Money Over Morals: Colombia’s Conservation Failure

*This article would have been published in the next few weeks. However, it is being published ahead of schedule and without being entirely complete due to the recent, savage, and completely FALSE public accusations made by Eduardo Serio of Black Jaguar White Tiger against a heroic young woman who sought to help us and others take a stand against Serio, his lies and his abuse.

Somewhere in Colombia, six lions live in dilapidated circus carriages, the bars eaten with rust, the floors partially rotting. Four lionesses exist cramped together in one, two males in the other. They languish, the distasteful reminder of a country that tried to take a step forward in conservation by banning animal acts in circuses, but failed to consider the lives of the animals they were supposedly protecting. When Colombia made it illegal to utilize animal acts in circuses, it did so without having any feasible way to care for the hundreds of animals suddenly made homeless by their own policies. There was, and remains, scant documentation on the precise number of animals owned by circuses before the ban, or the number of animals abandoned since the ban was set in place. And with the responsibility of these animals strung between environmental agencies, such as the CRA (Corporación Autónoma Regional del Atlántico) things are anything but simple.

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Though the six lions are only nine years old–young for lions–at least one of the original seven animals has died during their three years of abandonment. All that keeps starvation at bay for the remaining six, is the devoted attention of a few people, who see to it that the lions have food and water. None of the six animals have left their cramped cages in almost four years. They have not touched grass in even longer. Their suffering is a result of Colombia’s simple inability to provide sanctuary for captive exotic animals within their borders.

Though the country of Colombia has indicated it’s desire to join in the growing worldwide conservation movement, the country’s actions continue to show a stark failure to grasp the ethics required to join in such an endeavor. Quick “easy fixes” implemented by Colombia have only resulted in more suffering for the animals, as they were abandoned by owners who could no longer use them. There are no records of how many such animals died, either of starvation, or because their owners chose to kill them in order to comply with the new laws.

In the cases of abandonment, such as with these six lions, forsaken animals linger throughout the country, their fates irrevocably snared in a tangle of dysfunctional Colombian bureaucracy. Despite that Colombia supposedly wants to participate in conservation on an international level, no discernible effort has been made by the the government to secure placement for the hundreds of animals orphaned by their policies. Colombia isn’t the only country in this position, either. As many other countries begin to crackdown on animal exploitation, the matter of where those animals are supposed to live out the rest of their lives has become the foremost obstacle in freeing captive exotic animals from abuse and exploitation. Even when established and knowledgeable conservation groups offer help in addressing the issue, governments often fail to properly utilize that offer of aid. This situation in Colombia is a prime example of that failure.

The plight of the six lions discussed in this article, was brought into the international, and public arena, not by the CRA, but by one of the most well known animal exploiters in the world: Eduardo Serio, the founder of Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation.

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Famous for his videos and social media posts showcasing tigers running around his mansion, and lions playing in his backyard Eduardo Serio has owned big cats–as pets–since 2013.

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Celebrity guests (many of them holdovers from Serio’s childhood days spent in Hollywood, attending parties for the elite) regularly visit Black Jaguar White Tiger, touting the facility while posing for photographs with Serio’s latest batch of big cat cubs, many of which have been purportedly obtained from breeders with whom Serio has connections.


If you ask Serio, he’s “rescued” over 200 big cats, in just three years. Some ignorant fans, like Eli Roth claim that BJWT has saved as many as 300 big cats, and repeat lies such as Serio quit his job in order to start the Foundation. Another popular lie that adoring fans are tricked into spreading is the idea that BJWT releases animals into some mystical “protected wild jungle” in Mexico. BJWT has never released a big cat into the wild. Most of their cats are hand raised from birth, and trained to interact with humans–such as guests like Roth, who then leave gushing about how wonderful BJWT is on their own social media hubs–and thus BJWT’s animals can never be released. As for how many animals Serio has “rescued”, according the the public records of the Mexican government, Serio has registered possession of only about 30 cats. The truth about how many cats BJWT possess remains elusive, in no small part, because the Mexican government has never inspected Black Jaguar White Tiger’s facilities. You read that correctly. Despite that SEMARNAT and Profepa actually send confiscated animals to Black Jaguar White Tiger, as of January of this year the public documents revealed no government evaluation, or inspection Eduardo Serio’s facility.

This lack of oversight has allowed Serio to literally make up his own rules and standards as he goes. The stories of even the most popular and well documented animals at Black Jaguar White Tiger change on a regular basis. Some cats, like Cielo, the first cat, a black Jaguar Eduardo obtained as a pet in 2013, have been declawed. Others, like Karma, the lion cub Eduardo obtained shortly after Cielo, have died. Some of these deaths remain unexplained to this day, while others have been reported by Serio in contradicting ways, as he changes their stories to suit himself and the situation. The deaths continue even now. In the last months, a healthy Margay died inexplicably. Serio blames many deaths on “inbreeding” but the majority of them–even without necropsy–can be irrefutably linked to mismanagement and improper care.

Karma died after chewing apart household furniture, the pieces of which perforated her intestines. Her last days and hours were filled with agony, while Serio farted around posting on social media that she was “getting better” and “almost perfect”.

Today, Serio adamantly denies that anyone found any wood or other foreign body inside of Karma. He maintains that she died on the operating table and that her death is a mystery. He claims that his “haters” have contrived the lie about Karma ingesting wood out of envy of Serio and his “kids”. He says that we spread this lie in order to “hurt” him. Apparently, he’s forgotten all of his own social media updates made while Karma was actively dying.

Likewise, a lion named Labai, suffered intestinal blockages from chewing on toys and furniture, while Serio posted on Instagram that he was “getting better”. In cases such as Labai’s, Serio patently blames the animals’ former owners, whoever they might be, even when the animals have been in BJWT’s care for weeks or months before problems arise.

Notice the age difference an appreciable growth between when Labai was rescued, and the photo of the young BJWT visitor with him before his death. Yet Serio asserts that his death was a direct result of the lion’s former owners.

In the early days of BJWT, Serio delighted in posting photos of shoes, flip flops, bedding and furniture which had been chewed apart by the cats in his care. He also posted photos of them playing with dog toys and other other inappropriate objects. Now, though, he denies ever allowing such things to take place, yet his cats continue to suffer from intestinal blockages, and digestive issues.

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In recent times, the tiger cub, Arizona, regurgitated milk through her nose, due to being improperly fed during a live feed on Facebook (which was quickly deleted, but not before it was captured by several viewers) The tiger cub, just a couple of weeks old at the time, subsequently developed pneumonia and nearly died. Serio promptly blamed “inbreeding” for her trouble, despite that thousands of followers had watched her choke on milk until it drained out of her nose.

