking photos with them, and mishandling them in general as something “adorable” something to aspire to do, Serio will keep bringing in celebrities to pay to play with the animals, and post videos for fans to fawn all over. It is our job to hold Serio accountable for his atrocious behavior and exploitation. The petition to save Achilles might well be the first step in demanding that accountability. So please, sign it and share.
Law enforcement can only do so much. It’s the public who has the power to condemn the actions of people who cannot be reached by the Law.
Author: Artemis Grey
*I have drawn the statistics used for this article from various websites. Because the people listed here actively attempt to evade disclosing facts about their animals and businesses, it’s possible that the number of animals in their possession is either higher, or lower.