New Year, New Opportunities to Advocate for Animals

The ICARUS blog has been rather quiet this last month. I’ve been dealing with some serious health issues (I won’t offer details, but google Adenomyosis, and Factor II Deficiency and you’ll understand) At the same time, I’ve been dealing with major health problems associated with one of my cats, Ari. He’s been diagnosed with Restrictive Cardiomyopathy, which is a terminal condition. At 13/14 he’s not what I’d call an ancient cat (Old Lady Cat is rocking it out at 18) but in human years, he’s around 75, and while I adopted him from the ASPCA and we don’t know his breeding, this heart issue is prevalent among Maine Coon cats, and large exotics, and Ari is very large, with markings and mannerisms that point to those sorts of cats in his background. It’s been touch and go, and he’s had fluid drawn from around his lungs several times. *Right now* he’s responding very well to the diuretics and heart medicine, so hopefully we’ve attained a plateau of comfort. Ari, for his part, has never slowed down, and remains his cheerful, playful self. Between Ari’s health, and my health, I haven’t been a whole lot of help to the ICARUS team the last month, but with both of us more stabilized, I intend to get back into the swing again.

I’m not one for New Years Resolutions, as I feel like they just set you up for a failure. Instead of embracing the new year, the new opportunities and the turning of the seasons, you get so focused on achieving the goals you’ve created that you don’t enjoy life. That said, I love when the year turns over and you can see the endless possibilities stretching out before you. All of those chances and opportunities to go out and do good in the world. All those animals waiting for us to help them. All the people waiting to be taught how they can help animals all over the world.

 

Sometimes the best way to help animals is simply to teach people about them, and about how to help conserve and protect them. Team ICARUS is a proponent of what’s called ‘hands off conservation’. This means that unless an animal is being given medical treatment or rehabilitative therapy, we do not touch or handle them. We do not believe in playing with wild animals, neither babies, nor adults, nor do we believe in keeping them inside homes or other inappropriate housing situations.

There are situations in which it is necessary to touch or handle wild animals. Very young animals must sometimes be bottle fed. Some species, like sloths, or fruit bats must be carried from feeding areas to housing areas, or kept swaddledFlying fox rehabilitation centre expands in Sydney in order to mimic their natural situation. The ICARUS groups considers this sort of handling to be part of the rehabilitation process, and thus unavoidable. However, romping around with big cat cubs, or dressing young primates up in clothing and carrying them around as if they were human children, crosses the line into pseudo-conservation. Continuing intimate contact with animals after they have matured beyond the necessity of that interaction is no longer caring for them as if they were wild animals, but instead, is treating them like a pet.

There are many groups who publicly present themselves as being focused on the conservation of a species, or multiple species of wild animal, while at the same time engaging very publicly in acts of exploitation of the very animals they claim to be protected. Despite that many of these groups describe themselves as “sanctuaries” if they directly interact with their animals, or allow the public to directly interact with their animals, they are not, and cannot be a GFAS accredited sanctuary. And for the ICARUS team, that’s the only genuine sanctuary. Many of them closely mimic the presentation of other legitimate sanctuaries or rescues specifically with the intention of duping the public into believing that they have the same goals. Often times this enables them to con large corporations and entities into ignorantly funding them even though they are not aiding in conservation in any way.

Sometimes, these pseudo-conservation groups can be sorted from the genuine organization simply by careful research. For example, an elephant orphanage dedicated to the rescue of baby elephants whose mothers were killed by poachers will not be a tourist destination. Human contact will be kept as minimal as possible, and though the young elephants must be bottle fed, the end goal is for those animals to be released onto preserves where they can successfully function as animals not dependent on humans. Any elephant ‘orphanage’ which allows the public to play with the baby elephants or that maintains a breeding program has much more in mind than rescuing orphaned babies.

Similarly, big cat “rescues” which maintain a steady stream of young animals–without being able to document where those young animals came from–or that allows public handling of the animals in their care, for either a fee or donation is not concerned with saving animals, but rather, making money.

The ICARUS group has been attacked before by those attempting to defend the organizations we call out for their pseudo-conservation activities, and we’re sure to be attacked again. It will not change our belief that these organizations are causing nothing but harm to the animals in their care, and skewing the public’s perception of what conservation really is.

Hundreds of thousands of people share the misleading and eye-catching videos of Black Jaguar White Tiger on a daily basis. The seemingly innocuous and adorable interactions of jaguar cubs leaping off beds, or romping through living rooms Captura de pantalla 2015-01-27 a la(s) 21.34.02or playing inside houses with celebrity guests

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capture the public’s imagination and devotion. For the devotees of such organizations, the idea of preserving habitat, or subspecies, researching genetics and reintroducing of animals into the wild or the halt of illegal animal trafficking has nothing to do with conservation. Rather, for those devotees, conservation is distilled into one simplistic act of ‘saving’ big cats from being ‘used’ by ‘bad people’.

The facts that these ‘rescued’ animals are kept inside of houses, used to entertain celebrity guests, improperly handled and left intact and able to breed more captive animals are consistently explained away by the ignorant, and often highly indignant phrase ‘But he rescued them from a worse life.