Dozens of animals have died in the three short years that Eduardo Serio has owned cats, many of them overlooked or completely forgotten by his devoted followers. There has even been speculation from our contacts within Mexico, that Serio intentionally makes his cats sick, so that he can then “save” them on social media, much to the acclaim of his devoted (and ignorant) fans. Whether or not he actually makes his own animals sick, for anyone with at least a margin of medical knowledge, many of his “rescue” stories simply don’t add up. He describes serious ailments and injuries which are then miraculously healed in a time far too short to be physically viable. In other cases, he claims to heal ailments that simply can’t be healed–like blindness. Not if they were as serious as he described them to be. This indicates that in the least, Serio is untruthful about either the problems the cats suffer, or the timeframe in which they’ve recovered from those problems. Serio’s own lack of medical knowledge is a glaring warning sign to anyone with medical experience.

In addition to “healing” animals with his “Blue Energy” Serio is also well known for associating himself with various groups, or animals in need, simply in a bid for more attention. He notably announced that “We” are launching a “massive audit investigation against Yumka Zoo” when that zoo made headlines for alleged animal abuse. There was, of course, no followup on these claims. He also blamed the zoo for the death of his lion Labai, claiming that they botched an abdominal surgery, which caused his blockage, despite that the lion had been in BJWT’s care for over a month with Serio claiming that he was in perfect health now that he was in their care.

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Serio further stated in his post about auditing Yumka, that BJWT received approximately $25,000.00 a month, in donations (not including any profit from merchandise sales) from his followers. He has since claimed that the foundation barely stays afloat monetarily, and the tax forms he so recently released claims that they only made $800,000.00 in 2016. With an average of $300,00.00 in straight donations, between $250,000.00 and $350,000.00 in fundraisers, and then all of the money made from the sale of merchandise, and endorsements from huge companies like Hublot, Instagram, and Swarovski, (the latter four of which Serio has never releases monetary numbers for) one has trouble believing that BJWT is in such desperate need for funding, as Serio claims in his regular adverts for donation.

Never mind the matter that apparently there are two Foundations registered under the name Black Jaguar White Tiger, with Serio listed as the founder. One “foundation” is nothing more than a mailbox in Encino California. All donations received through that address are given to BJWT tax free, thanks to their American 501(c)3 status. The second Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation is registered in Mexico, and the tax and legal information pertaining to that foundation is kept tightly under wraps.

With Serio’s history of jumping on whatever animal crisis is currently in the news, when in December of 2016, he began a campaign to “save” six lions that were in “desperate” need of rescue in Colombia, most of us suspected it was simply a ploy to bring in donations. According to Serio, he needed $65,000.00 dollars to both transport the six lions to Mexico via ship, and to build enclosures for them to live in. Considering that the majority of the cats Serio already owns, according to eyewitnesses, live exclusively in small dog runs, it seemed absurd to think he was going to bring in six more lions. Even with a further twenty-two acres which was supposedly added to the foundation, this would still provide an exceedingly small area for the cats that keep coming into the Foundation. Nevertheless, within just a few days, Black Jaguar White Tiger fans had blindly forked over more than enough money to “save” the tormented lions in Colombia.

What those adoring, and unquestioning, fans don’t know, was that Eduardo Serio had already promised to save these same six lions (seven, at the time) from Colombia an entire year before his Christmas 2016 campaign.

According to this article, these same lions were due to be sent to Black Jaguar White Tiger in April of 2016 Serio was already “raising funds” in order to transport them. We learned from our contacts–contacts who have firsthand knowledge of the lions–that Serio had promised to take them, and that he supposedly was in the process of arranging transport for the animals. However, he failed to ever attain the required permits, and subsequently abandoned the project, leaving the lions to live for more than another year in their cramped and decrepit cages.

In the ensuing time, one of them died.

When I.C.A.R.U.S. Inc. learned through contacts, that the CRA was, in truth, willing to allow Serio to take the lions he already abandoned once, our foundation conveyed concern for the animals wellbeing, and asked exactly how much research the CRA had done on Black Jaguar White Tiger. I.C.A.R.U.S. Inc. was shocked to learn that, well, they hadn’t actually researched the Foundation, or Eduardo Serio at all. They were simply aware of him because he was famous on social media. They knew how popular Black Jaguar White Tiger was, our contact explained, so they just assumed that it would be a good place to send the lions. And because media outlets have (unfortunately) highlighted Eduardo Serio playing with his big cat pets, and referred to his “experience”, the CRA simply took these reports at face value, failing to understand that the media has no idea of how to differentiate between true expertise and social popularity.

This lack of understanding about how conservation works on a fundamental level, this ignorant presumption that public popularity somehow equates to genuine ethics and expertise, is as appalling as it is tragic.

It’s like assuming that because Hitler was in charge, he was a good leader, rather than understanding how he came to power, why he was there, and what he was actually doing. Our contact (a like-minded conservationist) was equally appalled and disgusted.

When I.C.A.R.U.S. Inc. reached out to the CRA asking if they would like to learn more about Eduardo Serio, and Black Jaguar White Tiger, they seemed very interested in hearing from experts who wanted to weigh in on the matter, and offered us the opportunity to present them with the facts as presented by leading experts in the fields of conservation and captive big cats, and international animal rescue. I.C.A.R.U.S. Inc. gathered letters of information, and facts which explained why, if Colombia, as a country, wanted to participate in conservation on an International level, they should not enter into dealings with groups like Eduardo Serio and Black Jaguar White Tiger, who value popularity and celebrity status over the wellbeing of their animals.

Once all of the information from willing conservation and captive big cat experts had been gathered, it was sent on to the CRA and other pertinent officials. These letters detailed how Eduardo Serio has no formal education in captive big cat husbandry; how he does not have a medical team on call to care for the cats already in his care; how several cats Black Jaguar White Tiger was given responsibility for, have since been removed by the Mexican government due to neglect and malnourishment; how despite that Black Jaguar White Tiger is registered in the U.S. as a nonprofit, Eduardo Serio has failed to ever post detailed financials of the foundation, as required by U.S. law. (Serio has, on several occasions, posted documents which he claim “prove” that he’s posting financials. However, none of them are a detailed listing of every donation, and every expenditure, which is what’s required. He’s also claimed he doesn’t need to “file taxes” for three years so his naysayers are lying. Again, filing taxes is not the same as posting yearly financial reports of all the income and expenditures)

Delcianna Winders, formerly an Academic Fellow in Harvard Law School’s Animal Law and Policy Program explained in her letter that to send “the lions to Black Jaguar would not only put them in harms way, but is likely to undermine conservation efforts and to be a public relations disaster for Colombia.” and that “the organization is under investigation by numerous entities and is known within the conservation community as a bad actor. The facility lacks adequate training in the care of big cats, a failing that has resulted in the preventable deaths of numerous animals.” the former Harvard Fellow went on to state that “Cats at Black Jaguar are kept in virtually barren and inadequately sized pens, and some have been removed due to inadequate conditions. The facility also allows—and indeed encourages— public contact with wild animals, a practice that numerous studies have found to be harmful to conservation efforts as it prompts the public to desire wild animals as pets and to believe that threatened species, like lions, are doing okay in the wild when in fact that are greatly imperiled.”

