‘Wildman’ show accused of animal mistreatment

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Animal Planet, Sharp Entertainment deny Mother Jones' accusations

By Stephen Lega

Mother Jones, a nonprofit news organization, reported last week that it found instances of animal mistreatment during a seven-month investigation into "Call of the Wildman," the Animal Planet program starring Marion County's "Turtleman" Ernie Brown Jr.
While Brown was not named personally, Mother Jones accused people involved with the show of endangering the lives of baby raccoons, sedating a zebra and illegally transporting bats.
Representatives of Animal Planet, which airs the show, and Sharp Entertainment, the production company that makes the show, both issued statements about the Mother Jones' allegations.
Animal Planet representatives wrote that they learned of the issues raised by Mother Jones nine months ago, and that Sharp Entertainment made changes to its policies to ensure animal welfare.
"We are not aware of a single animal death during filming, or as a result of filming, on Call of the Wildman. We are proud that our productions, including Call of the Wildman, have provided countless animals with a second lease on life," Animal Planet wrote in its statement.
Sharp Entertainment also defended how animals have been handled for the show.
"Contrary to these sensational headlines, no animals were killed during the production of Call of the Wild Man and no animals were drugged by the production team. It's unfortunate that someone would make these - and other - false and misleading claims in describing a matter that had been investigated and addressed nine months ago," Sharp Entertainment wrote.
Mother Jones' strongest allegations centered on three particular episodes:
- "Baby Mama Drama," in which the Turtleman finds baby raccoons under a house. This episode originally aired in July 2012. In the Mother Jones piece called "Drugs, Death, Neglect: Behind the scenes at Animal Planet", Karen Bailey of the Kentucky Wildlife Center provided documents showing that she received three baby raccoons that were brought to her from the "Turtleman show" in April 2012* in need of emergency care. Bailey also told Mother Jones that she was able to save two of the three raccoons.
Mother Jones also reported that Bailey's phone records show she was contacted by a Sharp producer days before the "Baby Mama Drama" episode was filmed. She told Mother Jones that she warned them that keeping baby raccoons without their mother could put them at risk.
- "Lone Stars and Stripes" in which the Turtleman catches a zebra. This episode originally aired in August 2013. Mother Jones reported that a zebra used in this episode was sedated prior to filming. Animal Planet and Sharp both acknowledged that was the case, but they said the drugging occurred without their knowledge.
The zebra used in the episode came from the Franklin Drive Thru Safari. John Clay, who runs the safari, denied giving any sedatives to the zebra, according to Mother Jones.
- "Bat Hair Day" in which the Turtleman catches bats in a beauty salon. This episode also aired in August 2013. Mother Jones reported that Mexican free-tailed bats were used in the episode and that Animal Planet and Sharp Entertainment both acknowledged that the bats were placed there. A Texas wildlife official told Mother Jones that people can remove bats from their home or business, but that bats cannot be taken to a new location for the sake of entertainment.
Mother Jones also made reference to episodes in which Turtleman caught poisonous snakes at a pool in Danville and a mink at a miniature golf course in Lexington.
Animal Planet and Sharp Entertainment have acknowledged that situations are staged for filming. Since the 13th episode of “Call of the Wildman,” a disclaimer at the end of the show reads that the program contains dramatizations.
Since the initial Mother Jones report was published on Jan. 21, it has been mentioned on national and statewide news organizations, including CNN and the Lexington Herald-Leader. CNN also reported that U.S. Department of Agriculture officials are doing "fact-finding" in response to the Mother Jones story.
In its statement, Animal Planet maintained that the life and welfare of animals is paramount to the channel.
"We take the issues raised in the Mother Jones article very seriously as we take the treatment and welfare of animals in general. We react appropriately, responsibly, quickly and thoroughly whenever any specific issues are raised or brought to our attention," Animal Planet wrote.
They added that the notion that a culture of neglect exists around "Call of the Wildman" is absurd.
"As with all our shows, we are committed to continually evaluating and improving our production guidelines," Animal Planet wrote.
Sharp Entertainment reiterated that it is proud of its work on the first three seasons of "Call of the Wildman," adding that the show has given countless animals a second chance.
"The treatment of hundreds of animals seen on our show is a top priority, and we’re constantly monitoring on-location conditions and adapting more effective guidelines to achieve this goal," Sharp Entertainment wrote. "In the world of TV and film where animals’ lives are often undervalued, our show sends a positive and important message by highlighting Ernie Brown Jr.’s desire and dedication to saving animals."
Editor's note: The Enterprise attempted to contact the Turtleman for a response but was informed that he had been advised not to comment.

The original Mother Jones piece can be read here: http://goo.gl/b50niU.
A second Mother Jones piece, published Jan. 23, can be read here: http://goo.gl/bOiImx.

* The print edition incorrectly reads that Bailey received the raccoons in April 2013.