Black Jaguar White Tiger: Sanctuary or Sham?

Why one “sanctuary” is not as innocuous as it seems

Via thinkreadact.com. Disclaimer: this article was last updated in August 2016. Circumstances may have changed.

Social media can turn anyone into an overnight sensation. Such is the case of Eduardo Serio, the founder of the Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation. Boasting millions of followers on Instagram, Serio regularly posts videos of interactions between him and his “kids,” which include various big cats, including lions, tigers, and jaguars. Serio has received a lot of attention for his foundation, especially since celebrities like Khloe Kardashian and Kellan Lutz have visited and interacted with several of the animals. Though the foundation is lauded by the public for rescuing several animals from lives in circuses and pet stores, criticisms of BJWT have been mounting, with noted conservationists stepping out and calling it “false conservation.” Here’s why the Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation is not be as great as it seems.

1. There is a lack of transparency. Environmental writer and animal welfare activist Jacalyn Beales details this in one of her posts. [EDIT: Her post has been taken down. For more information on BJWT, visit this post by 911animalabuse.com] First and foremost, the story of the beginning of BJWT differs from source to source. According to Serio’s website, Black Jaguar White Tiger was founded when he received a call from his cousin, “an Animal expert with over 25 years of experience,” who was upset over a pet store trying to drug a black jaguar cub for pictures with customers. However, according to an August 2015 Enchanting Minds cover story:

“For Eddie, it all began a while back when his cousin who had a panther cub wanted to sell it to a pet store. He asked Eddie to accompany him on the business trip. The store owner informed them that the panther cub would be used to generate income by letting people pose with it for a picture. Eddie and his cousin disagreed and returned, taking the cub back with them. Eddie spent hours begging his cousin to give him the cub to take care of it. In the end, his cousin agreed and gave Eddie the baby panther. And that’s how his love story with the cats and to rescue thousands and thousands of animals all began.”

According to another source, “Co-presidents Eduardo Serio and Rachel Brandt formed the foundation back in 2013, after rescuing an orphaned black panther cub from a truly miserable future.” Only one thing is clear in all this: the beginning of the Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation is painfully unclear.

In addition to the vague origin story of BJWT, the foundation does not give any background information on its cats. Occasionally, rescue stories can be found on one of BJWT’s several social media platforms; however, the public is not privy to the knowledge of where these cats came from. Even with the daily influx of cubs, it is not clear whether BJWT is running its own breeding operation or receiving cubs from a breeder. According to a source, BJWT is not transparent with anyone about where its cubs come from. Even Serio, apparently. When questioned about where one of BJWT’s tiger cubs, Tierra, came from, Serio responded that he “doesn’t know.” This is extremely alarming, to put it mildly.

2. The Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation is not accredited. The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries accredits foundation that meet their criteria. Many foundations claim to be “sanctuaries,” but because this is a poorly regulated industry, conditions for sanctuaries can differ around the world. GFAS tries to create uniformity in the industry to ensure the proper treatment and care of animals. It focuses on 25 different animal groups, and its standards for Felids (cats) include requirements for field sizes, nutrition and feeding techniques, and the handling of felids. The Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation is not on the GFAS list of accredited or verified sanctuaries. This raises a several red flags, because it means that BJWT is not giving its animals the care or treatment that GFAS veterinarians and felid experts expect from a sanctuary. This doesn’t necessarily mean that BJWT treats its animals poorly, but that BJWT is not doing what experts in the big cat conservation field recommend for wild animals being raised in captivity.

3. These big cats are being raised in an environment that is not conducive for the growth of wild animals. It may look cute on Instagram to see a video of a lion brushing up against Serio, but according to Jacalyn Beales, it is a “disaster waiting to happen.” BJWT touts a platform of raising these animals by a human hand, fostering relationships that leave wild animals dependent on humans. This is a far cry from how several globally accredited sanctuaries raise big cats. What’s more alarming is that in the “Stage 1” phase of care, cats are raised by human housekeepers with no previous experience working with big cats. These BJWT staff regularly post pictures of themselves “cuddling” with animals, which crosses several professional and ethical boundaries when working to care for big cats.

In addition, Serio keeps rescuing cats without providing more space for them. Though he claims that he is in the process of building a “Stage 3” with hundreds of acres for the cats to live in, there is no proof of this (especially since the location of the BJWT headquarters is secret), nor is there an estimated completion date. According to the 911 animal abuse website, “Serio supposedly has 100 acres of land, but the enclosures are already starting to look pretty crowded.” Serio is also against spaying or neutering any of the animals, which is leading to overcrowding and poor living conditions for these animals. Serio does not even attempt to simulate any aspect of a natural environment for these cats; with not enough space and too much human interaction, these big cats are not being raised in accordance with big cat conservation guidelines.

Moreover, this “sanctuary” is dangerously similar to petting parks. Celebrities are able to come in and interact with the animals, taking a couple of pictures for Instagram and leaving. Serio has even started to name cubs after his celebrity “friends,” which is a great tactic to not only market his foundation, but to also lure more celebrities to BJWT. Critics and conservationists alike have slammed Serio’s foundation for being a glamorized petting zoo for celebrities.

The takeaway: Do not be fooled by what you see on social media: BJWT is not a true sanctuary; in fact, it perpetuates the idea of raising wild animals in captivity. Lions and tigers and jaguars are wild animals that belong in the wild, and what Eduardo Serio is showing the world is that they can be safely raised among humans- which is an extremely dangerous mindset. And the animals you don’t see online? Who knows what conditions they are living in? This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the problems with the Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation. Eduardo Serio may have had good intentions, but he is definitely not giving these animals the lives they deserve.

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