Tim Harrison, Executive Directer of Outreach for Animals has 43 years of experience in the rescue, rehabilitation and relocation of wild, and captive exotic animals. Well known for his award-winning documentary The Elephant in the Living Room  –which explores the perilous and complex issues of captive big cats in America’s backyards–Harrison stated that “These lions in Colombia are a perfect example of how a country, and its people, step up and heroically care for these big cats.” and that to send the lions to another country by ship (which is how Eduardo Serio intended to transport them, a long an harrowing ordeal) would offer “many more chances of human error, escaped animals and danger to the public and the big cats.” Harrison went on to say he had “not seen or heard anything positive about Eduardo or his facility, The Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation.” and that because of all of the failings of Eduardo Serio, and his damaging influence on conservation that he would “whole heartedly advise the Powers to Be in Colombia, NOT to work with, or associate with, The Black Jaguar-White Tiger Foundation.”

CompassionWorks International is a foundation devoted to spreading awareness about the daily exploitation that millions of captive exotic animals suffer all around the world. CWI focuses on abuse and exploitation carried out by zoos, circuses, aquariums and pseudo or fake sanctuaries just like Eduardo Serio and Black Jaguar White Tiger. Carrie LeBlanc, the Founder and Executive Director of CWI stated that a “transfer of any animal to that [Black Jaguar White Tiger] organization compromises not only the welfare of the animal in question, but also conservation efforts related to lions and big cats both in Colombia and beyond.” Again Eduardo Serio’s lack of education about big cat husbandry was pointed out, as were the issues which arise from such a lack of education. “Problematic husbandry practices are well recorded at BJWTF, which have resulted in the illness and death of numerous animals. BJWTF routinely ignores the importance of maintaining a physical and emotional separation between its animal inhabitants and its employees and visitors. The cohabitation and physical contact encouraged by BJWTF is highly inappropriate to the well being of the animals and poses a grave danger to all who come into contact with the animals.”

From conservationist and animal rights activist Soula Stephanopoulos came a litany of issues surrounding Black Jaguar White Tiger such as:

Serio is not qualified, having no education in regard to big cats, or proper big cat husbandry, nor is he able to care for these cats adequately using a diet of only chicken necks and no other game meat.

BJWT has no Conservation nor educational value.  BJWT is a commercial brand. Serio began as a private collector who purchased animals as pets.

Serio does not know anything about the ethical management of captive wildlife.  The Mexican Government must also take responsibility for their lack of ethical standards, guidelines and protocols.

An investigation into BJWT and Eduardo Serio has covered subjects such as lack of care, the exploitation of the animals in his care, the abysmal environment, the constant rotation of cubs bred for him to support his business and the gross misrepresentation of conservation, the glorification and promotion of cub petting and wildlife interaction, the lack of transparency, and lack of up-to-date reporting of numbers to PROFEPA and Semarnat. 

She closed by imploring the CRA “to think long and hard about sending the rescue lions to his zoological park and entertainment facility.”

Contrary to Eduardo Serio’s claim that BJWT is the “largest sanctuary for big cats in the world”, The Wild Animal Sanctuary, founded by Pat Craig, is actually the oldest and largest nonprofit Sanctuary in the world dedicated exclusively to rescuing captive exotic and endangered large carnivores. Under Craig’s guidance, TWAS has participated in multiple International rescues of captive exotic animals.  Craig was shocked by Colombia’s choice to entrust a entity which was founded on the exploitation of captive exotic animals, like BJWT with the care of lions which have already spent their lives in exploitive circumstances. Craig urged the Colombian government to “reconsider placement with BJWT and move in a direction where the lions would have a much greater quality of life,”. While Craig acknowledged that “BJWT has enjoyed a significant increase in public exposure over the past number of years, and seems to offer a viable solution” he pointed out that “there are no viable long- term solutions available within Mexico, especially those involving BJWT.”

In addition to denouncing BJWT as a poor choice as the eventual home of the Colombian lions,  Craig even extended an offer to the Colombian government to fully fund the rescue, supply shipping crates, transport and house all six lions on the vast acreage of their own Internationally renown foundation.

This could have solved the issue of rehoming the lions right then and there, if the offer had been accepted.

All of this information, and more, was passed directly to the CRA (including one Joe Garcia, a biologist with the CRA, but more on him later) and other officials,who had taken responsibility for relocating the six lions in question. Within a very short time, it was revealed that despite all of the warnings and educational information provided, Black Jaguar White Tiger was still on the top of the CRA’s list of places to send the lions. Even in the face of facts and information offered by professionals within the world of International conservation, the CRA was still swayed by the easy route, rather than the moral one. Since they had already started the process with Eduardo Serio a year ago, the first time he’d promised to rescue the lions, and then failed to do so, they pointed out that it was already “in the works”.

One might consider, though, that it would take the same amount of effort from the CRA to provide the paperwork for BJWT, as it would for them to provide it to any other reputable and established sanctuary.

In the ensuing time since all of this took place, Eddie–who readers should remember insisted that he did not have the money, to transport and house the lions–has also been given some twenty other big cats, by the Mexican government. Eduardo has gloated and preened over his “salvation” of these twenty-some big cats, and his mindless followers have cheered him on. Not one of them seem to realize that they’ve sent BJWT over $60,000.00 to “rescue” the lions in Colombian because he could not afford to save them, yet he somehow could afford to save and house the twenty-some big cats given to him by the Mexican government. Just in the last few weeks several more cubs have appeared with various stories, including the ever popular trope that a tiger arrived pregnant and then gave birth, but immediately abandoned her cubs. And just a few days ago, Serio proclaimed that BJWT would be getting “a lot more Angels in the coming weeks” and urged fans to buy now-discounted merchandise, and donate to the Foundation. BJWT has also been heavily pushing advertisement for a contest the prize being a visit to BJWT to meet the “Kids”. All you need to do to enter, is buy merchandise.

It’s been business as usual at BJWT, with new celebrity guests (Eli Roth was one of them) coming to play with the animals (including some of the new cubs) and constant advertisement for the “Win a Trip to BJWT!” The only breaks in promotional posting occurred when Serio took a detour from his rhetoric in order to share several shockingly immature and drivel-bloated public posts erroneously defaming an innocent young woman, and declaring that he was going to sue her. Apparently feeling some sort of pressure from within the Colombian government, Serio took to social media, singling out a random woman and stating that she, and she alone, was the reason that the lions from Colombia had not yet reached Black Jaguar White Tiger.

