Society

Animal Planet TV Show Accused of Staging Fake Rescues, Drugging, Endangering Animals (Video)

| by Michael Allen

The Animal Planet cable network started off as an educational cable network, but like so many educational cable channels before it, has segued into the more lucrative world of reality television.

One of the channel's popular reality shows, "Call of the Wildman," pulls in more than one million viewers per episode.

However, according to a new report by Mother Jones, "Call of the Wildman" has drugged and mistreated animals, and staged faked rescues (video below).

"Call of the Wildman" is produced for Animal Planet by Sharp Entertainment.

The show stars "Turtleman" Ernie Brown Jr. who captures animals (with his bare hands) found by homeowners or businesses.

During its investigation, Mother Jones reported that animal trappers were hired to catch wild animals, which were released and then "caught" again on camera by Turtleman.

"We've always made the humane treatment of animals our top priority," Dan Adler, Sharp Entertainment senior vice president, told Mother Jones.

Animal Planet admitted to Mother Jones that some animals had been improperly handled by subcontractors.

"The person who is providing that animal for production is responsible for adhering to those legal requirements," stated Patricia Kollappallil, senior vice president for communications for Animal Planet.

Mother Jones also reports that Sharp Entertainment producers made fake animal droppings with Nutella, candy bars and rice.

"It was part of my job to call around people to trap animals at the direction of Sharp," Jamie (not his real name), who worked on "Call of the Wildman," told Mother Jones.

"It's 100 percent fake," said another production crew member.

Animal Planet and Sharp Entertainment admit to staging rescues for the reality TV show ("dramatizations"), but defend this practice by claiming the animals might otherwise be euthanized if they were not featured on the show. 

"We take pride in the fact that many of these nuisance animals in the state of Kentucky would be exterminated when caught, but the animals featured in Call of the Wildman are relocated," Adler told Mother Jones. "And that's an important part of the show for us."

Sharp Entertainment claims their policy is not to hire people to trap animals, but another source on the show told Mother Jones: "We paid a trapper to put cages around the state, and wherever else they came from, and then caged them for multiple days, and then put them in an enclosed setting and had Ernie… capture them."

"We would basically pitch the entire script that was sent to Animal Planet weeks ahead of time with the exact anima, and location," added Jamie. "They knew."

"Ninety-nine percent of the show, even the dialogue, was scripted, for Ernie to say," said another show source.

One episode featured a family raccoons that were reportedly bought from a trapper and placed behind a washing machine at a woman's house where Turtleman "rescued" them.

However, the raccoons were already ill and spent so much time shooting the episode that by the time they were taken to a wildlife sanctuary, they had to be moved to an animal hospital, the Kentucky Wildlife Center, where one of the raccoons died.

"If these animals were somehow subjected to someone's production schedule, somebody's convenient timeline, and you're dealing with newborn animals that need round-the-clock care, then that's wrong," said Karen Bailey of the Kentucky Wildlife Center.

"My biggest issue with the show was that we portray it as: 'We rescue animals,'" said another source on the show. "In my opinion, the animals weren't under stress until we arrived."

Another episode featured Turtleman catching poisonous cottonmouth snakes out of a public pool in Danville, Ky. However, the City of Danville claims the snakes "didn't crawl in or swim" into the pool.

In another episode, a wallaby was transported across state lines without the correct permits, which may be a violation of federal law.

Another episode, entitled "Bat Hair Day," reportedly featured a staged rescue of Mexican free tail bats who were placed in a Houston, Texas beauty salon.

Jonah Evans, of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, told Mother Jones that bringing a bat to a new location for entertainment purposes alone is illegal.

In the episode, "Lone Stars and Stripes," Turtleman chased a zebra that has supposedly escaped from a ranch in Texas, but was actually borrowed from a local wild animal farm.

People involved with the show told Mother Jones that the zebra could barely walk and appeared to be sedated, a violation of Texas law.

Animal Planet and Sharp Entertainment claim the the zebra was drugged before filming, but it happened without their knowledge.

"I heard about the zebra being almost unusable," said another employee on the show. "They sedated it, to get it to be less crazy."

Ironically, Animal Planet has aired other TV shows condemning people for abusing animals.

In 2010, USA Today, reported on Animal Planet's "Confessions: Animal Hoarding" series in which the cable channel took a stern stance against people who collect too many pets.

Animal Planet also warns on its own website about the dangers of people buying and importing wild exotic animals.

UPDATE:

A petition on Causes.com is calling for animal abuse monitors to be present during filming. So far the petition has almost 7,000 signatures.

Sources: Mother Jones, USA Today, Discovery.com, Causes.com