Here’s what those BJWT devotees fail to grasp: He’s helping to create and maintain that worse life from which he’s rescuing his animals.

Of the animals under the care of BJWT there is little to no documentation on where they came from, how they were actually rescued. Even the foundation story of the group changes on a regular basis. Their founder has admitted openly that he buys cubs and cats to ‘rescue them’ from their plights, which means that the breeders of those cats only have to breed more in order to make more money by selling the new cubs to BJWT. It is privately owned, privately funded, and while not ‘open to the public’ celebrities are regularly invited to the grounds–the exact location of which is carefully guarded–where they are allowed to play with animals, handle cubs which are often much too young to be handled, and have their photographs taken with the animals, all in exchange for donations and publicity. Despite that the group insists that most of its animals come from circuses, virtually all of the ‘rescues are incredibly young-too young to ever have been used in a circus-but are perfect for playing with the next round of guests who visit the foundation. Despite that BJWT is, apparently a “sanctuary” in Mexico, it is not GFAS accredited. It can’t be because of his handling of the animals.

Hundreds of thousands of people who follow the foundation on social media fail to see the fundamental failings of a group who treats the big cats in its care the same way that backyard owners treat their own exotic animals. If it is wrong for a woman in Iowa to keep six tigers in her house and allow her children to play with them, it’s also wrong for a wealthy man in Mexico to keep six dozen big cats in his mansion and allow people to play with them.

This is not the face of conservation:

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Advocating for animals and conservation means reaching out to, and engaging the public. There are countless ways to do this that do not include allowing the public to handle and pet the wild animals you’re discussing. Advocacy is an argument often used by groups to justify their allowance of humans directly interacting with animals. This is just another red flag to watch out for. If a group is offering you the chance to touch or hold a wild animal in order to teach you about how that wild animal needs to be protected in the wild, then they’re not focused on the plight of the wild animals, but on making money off of you playing with their captive ones.

This new year is bringing new chances to advocate for wild animals in a responsible fashion. We hope that you’ll join the ICARUS group in supporting those groups who utilize hands off conservation in order to protect wild animals everywhere.

 

Author: Artemis Grey

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Not About The Person, It’s About The Animals In Their Care

Hands off conservation is one of the fundamental ethical foundations of the ICARUS team.

It’s something we’ve posted about before, and it’s something we’ll post about again. Every blog post which contains certain ‘celebrity conservationists’ and which criticizes the way they treat their animals gets quite a few comments (not all of which get posted, because while we’re open to differing opinions, we’re not going to entertain baseless poop-slinging) and while some of them agree with us, many argue that for *insert whatever reason* it’s okay for a particular celebrity conservationist to pet/play with/hold/whatever their wild captive animal.

Most of the unpublished comments accuse us of being “jealous” of the celebrity conservationist, of being ignorant as to the fact that they’re “special” and thus can do these things without hurting the animal, or that we’re being paid to attack them, or that the attention they bring to conservation outweighs any stuff that they shouldn’t be doing.

Here’s the point all of these avid defenders are missing: It’s not about the celebrity conservationist. It’s about the animals they’re exploiting.

When we name names in our posts, citing how certain people directly interact with the captive wild animals in their care, or how they allow the public to directly interact with them (and subsequently how they cannot attain GFAS accreditation no matter how awesome they are) people rush to the defense of these (or some of these) celebrity conservationists. People get angry when you call out those whom they idolize. While we have yet to get any death threats, we’ve definitely gotten some, colorful, shall we say, comments, in defense of these celebrity conservationists. What these defenders fail to understand is we aren’t after their idols because they’re awesome and we’re jealous, or we’re getting paid to go after them, or because we’re just mean. We’re naming their names because we’re concerned about the animals in their care.

Our number one focus is the ethical and responsible treatment and care of animals. Most specifically wild, and captive wild animals. Our basis for believing in, and supporting, hands off conservation isn’t that we don’t believe you can have a special bond with a wild animal, or because we don’t have access to captive wild animals, so we don’t think others should, or anything else. Our belief is based in science, concern for the animals, and in existing laws, including the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Yes, some of these celebrity conservationists have raised the animals since birth. Yes, they’re experts (self-proclaimed, or with actual degrees) on these animals, and their behavior. Yes, they speak about conservation, and engage the public. None of that, however, gives them the right to treat the animals in their care any differently than they expect the public to treat them. And none of it guarantees that they, or their animals, will not suffer immensely for it in the end.

Let me use myself as an example.

I’ve been riding, training, breeding, foaling-out, showing, and caring for horses for 27 years. Almost three decades. I have more experience than some of those who have served on the Olympic team.

Several years ago, there was a cold born on the farm. I knew his mother, and his father. I personally assisted in his birth. The colt touched me, smelled me and saw me before he even saw his own mother. I raised this foal from birth, worked with him daily, and when he was old enough, began his training. He was a very ‘brain stem’ horse, meaning that he responded to body language, and silent communication more than verbal. I was his boss mare, so to speak, and he was my beta. He submitted to my authority readily, and without any physical domination on my part. I spent hours with this animal every single day.

