5 min read

Animal Planet Under Fire For Blatant Animal Welfare Violations

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In a 2012 episode of Animal Planet's hit series "Call of the Wildman" called "Baby Mama Drama," a character affectionately known as Turtleman is charged with the task of trapping a raccoon that is terrorizing a Kentucky family. Before Turtleman knows it, the plot thickens -- after he traps the raccoon in the family's laundry room, he discovers that she's left a litter of babies behind. In what Turtleman calls the "nuttiest thing I ever did," he heroically rounds up the adorable cubs and delivers them to the Broadbent Wildlife Sanctuary.

A few things, it turns out, aren't quite right here. An investigation by Mother Jones found that not only was the whole thing staged (according to a vet at the sanctuary, the "mother" raccoon wasn't even a female), but that there may have some animal welfare issues associated with the production of the episode -- and for other episodes in the series as well.

"Call of the Wildman," a reality series that follows the misadventures of Ernie Brown Jr. aka Turtleman, a wildlife rescuer from Kentucky who captures pesky critters for home and business owners in a "guided reality" show. The investigation revealed that show employees had been trapping animals from the wild to be on the show, says Mother Jones.

A seven-month Mother Jones investigation -- which drew on internal documents, interviews with eight people involved with the show's production, and government records -- reveals evidence of a culture that tolerated legally and ethically dubious activities, including:using an animal that had been drugged with sedatives in violation of federal rules; directing trappers to procure wild animals, which were then "caught" again as part of a script; and wrongly filling out legal documents detailing the crew's wildlife activities for Kentucky officials.

Mother Jones talked to several sources involved with the making of the show who confirmed that producers typically take animals from farms or trappers and then place them in fake rescue situations -- often putting stress on the animals. "My biggest issue with the show was that we portray it as: We rescue animals," said one of the sources. "In my opinion, the animals weren't under stress until we arrived."

Sharp Entertainment, the New York-based television production house who teamed up with Animal Planet for the show, admitted that some animals had been improperly handled, but placed the blame on third-party contractors and said that they have issued new welfare guidelines.

Sharp says that after the allegations came to light, it introduced new written guidelines for the field crew, and, for the first time, hired anon-set licensed animal handler when shooting began again aroundMay 22 last year.

But for the network, it's clear that an emphasis has been placed on entertaining television.

"We're not looking to be a natural history channel," Marjorie Kaplan, Animal Planet group president, told theNew York Times in 2008. "We're looking to be an entertainment destination."