What happens to big cats after their TV appearances? Uncovering the secret world of celebrity animal experts | CBC Documentaries

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What happens to big cats after their TV appearances? Uncovering the secret world of celebrity animal experts | CBC Documentaries
What happens to big cats after their TV appearances? Uncovering the secret world of celebrity animal experts | CBC Documentaries
‘The Conservation Sport’ follows one man’s investigation into TV conservationists and their connections to the unique animal commerce. (NightFly Leisure, Ltd.)

When Tim Harrison was rising up, he liked watching animals on TV. He particularly liked to observe unique animals on late-night speak exhibits, showing reside in entrance of studio audiences. 

“Sometime, I wanna be like Jack Hanna … That was my dream,” he says. However as he grew older, Harrison seen an issue with the animal consultants he idolized. After these lions, tigers and jaguars had their moments within the highlight, they might disappear. 

In The Conservation Sport, a documentary introduced by The Passionate Eye, Harrison, who’s a retired police officer and director of the non-profit Outreach for Animals, goes on a mission to search out out what’s occurred to a number of the leisure business’s favorite cats. And he is shocked when he makes a bombshell discovery: a few of North America’s high superstar conservationists, like Hanna, Jarod Miller, Boone Smith and Dave Salmoni, could also be secretly related to the unique pet commerce. 

The place do the cats go? / Watching two worlds collide

For a very long time, many late-night speak exhibits had their very own “animal man” — a conservationist who would deliver unique animals onto the studio stage for light-hearted leisure. These “ambassador animals,” which regularly represented endangered species, have been mentioned to be there to teach the viewers. Late-night hosts would commonly ask the place the animals lived, the place their dad and mom lived or the place they’d go after their TV appearances, and the conservationists would possibly reference “a sanctuary there in Pennsylvania” or “a pleasant little zoo someplace.”

“Rapidly, I get a name from an area police division,” says Harrison within the documentary, “any individual [has] a tiger of their basement.” Unique and harmful animals have been turning up in individuals’s properties and backyards, he remembers. “I requested them, ‘Why did you deliver this tiger into your own home?’ ‘I watched it on Animal Planet.'”

Harrison started to marvel if there was a hyperlink between the superstar conservationists and the unique animals in individuals’s properties.

“You had the superstar conservationists, they arrive on TV they usually’ve obtained their endangered species, their ambassador animals,” says Harrison. “And, alternatively, you had a seedy underbelly. We had yard breeders, we had the roadside zoos. Absolutely the worst have been these unique animal auctions.”

Uncovering the reality about superstar conservationists

In The Conservation Sport, Harrison visits an unique animal public sale in Ohio, outfitted with a hidden digicam. “You stroll by way of this huge mass crowd of individuals, and all [of a] sudden, you see carts full of these cages: huge cats, bear cubs, primates,” remembers Harrison within the documentary. “A daily individual can simply purchase themselves an endangered species and stroll out of there with none paperwork in anyway.”

A surprising discovery at an unique animal public sale | The Conservation Sport

Tim Harrison takes an undercover digicam into an unique animal public sale, the place he connects the dots between yard breeders and the superstar “conservationists” on TV with their “ambassador animals.”

When the proprietor of an Ohio roadside zoo approached Harrison, the connection between the unique animal commerce and people TV conservationists grew to become clear. 

Harrison requested why she was there, and he or she mentioned, “Nicely, I am promoting the animals that Jack Hanna had on TV final month,” remembers Harrison’s affiliate Rus Muntz. “And I’ll choose up another animals as a result of he has one other late-night present that he will be doing,” Harrison remembers her saying. 

Miller, a daily on Animal Planet and the late-night and morning present circuit, was additionally at that public sale.

“I noticed this is not an anomaly, that is systemic,” says Harrison. “What are they doing with our ambassador animals? The place do they go? What occurs to them?”

Tim Harrison connects the dots between superstar animal consultants and roadside zoos and yard breeders of endangered species. (NightFly Leisure, Ltd.)

Monitoring down the ‘ambassador cats’

When superstar animal consultants deliver a giant cat or different unique animal on TV, they usually say they’re related to an accredited zoo or animal sanctuary. 

However Harrison notes within the documentary that, regardless of having connections with virtually all of the zoos accredited by the Affiliation of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), he is by no means seen a single ambassador cat present up at one of many accredited services. 

Within the documentary, Harrison approaches every of the massive cat handlers from TV — Hanna, Miller, Salmoni and Smith — to ask the place their cats go after their TV appearances. None supply a straight reply. That is when Harrison takes issues into his personal arms. 

One identify that retains developing in his investigation as a supply for these cats is an animal provider from Pennsylvania, Grant Kemmerer. In most of the late-night appearances, Harrison says, Kemmerer is “seen behind the scenes so much on TV, dealing with the animals, taking them off stage, even sporting a Columbus Zoo uniform.” Harrison locates a farm the place he believes Kemmerer homes most of the animals he hires out to the TV conservationists. 

“That is the worst place these animals may find yourself” | The Conservation Sport

Investigators find a farm in Pennsylvania the place animals are stored and bred for appearances on TV with superstar ‘conservationists.’

With the assistance of animal welfare advocate and researcher Jeff Kremer, Harrison tracks down two ambassador cats that appeared with Salmoni years in the past, once they have been simply cubs. Now, they’re at a roadside zoo in Pennsylvania, dwelling in 15-by-10-foot cages. 

“This cat did not find yourself going to an accredited {and professional} facility,” says Harrison. “This animal ended up in a petting zoo.” 

“This animal ended up in a petting zoo.” | The Conservation Sport

Tim Harrison and a colleague observe down two huge cats that appeared with Canadian superstar “conservationist” David Salmoni on quite a lot of TV exhibits. VIDEO – Ambassador cats (at critter nation)

Wild animals haven’t returned to the reside studio lineup

As reside audiences return to TV studios, reside animals seem to have quietly been left off the lineups.

In July 2022, the U.S. Congress handed the Massive Cat Public Security Act, a invoice Harrison advocates for within the documentary. The invoice prohibits the possession of tigers, lions and different huge cats as pets, and outlaws direct public contact with the animals. 

For the superstar conservationists, their appearances on tv, the place hosts and different visitors are allowed to deal with huge cats, would primarily be prohibited if the invoice turns into legislation. 

In 2021, New York authorities denied animal provider Kemmerer a license to exhibit animals till 2023.

Earlier than Hanna’s retirement in 2021, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, the place he served as director and ambassador for 42 years, took opposition to the Massive Cat Public Security Act. However when Hanna’s hyperlinks to the unique animal commerce have been uncovered in The Conservation Sport, the zoo misplaced its AZA accreditation. Hanna stepped again from his duties and his household introduced he had dementia and can be retiring from public life. The zoo misplaced its enchantment to the AZA, however has since earned accreditation from one other physique, the Zoological Affiliation of America. As we speak, the Columbus Zoo helps the invoice.  

Below the Massive Cat Public Security Act, present personal homeowners are allowed to maintain their animals, however they’re required to register them to make sure their location and any transfers are identified. That approach, first responders or animal management officers are conscious of their whereabouts. 

“Proper now, we have now the chance to cease this insanity,” says Harrison within the documentary. “And it is the best feeling on the earth.”

Watch The Conservation Sport on The Passionate Eye.

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