The reality behind this recent attempt at character assassination is that despite how Serio steadfastly refers to the lions as already belonging to BJWT and despite Serio’s continuous claims that the six Colombian lions have already been approved to travel to Mexico by officials, the lions have, in fact, not been cleared for transport. So  someone, somewhere in the Colombian government has given Serio the idea that his precious lions might not end up being his.

Because Serio has been guaranteeing to his followers that the lions are coming to BJWT for months, he now needs a “fall guy” whom he can blame if the lions are, in truth, sent somewhere other than BJWT. Otherwise, Serio will be forced to admit that he lied about all of it from the very beginning. And he can’t very well blame the CRA, since he needs them in order to get the lions. So instead, he posted the photo of a young woman, and claimed that she, and she alone, was the cause of the delay in getting the lions to BJWT. By placing the blame on an innocent, and defenseless young conservationist, Serio can avoid throwing shade on the CRA, and he can avoid pissing off someone with the means to fight back against his defamation.

And let me remind you that Eddie already had the chance to take these lions to BJWT in 2016 but he failed to get any of the paperwork and approvals necessary to bring them to Mexico.

Even more shocking than Serio’s public character assassination of the young conservationist, which occurred on May 28 (with several post following days later) is the fact that just a few days after Serio’s tirade and threats of lawsuit, El Heraldo put out an article on June 2nd, which briefly covers the six lions in question. And who is the “go to” professional contact for El Heraldo’s article? One Joe Garcia, biologist for the CRA. The same Joe Garcia who saw all of the letters raising serious questions about Black Jaguar White Tiger and their ability to care for the lions. The same Joe Garcia, who received an offer from Pat Craig of The Wild Animal Sanctuary of rehoming for the six lions. And yet, there is no mention of any of this in El Heraldo’s article. Not. One. Single. Hint.

Instead the article states that “The process for the trip takes a year and a half to be managed.” which completely contradicts the CRA’s replies to I.C.A.R.U.S. Inc.’s Colombian contact stating that they issued all the needed permits for BJWT to remove the lions in 2016, but that BJWT failed to attain the required Mexican permits. It also directly contradicts the CRA’s statement to our contact saying that all of the permits they’d issued to BJWT had expired and needed to be renewed.

The article goes on to say that after attempting to rehome the lions within Colombia, that BJWT was contacted. It says nothing about the fact that BJWT was contacted in 2016, and that arrangements were made, and that BJWT failed to carry those arrangements out, leaving the lions to suffer for another year. It says nothing about the fact that Pat Craig of TWAS offered to fully fund, and supply shipping crates for the lions to be brought to TWAS, which has participated in International rescues before. All of these facts, are facts that Mr. Garcia, as a biologist with the CRA, knew.

Mr. Garcia does not, in his statements to El Heraldo, clarify any of the article’s contradictions, nor does he correct them. Mr. Garcia does not mention that the CRA had doubts about BJWT and Eduardo Serio. He does not admit that they received multiple letters from established experts on the matter. Instead, he has the audacity to state that “We had seen the trip by sea, but it is longer and we do not want to stress so much, ” when the fact is, that when I.C.A.R.U.S. Inc. contacted the CRA, we were told in no uncertain terms that the lions were going to be sent to Mexico by sea because it was more cost effective, and because that is what BJWT wanted to do. Yet now, after multiple letters from big cat experts which pointed out to the CRA that transporting big cats by ship would be incredibly stressful and dangerous to the animals, Mr. Garcia has told El Heraldo that they knew of the stress it would impose on the animals. Now, either the CRA was lying to our contacts in Colombia when it stated that the lions would be moved via ship, or Mr. Garcia  was lying to El Heraldo, but it can’t be both ways.

But then, perhaps neither the CRA, nor Mr. Garcia is really in charge anymore.

After all, El Heraldo’s article came out–with Mr. Garcia clearly supporting Black Jaguar White Tiger, and conveniently ignoring, and attempting to hide the fact that the CRA was in contact with other groups, and considering other venues besides BJWT–just after Eduardo Serio publicly attacked a young conservationist and blamed her for the hold up. Mr. Garcia, having firsthand in the real “hangup”, knew, and continues to know, that the girl Serio has blamed for everything, is, in fact innocent of the accusations. Yet Mr. Garcia stood by and said nothing while Serio threatened lawsuits (naming the same law firm which is listed in the El Heraldo article as representing BJWT for the purpose of the transfer of the lions, not, as Serio stated in his attack, in charge of bringing warrants and lawsuits against anyone who questions BJWT).

One might presume, then, that Eduardo Serio’s public tirade served its purpose, cowing the CRA into submitting to the whims of the Black Jaguar White Tiger empire. That, or the CRA is every bit as corrupt as Serio himself, because for one of their representatives to take part in a movement to stop these lions from being sent to BJWT, and then just days after BJWT’s founder publicly blames someone else for the hold up, that representative participates in an article which celebrates BJWT, well, it clearly states that the CRA is either too afraid of Eduardo Serio to stand up to him, or they’re comfortable with allowing a bystander to be defamed and publicly attacked, taking the fall for something they actively participated in.

Of course, it’s not the first time Eduard Serio has publicly attacked a young woman. So arguably, both Joe Garcia, and the CRA knew perfectly well that Serio was inclined to bully and threaten his way through life. For months, now, Eduardo Serio has lied and publicly tormented a young American woman whose Savannah cats he offered to temporarily house, at Black Jaguar White Tiger. This, after he fraudulently lied on customs documents to get the cats into Mexico, and then promised to return them to their owner in exchange for $1,600.00. And yet, he took the money, still refused to give the cats back, continues to lie about what went on, while calling this young American woman crazy. This is something Serio laughingly boasts about doing on a Facebook photo album. At one point, after a number of BJWT fans offered to find the young woman and kill her in order to get rid of her, Serio published the woman’s personal information, including her phone number and home address.

Such actions are not the behavior of a professional. But then, Eduard Serio is also famous for flaunting dozens of Tramadol pills–a highly addictive pain medication–and joking about how he can’t get through the day without them.

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Sources have described watching Serio allegedly take Tramadol tablets three or four at a time, all through the day, every day. That Eddie himself has posted multiple times on social media flashing his stash of pain killers (which he calls “pirin tablets”) only supports what witnesses have said about his constant use of them.