One day, when he was about three years old, I had him in the crossties for a routine vet appointment. There was another colt in a nearby stall. My guy was fussing, where he was standing in front of us, because he didn’t like that he couldn’t turn around and be involved in what was going on. He was nosey, like most little boys are. I gave him a pat and told him to cut out the complaining. After that, I had approximately three tenths of a second to dodge or otherwise defend myself when the colt threw his hind end into the air, and lashed out with both hind feet.

I was incredibly lucky. His right hind foot hit my right breast, while his left hit my left arm. Less than an inch to one side, and he’d have broken my sternum, bruised or ruptured my heart, torn my descending thoracic aorta or my superior vena cava. Less than an inch the other way, he’d have broken ribs, punctured my lung or ruptured my liver. Farther down, and I’d have received gross damage to my internal organs, and farther up could have broken my neck, caused a depressed skull fracture, torn my lower jaw clean off, or even worse. The fact that I had space behind me, where I could be flung back without absorbing the full force of the kick helped, too. Basically, there was only one or two ways to survive the sort of kick I received, and I was lucky enough to manage one of them.

The really crazy part? That colt wasn’t trying to hurt me. What he did was the equine equivalent of saying ‘Get off my case, lady.’ He was a small, 700 pound herbivore just giving his ‘boss mare’ the brush off. If I had been another horse, I would merely have grunted and bitten his ass to put him in his place. As it was, he got a sound whack, and submitted in apology, and then stood there quietly without further fuss, because he wasn’t being mean, or attacking me in the first place. He was just mouthing off, horse style.

WARNING GRAPHIC PHOTOS taken directly after the incident, then later.

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The colt’s left hind foot grazed my elbow, causing my arm to swing back and hit the corner of a stall. I required X-rays to assure nothing was broken.

IMG_3202.JPGMy right breast, just moments after the impact.

IMG_3274.JPG     IMG_3273.JPGDespite scrubbing the wound immediately with disinfectant from the vet, an infection set up, requiring antibiotics.

IMG_3313.JPGAfter a week of antibiotics, the infection retreated. But the wound took more than a month to fill in.

IMG_3267.JPG My breast required pain meds, and had to be noted in my records, due to the internal scar tissue created which will show up on future mammograms.

I am a professional, and I knew what I was doing, and I wasn’t doing anything inappropriate. Neither was the colt. He was just being a colt. Almost any owner/trainer of captive wild animals will say the exact same thing about their animals after an incident.

However, there are some major differences between this horse and me, and captive wild animals.

The biggest of those, is that even if I’d been killed, no authorities would have shown up and confiscated the horse, and possibly euthanized him. No news crews would have shown up to discuss the problem of ‘captive horses’ being kept in ‘back yard zoos’. Horses and their owners all over the globe would not fall under fresh scrutiny, and there would be no sudden push for legislation to protect horses from being held in captivity.

If the colt had been a captive lion or tiger or other wild animal, all of those things would have happened, or could have happened. Maybe even worse things would have transpired. All because the animal acted like an animal, and I happened to be too fragile to withstand it.

Private owners are killed or maimed by their captive wild animals on a regular basis. This isn’t something new. Celebrity conservationists and animal trainers are also killed and maimed by their captive wild animals on a regular basis. It’s also nothing new.

Yet hundreds of thousands of members of the public continually try to categorize these incidents into neatly labeled boxes like ‘They were amateurs, and didn’t know what they were doing.’ or ‘They mistreated their animals, and the animals fought back.’ or ‘It was just a freak accident, that no one could have prevented.’ or ‘It was the fault of someone else present, not the the fault of the animal, or its celebrity conservationist.’ when the truth and absolute fact is that none of the incidents would ever have happened if someone was not directly interacting with a captive wild animal.

Here are links to just a small sampling of documented attacks and incidents involving captive wild animals with trainers. Here’s a PDF file compiled by the Human Society documenting hundreds of circus related incidents. It happens in the film industry, with trainers who have ‘perfect safety’ record. Even owners who start out thinking that they’ll be able to communicate with their animals, and be successful interacting with them often learn the truth, sometimes, they’re lucky enough to learn it without dying.

The one, single defining fact shared by these incidents, is the direct interaction between humans and captive wild animals.

This is why ICARUS maintains a strict hands-off approach to conservation. When you directly interact with a captive wild animal, it is not a matter of if something will happen, but when it will happen. And when it does, it will be the animal who suffers. There is no free pass for celebrity conservationists. They run the exact same risks as someone who’s raised and trained animals in their backyards. The only difference is in how the public chooses to justify one, while vilifying the other. For the ICARUS group, however, there is no difference at all. Our focus is the well being of the animals, and therefore we will continue to speak out against direct interaction with captive wild animals for any reason beyond rehabilitation and medical treatment.

As gratifying as it might be to interact with captive wild animals, it simply is not worth the risk of what could happen to those animals if something went wrong.

Author: Artemis Grey

Feature photo credit: Peter Lawson