In my last article, I discussed the disturbing trend within Mexico of “self styled” foundations which utilize social media, flashy photos, and carefully structured facades of scientific importance in order to create a false presence in circles of conservation. These groups, when one looks deeper than their social media personas and self-serving rhetoric, often have little real life experience in the fields in which they claim to be leading authorities. This is something that is usually, and to the detriment of the animals in their care, overlooked or misunderstood by devoted followers and by the public in general. It’s also a driving factor behind the actuality that these well known foundations are simply new age versions of the same old exploitation that’s existed in Mexico (as well as other places throughout the world) for thousands of years.
Part of what the I.C.A.R.U.S. Foundation does is to develop a global network of conservation organizations working together to protect and care for animals, through the creation of new international laws, as well as the enforcement of existing laws. A functioning network of institutes and sanctuaries who can rely on each other for support and the spread of awareness is vital in order to have a beneficial impact on animals and the environment worldwide. Thus, institutions which by design focus entirely on what they do, and the animals they possess and/or take in, and how popular they are, and which imply that they know more, and are better at handling situations than any other organization in existence, (some of which have been around for decades) do not, in fact, benefit animals or the environment beyond the limited scope of their own walls.
Only by working together, toward the same collective goals, rather than toward personal gain and popularity, can sanctuaries and foundations worldwide succeed in giving back at least a small portion of the planet to the animals which are being systematically eradicated from its surface. So what a foundation or sanctuary does outside the gaze of the public eye is just as important as what they do when people are watching. If you are willing to cut corners, endanger both humans and animals, threaten other groups, verbally abuse other humans, lie, and so on and so forth when everyone can witness it, then what are you willing to do to the voiceless animals behind the scenes when no one is watching?
One of my favorite quotes, which is extremely relevant to the current trends of shady foundations and exploitation of captive wild animals in Mexico, comes from Thomas Babington Macaulay.
“The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.”
In this case, the character in question happens to be a woman.
Her name is Maria Garcia Dominguez, and she is the founder of LIBERO Santuario Silvestre.
Truly the first of its kind, LIBERO is a foundation that, when distilled down to its most fundamental constructs, is a sanctuary in every sense of the term. LIBERO is a an institute that will always do what’s right for the animals, even if no other human is there to witness their actions.
Numerous social media-based groups–like Black Jaguar White Tiger–gratuitously tout the word “sanctuary” without understanding the profoundly hallowed etymology behind it, and without grasping the restraint and sacrifices required to embody that which it represents. In contrast to ubiquitous “social-media foundations”, you will not see LIBERO posting a plethora of vapid updates on their website, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook page multiple times a day, every day of the week. You will not see LIBERO showcasing photographs of cubs being cuddled and played with or celebrity guests bottle feeding them incorrectly, or of foundation workers running around being chased by captive big cats. In fact, you might not have even heard of LIBERO until reading about them in this article.
This is because LIBERO is focused on saving animals, caring for animals, protecting animals, studying them, and rehabilitating them.
They are dedicated to the animals not to social media attention and public popularity.
LIBERO does not participate in conservation in order to gain any sort of recognition. They’re not in it for any sort of admiration. They’re not even in it with a presumption of ever receiving simple gratitude.
LIBERO acts solely in the best interests of and on behalf of the animals they aid.
They have done so, in an individual manner, through the prior works of those who now comprise the human skeleton of the sanctuary since before they ever came together under the guidance of Maria and subsequently formed LIBERO. And they continue to work for, care for, protect, defend, heal, nurture, and exist entirely for the animals with whom they come into contact.
For LIBERO, social media is a tool for education and outreach, not a platform on which to build a celebrity status or cult following.
And that is exactly how a sanctuary should function.
I first discovered LIBERO through my research into sanctuaries within Mexico, or, more accurately, my research into the lack of sanctuaries and the lack of legal outlines and standards for sanctuaries within Mexico. After suffering more than one disappointment and false lead, I feared the worst when I first clicked on the link leading to the LIBERO website. You can check it out here. Maria has even made sure there’s an English option for those of us who aren’t fluent in Spanish. A margin of my wariness faded at just the mere sight of LIBERO’s homepage. Understated and elegant, lacking any pretension or declarations of being the best thing since sliced bread, or other ridiculous claims of intelligence so superior to anyone else that people who don’t agree with them are just too stupid to “get them” and their ideologies.
LIBERO’s site is easy to navigate (not every page is translated, but Google Chrome can do it for you) informative and detailed, captivating for those who already have an in-depth understanding of conservational issues, but also extremely accessible and educational for those who are just learning about conservation. That accessibility and assemblage of information is intentional. Education is something which Maria and her team believe is vital to changing the way in which residents of Mexico (and the world) perceive captive wild animals, and the environmental and conservational issues relating to them.
LIBERO subscribes to the principles of “One Health” which is a concept that dates from the mid 1800s and was far ahead of its time when it was first outlined and described by its creator, Rudolf Virchow. Of his own beliefs Virchow said:
“Between animal and human medicine there is no dividing line–nor should there be. The object is different but the experience obtained constitutes the basis of all medicine.”