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His casual jokes regarding the addictive pain meds are not only highly unprofessional, but also a sign that he does not believe taking them constantly is a serious matter. One source has even asserted that one of his American friends allegedly takes Tramadol across the border for him. One thing is sure, though, he never has a shortage of his beloved Tramadol, sometimes posting photos of multiple boxes, each of which contain pills. His considerable paranoia and violent attacks on anyone he perceives as a threat to his position also fit into the symptoms of long term pain medicine abuse.

And yet, this is the man the CRA, if not Colombia as a whole, seems inclined to entrust with its lions who are so desperately in need of a home. This is the man that they seem to have deemed their most important contact for big cats and their care.

A pill-popping megalomaniac who thinks nothing of committing his entire social media presence to destroying any group or person who does not worship him. One wonders if perhaps, just perhaps, those in favor of trusting Serio might come to regret their poor choices, if they aren’t already doing so at this moment.

Eduardo Serio posted several rants declaring that the woman pictured caused a three month delay in getting the lions while he was dealing with an issue that she caused. Of course, he can’t “for legal reasons” state precisely what one young woman could possibly have done that would stop two entire countries from working together on an animal transport. He also declared that the woman will “soon be jailed” but did not list why. Nor did he list why there was even a warrant out for her.

Eddie repeatedly mentioned how this young woman “hurt six lions” egging his followers on to hate her by saying that he’s “not surprised that she decided to hurt those poor six lions” and saying that “this monster damaged them on purpose,” urging, by example, his followers to condemn and malign her. Eddie then pulled out his old reliable trope of jealousy,  proclaiming that “they had the lions there for years, and nobody cared, then I asked the whole world to help rescue these Angels and they hate me for this.”

Yet Eduardo Serio has still not bothered to tell his followers that HE is the reason those lions have been sitting in those cages.

Eduardo Serio accepted responsibility for the six lions whose fate he is now blaming on an innocent conservationist, and then Eduardo Serio failed to ever get the paperwork required to obtain those animals.

For over a year, Eduardo Serio failed to get the paperwork needed to rescue these six lions.

For over a year, Eduardo Serio failed (supposedly) to have the money needed to rescue these six lions.

For over a year, Eduardo Serio continued to “save” and “rescue” dozens of other big cats (cubs, of course) while never even mentioning the six lions languishing in Colombia that he already promised to rescue and then abandoned.

While Eduardo Serio was using “Blue Energy” to heal lions and tigers, and dogs, and any other animal that looked cute on public posts, one of the original seven lions died in a cramped cage. While Eduardo Serio had professional photographer Gavin Bond over to Black Jaguar White Tiger repeatedly to take photos for a fabulous book they intend to publish, the six remaining Colombian lions each subsisted on two chickens a day. While Eduardo Serio hosted stars like Lewis Hamilton cuddling various batches of cubs he procured, the Colombian lions remained locked in cages, never having the benefit of touching the ground. While Eduardo Serio made lucrative for-profit business contracts with Hublot Watch company, the Swarovski Crystal company, and others, to bring in money to his own foundation, the Colombian lions remained ignored.

Ignored until it became convenient for Serio to bother with them again.

And when Eduardo Serio felt threatened in the “rescue” of the Colombian lions he had been ignoring, when he suddenly got the idea that he just might not end up with those lions, what did he do? He grasped at the name of a young woman who dared speak out against him and his deplorable exploitation of big cats. A young woman whose name was erroneously given to Serio by either an ignorant fool, or an intentional saboteur.

It’s beginning to look like the CRA is more interested in what’s “easy” instead of what’s right. If the fact that they might choose to give the lions to someone who already abandoned them once wasn’t enough of an indicator of their lack of morality, then the fact that the CRA is happy to work with someone who will try to publicly destroy innocent people should be.

Wherever Serio goes, destruction follows. Fake letters threatening legal consequences for infractions that never happened. The public display of private information of individuals that his own followers have offered to kill for him. The longwinded rants placing the blame for his own failings on others. If Serio cannot get something through bribery and promises, then he’ll try to do it through lies and threats and bullying.

Yes, the six (formerly seven) Colombian lions have been living in squalor needlessly for not only months, but years. The cause, however, is not due to one single young woman.

The blame for this disaster, the whole full weight of it, lies on the shoulders of two entities:

The country of Colombia, who in their rush to join the conservation movement, banned the exploitation of animals in entertainment acts before they figured out what they would do with the unwanted animals afterward.

And Eduardo Serio, who promised the Colombian government he would rescue the lions in 2016, and then failed to do so.

Should the CRA decide to move forward with handing their lions over to Eduardo Serio, an overwrought bully who delights in terrorizing anyone he deems beneath him, few genuine conservation professionals will likely ever deal with them again. After all, no genuine conservationist ever wants to be associated with a charlatan such as Serio and his Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation. Never mind the CRA’s poor behavior in working with I.C.A.R.U.S. Inc. and others, but then hiding their head in the sand and allowing Serio to publicly lie about an innocent girl, and, instead, rewarding Serio for his behavior, by sending their lions to BJWT.

And to Eduardo Serio, himself, *slow clap*. It takes a real man to attack a defenseless–and innocent–young woman just for the sake of throwing a temper tantrum and setting up a “fall guy”. You are the one who abandoned those lions back in 2016, and even if your fans are too stubborn to admit that, the rest of us know it, and will not forget it.

Nothing echoes louder than the words of a coward shifting the blame of their own failings onto an innocent who cannot defend themselves. 

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Momentary Victory In An Ongoing War

At the beginning of 2017, Ringling Bros. Barnum Bailey Circus announced that after 146 years of entertainment with animals, it was closing its doors for good. “Big picture” animal rights groups, who remained fixated on “sticking it to the man on behalf of animals everywhere” instantly declared victory, announcing the vanquishment of the #1 animal exploiter in the United States. Much of the public, and those more capitalistically minded expressed confusion or horror, that there was something wrong with the iconic establishment, or that “animal rights” should be put above the needs and wants of human businessmen.

The remainder of us within the conservation community, those who understood the depths of such an announcement, began poring over press releases and articles, attempting to suss out the long-term plans for the captive wild animals which have long been a staple for Ringling Bros.. We knew, unlike the public–who widely and ignorantly cheered for the “retirement” of elephants from Ringling Bros. Barnum Bailey Circus–that a circus who ceases to use animals in their show, or who otherwise closes its doors, is not going to simply empty the last of its coffers to provide genuine retirement for those animals. Nor is it going to lose money by giving them away to established and capable sanctuaries where they might live out their days. No, the circus is a business, and lack of profit, not protests, is what brought about Ringling Bros. decision to close. Likewise, promise of profit is what will decide where their animals will finally go.

Already the breeding facility owned by Ringling’s parent company, (which is, in turn, owned by Kenneth Feld) has put the “retired” elephants from their circus to work pumping out offspring, supposedly to repopulate the planet. Since bull elephants become virtually unmanageable once they reach sexual maturity, and enter musk, their sole purpose at the Center for Elephant Conservation (Ringling’s breeding facility) is to sire more offspring. None of the articles I found, either those who tout how glamorous a “retirement” the elephants have at CEC, or those who point out the documented issues of CEC  (rampant cases of resistant tuberculosis, calves removed from their mothers by force at birth, etc.) mention the fact that not unlike the milk industry, bull calfs are somewhat of a millstone to be dealt with, and live in complete isolation in individual pens.

What is clear, even this early in the situation, is that Feld–who openly scorns genuine animal sanctuaries–will not simply retire the animals from Ringling Bros. Nor will the closure of the iconic Ringling Bros. have any impact at all on smaller, less well known circuses, who still use animals in their acts. Even if none of the Ringling animals end up sold to other circuses (never mind that their elephant breeding will provide for sales to other circuses) it’s clear that with void left by Ringling has already become a target for every smaller circus to fill. The Melha Shrine circus, for example, did away with its animal acts last year. But ticket sales fell, and customers began demanding refunds once they arrived and realized that there would be no animal performers. So this year, as “big picture” animal rights groups cheered and declared victory over Ringling, Melha quietly contracted with other entities to provide them with a fresh stable of exotic animals, and reintroduced them to the show.

They aren’t the only smaller circuses who are refurbishing and updating their shows, including, animal acts. Not everyone was pleased to hear that Ringling Bros. was closing. Sales for both Ringling Bros. and other circuses have rallied, and even if the influx turns out to be temporary, if nothing else, it is evidence that the public at large is not necessarily in agreement with the idea that animals do not belong in shows. In recent years, there’s been an immense growth in captive wild animal shows and foundations which focus on “education through interaction” which is basically a derivative of “Experiential Education”. The problem is that the latter is a way of teaching people to physically do something by allowing them to do it, while the former (according to its proponents) teaches people not to do something by allowing them to do it. The problem, for anyone not attempting to profit off of animal and human interaction, is obvious.

But for the public, “education through interaction” is a trend that has positively exploded.

The Arctic Fox Centre in Iceland provides the opportunity for legitimate research, but it’s also home to what the founders describe as “sustainable wildlife tourism” wherein it states that it teaches tourists about the arctic fox. This education includes venturing into the field, where tourists can feed foxes who have been habituated to human presence, and are accustomed to being fed by humans.

The Orphaned Wildlife Center, in New York, has gained a considerable following, and news highlights after videos they released of their founder, Jim Kowalczik, went viral.

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Casey Anderson has made a success of his Montana Grizzly Encounter through the popularity of his own interactions with the bears.

 

Wolf Creek Habitat & Rescue allows guests to go into the enclosure with their wolves, for a “minimum donation” of $50.00 or more and has babies on hand as well.

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Wolf Park also offers guests an opportunity to directly interact with their animals. They also offer photography for $200-$300

The Endangered Wolf Center offers behind the scenes tours where for a higher price, guests can have hands-on experiences with the animals.

The Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center allows direct interaction with wolves and other animals. For $200+ you can have their “Interactive Alpha” tour.

The Zoological Wildlife Conservation Center/Sloth Center (they utilize two names in a direct effort to mislead the public about what goes on there) allows touching of their sloths, and even “sloth sleepovers”. They also offer a variety of other animals for handling, and often sell them under the table to private owners.

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Even SA is now debating the matter of cub-petting, with an ever-growing division among conservation groups as to how handling lion cubs under regulation could be educational, and might be a “first step” in stopping the practice of breeding through exploitation. It remains unclear,  however, just how breeding lions in captivity to be handled by tourists will eventually stop the practice of breeding lions in captivity to be handled by tourists. (if you’d like an amusingly egotistical and out of touch version of why people simply “don’t understand why cub-petting works for SA”, check here, and if you want to read the sharply witty and insightful article written in rebuttal to that “mansplaining” tangent, check here).

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The point is, handling captive wild animals a phenomenon that is actually accelerating exponentially, and the driving force behind it is the idea that humans can be taught not to handle captive wild animals by allowing them to handle captive wild animals. Every single foundation or group listed above is advertised as “educational” even though the majority of them breed exotic animals solely to sell and/or allow the public to play with the young. Many also use the tired explanation that they are preserving bloodlines to repopulate the species. Which is also the reason Feld gives for the continued breeding of elephants at his own facility.

Terrifyingly enough the public at large buys into this idea. With the close of Ringling Bros. animal rights groups declared victory. But behind their backs, an ocean of “education through interaction” centers, shows, and entertainment options are increasing in popularity. Smaller, less metropolitan areas, whose populations are not savvy in regard to “conservation vs exploitation” simply don’t realize that the petting zoo where their kids get the chance to pet wolf cubs while hearing someone recite biology facts about wolves is actually part of the problem. If circuses like Ringling Bros. had simply altered their performances to focus on “education” rather than entertainment they might well have never been pressured as they were to eliminate the use of animals in their acts.

The hard reality, however, is that shows like Cirque du soleil is one of the most profitable entertainment companies ever founded. They brought in over $850,000,000.00 in global revenue in 2010 alone, long before Ringling Bros. even entertained the idea of retiring their elephants, much less closing their doors. Cirque has never used animals in its performances, and yet has remained strong, and is steadily expanding its ventures, even now. This is even more evidence to the fact that the closure of Ringling Bros had less to do with the animals, and more to do with the business of making money. It also proves that you do not, in fact, need animals to make your entertainment productions publicly successful.

It is vital, I cannot stress just how vital, for the conservation community to consider the closure of Ringling Bros. Barnum Bailey as only a momentary victory, not a genuine, or permanent one.

We must pay attention not just to who is exploiting animals, but how the public at large is perceiving them. With his foul mouth, and caustic nature, Eduard Serio did not gain 6 million followers on Instagram through his dull wit, or rambling and disarticulated spiels about meditation and “higher existence”. He got that many followers by putting out cutesy videos that make people “feel good” and feel smarter. He got that many followers by carefully marketing the animals he’s purchased as pets, as animals that were “rescued” from various situations. The public’s perception is what has given BJWT the power it has now, not facts, not genuine conservation, but merely the illusion of “making the world a better place”.

These photos depict situations which are easily distinguished by the civilian public as animal abuse.