I want to stress that the principle of One Health is not the belief that animals should be treated as if they were humans wearing fur, much like Eduardo Serio of Black Jaguar White Tiger treats his big cats, or, as he calls them, his “kids”. Followers of the One Health principles believe that animals are equal to humans in importance, emotional depth, and intelligence, but they do not support the anthropomorphizing of animals. Rather, One Health is the concept that the health of animals, the health of humans, and the viability of ecosystems are inextricably linked. This means keeping animals in their wild habitats, as active participants within the ecosystem, rather than living in peoples’ homes as pets.
Along with a sound system of principles, LIBERO has a dedicated team of professionals and specialists including doctors, engineers, lawyers, and more. You can read their individuate biographies here. Unlike the unseen, or vaguely referenced “experts” of other foundations, LIBERO’s team is forthright with their names, credentials and backgrounds. Likewise, LIBERO is dedicated honesty and transparency in all matters. You can research their financial information on their transparency page, here.
Maria herself has a career within conservation that spans more than a decade. She has worked with groups like The Humane Society International (HSI) World Animal Protection (WAP) and has collaborated on specific cases with Animal Defenders International (ADI) and In Defense of Animals (IDA), among other things. Up until 2013, Maria was a representative in Mexico for The Wild Animal Sanctuary, and was the national coordinators of rescues.
LIBERO is poised to be the harbinger of conservation stewardship in a country where captive wild or exotic animals can be more easily attained than clean drinking water. But unlike fallacious, media-driven institutes such as BJWT and the newly formed JITW, LIBERO does not yet have a fan base of millions to support them. Their refusal to exploit animals via attention grabbing videos, or for heartrending pleas for monetary support means that LIBERO cannot simply start slapping up “cutesy” incentives for people to give them money. They do not have the funds to offer “rewards” for donating to them, or, to start their own clothing line, or to offer, as with some of the foundations I’ve mentioned, “visitation rights” to those who donate larger sums of money. And as LIBERO embodies the very opposite of the exploitation so readily embraced by these well-known foundations, they cannot rely on any support from those institutes. Rather, they face competition from them, for if LIBERO is successful in changing the face of conservation, as they plan to, LIBERO will, in effect, make such exploitive foundations entirely obsolete.
I have been in contact with Maria, and will be doing an interview article with her at a later date, and I look forward to writing other articles about LIBERO in the future.
As of the writing of this article, Maria was exploring the possibilities of seeking a stipend or other funding from the Mexican government. Supporting LIBERO would be an immense opportunity for current government factions like SEMARNAT and PROFEPA to both acknowledge the deep-seated problems occurring within their country, and to take a step toward the reform so desperately needed in order to begin assuaging the plight of captive wild animals all across Mexico. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, one of the greatest difficulties in seizing and/or rescuing captive wild animals from abuse, neglect, or exploitation in Mexico is the lack of appropriate institutes in which PROFEPA or SEMARNAT can then place animals that were removed from dysfunctional situations. LIBERO can, with monetary aid from government, expand and become the depository for confiscated animals, assuring that they will not be placed in yet another situation of exploitation, like the animals given over to BJWT.
To rescue an animal from one situation of exploitation, and place it directly into another situation of exploitation does not actually address the fact that the animal is being exploited, nor does it do anything to change the public mindset that having cubs run around a private home is somehow beneficial to the cubs and supportive of conservation. Maria and her staff understand that you cannot teach people that exploitation is damaging is by using exploitation as the basis for the lesson.
To this end, LIBERO intends to develop a facility where rescued animals will be housed within the freedom of individual habitats, liberated from human influence, and studied unobtrusively in order to better understand the complications for captive animal husbandry. Any animals which are deemed viable for rehabilitation and release will be appropriately cared for with the most minimal human involvement as possible, and their release will subsequently be orchestrated. Knowledge gained from such rehabilitations and releases will be funneled directly back into LIBERO and used within their educational outreach, furthering the cause of changing minds and perspectives.
Government funding could go a long way in getting LIBERO completely off the ground and flying. Now, more than ever before, Mexico needs a genuine sanctuary. Mexico’s animals need a genuine sanctuary. The question is, do SEMARNAT and PROFEPA–the very agencies charged with overseeing the welfare of wild, and captive wild animals within the country of Mexico–understand just how desperately those animals need a sanctuary like LIBERO? And even more importantly, will SEMARNAT and PROFEPA admit, by helping LIBERO to secure government aid, that it’s finally time for a change in how captive wild animals are perceived and treated in Mexico?
Only time will tell. But for now, I implore you. Follow the links within this article, or posted below, and discover Maria’s LIBERO Santuario Silvestre for yourself. Then share the information and encourage others to share and follow them. Mexico needs a true wild animal sanctuary, and LIBERO needs you to support them so that they can be the wild animal sanctuary that the animals of Mexico need.
Author: Artemis Grey