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CORRECTION Indonesia Sumatran Tiger

But other situations of exploitation are not as readily apparent to civilians. In the wake of Ringling Bros. closure, we must be vigilant in regard to how the public responds. Just as we know the circus is not going to lose money on its animals, we know that at least a large portion of the public equates forcing animals to perform as exploitation, but does not include people who interact with their captive wild animals into the same category. They are easily confused by what is, and what is not, animal exploitation, and we often fail to realize that their ignorance is our enemy. Those of us who deal with conservation in a gritty, boots on the ground, way easily discern between true, ethical conservation groups, but the public–who does not see the inner workings of faux-conservationists like we do–are easily dazzled by basic, even inane or incorrect information, if it’s wrapped up in an attractive and exciting package. The subject is even more muddled when some conservation groups say that handling animals is acceptable sometimes, while others state that it’s never okay to handle captive wild animals.

The public is not stupid, but many of them are very ignorant. The public does not want to see captive animals beaten into submission and trained to perform for profit, but they do want to believe there’s magic in the world, and that such magic is evidenced by “special bonds” between man and animal. The public isn’t opposed to learning about conservation, but they do want to feel good about it, rather than feeling depressed and overwhelmed by reality.

All of these factors coalesce into a perfect breeding ground for the rise of the “education through interaction” crowd. Thus it is imperative that we view the closure of Ringling Bros. as only a momentary victory, not a permanent one.

The end of the circus is only the beginning in our war to protect captive wild animals from exploitation.

Mexico’s Harbinger of Stewardship, LIBERO Santuario Silvestre

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.

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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.

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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.

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LIBERO Santuario Silvestre

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Author: Artemis Grey

The Troubling Trend In Paradise

Countless Americans see Mexico as the place to vacation and capture a few weeks of paradise. Even with the current political unrest, I’ve had multiple friends and family travel down to all inclusive resorts, and all of them have posted dozens of photos of white sand beaches and beautiful oceans. It seems perfect.

But looks can be deceiving. There’s a very troubling trend in paradise. Just as those all inclusive resorts are usually bordered by razor wire and tall fences in order to guarantee protection to the well-to-do tourists, who know nothing of the troubles which the majority of Mexico is faced with, the rest of the world only sees and understands a glimpse of the genuine problems with captive wild animals in Mexico.

Yes, most everyone has heard how the drug cartels own private collections of exotic animals, and if you’ve read my articles here on the I.C.A.R.U.S. Foundation’s blog, you know that Black Jaguar White Tiger is a foundation that has become a social media icon solely by showcasing captive animals being treated as pets (despite Serio’s incessant use of #notpets as a hashtag). But what virtually no one in America, and most others throughout the world seem to realize is that the cartels with their private zoos and menageries are nothing special in Mexico, just as BJWT is nothing new to the country. As we’ve pointed out before, there are no regulations on breeding big cats in Mexico. And owning one is as simple as filling out a form. Anyone who wants to, can collect animals into private collections. And they do. Some of them even “rent” cubs for as long as they’re small and then turn those cubs in to the breeders only to “rent” new, small cubs back out again.

The world in general sees BJWT as something “special” or “different” but the truth is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Mexico doing the exact same thing Serio does. Here are a few shots taken from public Instagram accounts involving private zoos or collections, “ranches” as they’re often called. Because these photos came from a civilian Instagramer and at least one contains a child, I’ve hidden the user’s information and the child’s face. It should be noted, however, that this is the person whom Eduardo Serio has tagged on Instagram under photos of the giraffes that he’s gone to visit on numerous occasions.

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Somehow, the hashtag #saverhinos is supposed to indicate that riding one like a horse is beneficial to preserving the species.

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Most often the people involved with these accounts state that they’re “preserving” the species, when, in fact, they’re just breeding them for their own private pleasure, and/or participating in the black market actively making money. A thriving market repeatedly overlooked and ignored by SEMARNAT and PROFEPA.

Unfortunately the trend of private ownership is not something new in Mexico. But here’s something that is. Since the rise of Black Jaguar White Tiger (and for anyone who is confused, or doesn’t realize it, BJWT has only existed for 3 years, and their current popularity is one that’s been bought and paid for by the exploitation of what began as three pets Eddie got for himself, and what’s turned into a rotating circus of babies) other established zoos have noticed how successful Serio has been with social media popularity. And many of them want in on the party.

Case in point: Jaguars Into The Wild.

JITW appeared on our Instagram radar roughly a couple of months ago. They describe themselves as a foundation devoted to rescue, research, rehabilitation and release. Emphasis on RELEASE, in all caps. The photos of their animals (jaguars predominantly) are gorgeous. We followed them with great excitement. Here, it seemed, was finally a group who was truly different.

Then, one of the I.C.A.R.U.S. team, while scrolling through the JITW Instagram feed, discovered a troubling photo of one of the founders out for a walk with two small jaguar cubs.

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It was supposedly an “old” photo of two now-adult cats. Nevertheless, it was concerning that a group who claimed to focus on rehabilitation was actively participating in hands-on interactions with cubs. Especially because they clearly listed the “mom didn’t feed them” excuse that literally everyone claims in regard to why cubs are being hand reared. So we started researching JITW, how they’d been founded, who the founders were, etc.

What we discovered was equal parts confusing and distressing. Instagram is a social media site, and like most social media sites, it intends to ephemeral. It’s not designed to plow through and is often difficult to backtrack as it wants to freeze. However, we soon discovered that JITW really doesn’t go back farther than a year, at best. The foundation literally appeared overnight. And diligent effort started producing more results. Most of them involving both the founders of JITW playing with big cats, training them to interact with humans, and to perform for a public audience. We also uncovered some clashing information about the foundation’s “star” jaguar, Andromeda, the “first to be raised without human intervention” whom they tout as the best hope for a wild release.

It seems that Andromeda is owned by a zoo. The Oaxaca Yaguar Xoo, to be exact. Here’s her birth announcement.

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But, here’s the same announcement, posted on the JITW Instagram feed, claiming that THEY own Andromeda.

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Awkward.

You would think that either one or the other would own the jaguar. But it gets more confusing. Having discovered that a zoo was claiming to own the same cat that JITW claimed to own, I started looking into the Yaguar zoo. It turns out that Yaguar loves to breed babies, and then take them from their mothers. Here’s a video (in Spanish) talking about how great they are, and how many experts they have. Experts with incredibly sticky fingers, it seems, as you’ll notice that every single one of them is holding with and playing with tiny cubs much too young to be away from their mothers in natural circumstances. I warn you, toward the end of the video, one cub is dangled in front of its mother, separated by iron bars, and the mother becomes quite desperate, injuring herself to the point of limping away from her attempts to reach her baby.

Yaguar Xoo also apparently also does a booming business with “interns” and “volunteers” who are allowed to handle and play with their animals.

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The translation for these photos is roughly “Do you like animals? Come volunteer at Yaguar Xoo!

In my research on JITW, I’d checked out the Instagram accounts of both founders, one, Víctor Rosas Cossío, literally just turned his private account into the JITW account. But his co-founder, Andrea, still has a separate account. And when I scrolled through, I found these photos.

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I was, understandably, confused. The co-founder of JITW started out as a volunteer playing with big cats at the Yaguar Xoo? It gets even more questionable. Before volunteering at the zoo and playing with lions and other big cats, it seems that Andrea had no visible association with any conservation or animal group at all. Rather, she was a fashion model. While modeling is a completely legitimate career, most successful models don’t just wake up one day and start founding wildlife organizations dedicated to research, rehabilitation and RELEASE, because, well, you have to know about those things in order to do them.

I turned to the other co-founder, Víctor, and that’s where I found the big cat expertise I’d been expecting. Only, I didn’t find it in the format I would have hoped to find it. (name) apparently worked for the Yaguar Xoo for a number of years, training their big cats to perform for the public.

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A running comparison of the social media accounts of JITW and the Oaxaca Xoo revealed what amounts to a shared presence. Pictures of the same animals on both accounts with both groups claiming to own the cats, the same photos show up in both locations, and most troubling of all, the same “enrichment area” where the Oaxaca animals are forced to perform for the public, are the same areas where JITW’s animals are shown getting “enrichment”. In addition, there is a public pool on the zoo grounds which seems to be the same pool that baby big cats are shown swimming in in JITW photos.

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What JITW is carefully NOT saying on their social media accounts is that the reason they appeared overnight is because they’re really just a new face and branch off of an existing zoo.

JITW presents itself as an entirely new foundation with an entirely new objective, but the truth is that they’re just a perfect example of how to use social media and sleight of hand to make yourself seem legitimate. By following the format created by BJWT (social media presence which is designed to lure in supporters by saying all the right things, and showing carefully orchestrated “awesome stuff” using professional photographers, and references to the future of Mexico’s wildlife) the Yaguar Xoo has, in essence, reinvented itself by creating a supposedly entirely separate entity. The problem is, the zoo shares animals with JITW, the zoo is still breeding those animals, and despite that an inside source told us that one animal had, they thought, been released, that supposed release was well over a decade ago, which would place both of JITW’s founders in their teenage years. Thus, that supposed release had nothing at all to do with JITW as it exists now.

By now, the parallels between JITW and BJWT were truly frightening:

Both foundations appeared overnight, established with hundreds of thousands to millions of followers in less time than it takes most foundations to get a roof over their head.

Both foundations have, and maintain, merchandise lines and/or retailers who are eager to host merchandise the proceeds from sales of which goes directly to the foundations, contacts and luxuries unheard of for most foundations.

Both foundations have private photographers on board, constantly promoting the foundations through art, and the animals, and helping to create merchandise.

Both foundations have already been guests at various exhibitions as “experts” in the field of conservation (despite that neither have actually had any impact at all on wild populations or conservation efforts) and despite that the founders of both foundations are, in fact, not experts on big cats, or are so young they simply can’t have the experience required to truly be an established expert.

Both foundations have been invited to participate in events where their animals and stories were highlighted, despite, again, the fact that they have not yet done anything to help wild populations and have, instead, participated in breeding captive populations.

Both foundations have stated that they are part of a “DNA bank” and mapping endeavor.

But the most damning evidence so far in regard to JITW being an imitation of BJWT, is the fact that, well, both groups are friends on social media. They tag each other on Instagram, the call each other brother, and they openly and publicly support each other.

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Now, JITW doesn’t have to aggressively denounce BJWT and their cub-petting extravaganzas. It’s a small world in Mexico, and professionalism is something I could accept. Formal responses and shows of gratitude would be completely expected. However, calling each other “brother” and thanking BJWT for sending “blue energy” over to heal Andromeda from the tragic and unforeseen Africanized bee attack (truly horrific) denotes a tad more affection than a strictly professional relationship. Never mind that there’s a huge overlap of BJWT Instagram followers and JITW followers, largely due to the link fostered by the two foundations.

Add the fact that JITW is run out of a zoo which participates in cubs petting, and for which one founder worked for years, and it’s too much for me not to form an opinion on the matter. Clearly, Mexico has a problem. Namely one which involves foundations cropping up out of the blue because they’re nothing more than existing groups renamed and revised, or owned by well connected people.

Creating conservation foundations in Mexico is the new “clothing line” of the rich and famous, and just as celebrities tout each others’ newest sweatshirt designs, it helps to be chummy with the other biggest foundation in the country. In JITW’s case, that’s BJWT. So while we’ve been told that at least one of the JITW founders doesn’t particularly like Eduardo Serio or what he does, they apparently like his connections enough to buddy up with him in order to get ahead.

Now, just in the last few days, JITW has announced that they’re working with Discovery Channel and Animal Planet on some kind of project. Frankly, Animal Planet has been dead to me for years. When you host shows like “Call of the Wildman” and “Redneck Zoo” any reputation you had pertaining to actual conservation and animal husbandry is out the window and run over by a semi. But I was sort of holding out hope that Discovery Channel might retain some standards. Alas, they obviously have no more devotion to research and actual conservation than their sister station. Really pieces of work, both stations are. Pieces of fecal matter, but whoppers of the kind, I’ll give them that. Leading the world in misinformation and pseudo-conservation, one fake show at a time.

But back to JITW. It’s unclear what sort of project is being filmed. Nothing has been said about a release date for Andromeda, and as she’s literally the only big cat at JITW that wasn’t hand reared and played with for her entire life, there’s no one else to release. But then, JITW has turned baiting cats for public entertainment into an art form they refer to as “enrichment”. Accredited sanctuaries offer their animals hidden food, or treats, special edible toys (like pumpkins in the fall) or Christmas trees to play with for enrichment. JITW brings their animals from small enclosures into one large one, and then proceed to dangle a piñata full of yummy stuff over a pool of water. If kitty wants the yum yums, kitty’s got to jump and hot dog through the air like an Olympic freestyle skier in order to get them. In front of a crowd of paying guests, of course. So perhaps Discover Channel and Animal Planet are working on a show about flying big cats? Who knows.

There’s no denying that the cats of JITW are beautiful to look at, just as it’s impossible to deny that the cubs, of BJWT are utterly adorable. The problem is, that while the animals of both foundations generate an onslaught of social media, and other media attention, the wild animals continue to suffer without notice. And while private ownership of exotic animals in Mexico is on par with that of the United Arab Emirates, and zoos which allow petting and handling abound, there remains no genuine sanctuary for animals who need to be rescued and then left alone in peace, rather than being exploited for the sake of money.

Or is there a sanctuary out there in Mexico which actually does care about the animal, first, foremost and always?

Find the answer in my next article, where I explore the only sanctuary in the country of Mexico which fits the true definition of the word.

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…