Big Cats and Zoo Politics

Update: H.R. 1818— Big Cat Public Safety Act

Dan Ashe and Wayne PacelleDan Ashe, CEO AZA, with Wayne Pacelle, CEO HSUS— photo via twitter

The Big Cat Public Safety Act is alive and well, notwithstanding assurances to the contrary made by Dan Ashe, CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), to member zoos concerned about the survival of their Animal Ambassador programs.

On March 30, 2017 the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1818) was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the primary proponent of the measure, characterized the bill as a bi-partisan effort to “prohibit private ownership of captive lions, tigers, and other big cats in the US.” — ostensibly a bill to ban big cats as pets. However, most states already prohibit the ownership of big cats as pets. South Carolina passed a law banning big cats as pets in the 2017 legislative session. The primary impact of H.R. 1818 would not be on pet owners, but on zoos and sanctuaries that are not ideologically aligned with the HSUS.

Zoo Controversy
Recently, a dark tide of suspicion and uncertainty washed over the zoo community, when news of an alliance between an anti-zoo-animal-rights behemoth, HSUS, and the largest zoological trade association in the country, AZA, was announced. The new partnership was unveiled when Dan Ashe announced that his old friend Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the HSUS, would be the keynote speaker at the AZA Annual Conference 2017.  Facebook blazed with opposition posts, and an online petition to disinvite Pacelle from the conference garnered more than 700 signatures.

Simultaneously, AZA declined Protect the Harvest’s platinum sponsorship and revoked its booth at their conference. Protect the Harvest, a farm organization founded by Forrest Lucas, has been a vocal critic of the HSUS, and their removal from the conference was a clear nod to the HSUS by Dan Ashe. Clearly, Wayne Pacelle wanted no counter balance to his aggressive animal rights vision for AZA.

Association Politics and Propaganda
In the lead up to the AZA conference, AZA members criticized Dan Ashe for inviting Pacelle as the keynote speaker. For many, it was akin to letting the fox into the hen house. Pacelle has never supported zoos in the past, and has never supported captive breeding programs for conservation. He has a reputation for believing he has the moral authority— giving himself latitude — to play fast and loose with the truth. His ability to engineer slick media campaigns designed to smear his enemies and promote his friends has become his signature.

The HSUS propaganda machine can be a serious problem for anyone not willing to align with Pacelle’s animal rights philosophy. Farmers, egg producers, ranchers and dog fanciers can all attest to the damage done when Pacelle opens up his bag of dirty tricks. Understandably, many in the zoo community are afraid that HSUS will lead the AZA into dangerous and uncertain territory.

“Dan was the best US Fish and Wildlife Service Director the nation has ever had.”— Wayne Pacelle, AZA Annual Conference 2017

Some AZA members say they were assured by Dan Ashe that H.R. 1818 was dead. Many had expressed fears the bill would eliminate their Animal Ambassador programs. However, keep in mind, Dan Ashe has always been known for a very transactional management style. As director of FWS, he never met someone that he didn’t agree with. At the meeting table Ashe focuses on appeasement. Regardless of eventual outcomes, face to face, he is always on your side.

ZAA Smear
During his opening statements at the AZA Annual Conference, Pacelle revealed the long term relationship between he and Dan Ashe dating back to before their close association during Ashe’s days as Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Pacelle joked about playing basketball with Ashe in the mid-80’s. Then in an attempt to demonstrate ideological parity between the HSUS and the AZA, and to assuage member concerns about the historically anti-zoo HSUS mission, Pacelle elevated the AZA accreditation above all other zoological trade associations, calling it the “gold standard.” He then directed his ire toward the second largest zoo accreditation organization, the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), saying, “[ZAA] doesn’t have standards”— and equating it to the “pet ownership” he wants to eliminate with H.R. 1818. Pacelle’s efforts to discredit the ZAA and convince AZA conference attendees that ZAA’s zoo accreditation equates to pet ownership provided for the darkest moments of his address.

Big Cat Public Safety Act is Alive and Well
Ironically, in his closing remarks, Pacelle contradicted Ashe when he thanked the AZA for their “collaboration” on H.R. 1818, after Dan Ashe was reported to have just told some members that AZA was not supporting the bill. Not only did Pacelle implore members to support H.R. 1818, he urged them to take an active role discrediting the ZAA brand, calling ZAA members, “bad actors” and “unethical businesses.”

“Let’s get this bill done… let’s get congress to act on these issues.”— Wayne Pacelle, AZA Annual Conference 2017

H.R. 1818 may not be front burner on Capitol Hill right now, but HSUS and AZA are pushing for it. AZA members who are under the impression Dan Ashe doesn’t support this measure should seek clarification on exactly where AZA stands. All it would take is for one legislator to be convinced they could score some safe political points by pushing what HSUS has characterized as a “common sense public safety” issue to move H.R. 1818. I imagine at that point, Dan Ashe if true to form, would admonish that it is all beyond his control. Remember, election season is right around the corner, and talk is cheap in Washington, D.C. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security.


Andrew Wyatt, working through the firm of Vitello Consulting, is a government affairs and policy consultant dedicated exclusively to the wildlife sector.

WyattP1“Wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in articulating clear policy ideas and getting them in front of key decision makers. Please follow ‘The Last Word on Wildlife’ for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of creating a comprehensive business/government affairs strategy, or a more targeted issue campaign, please call or email me.” — Andrew Wyatt


©Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Animal Rights – Fundraising Wrongs ~ Part II

Pacelle Money

Morality and Ethics ~ The Ends Justify the Means
Animal rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Born Free USA, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), seek to  claim the “moral high ground” on behalf of animals. However, that “high ground” stands on a shaky foundation of exaggerations of the truth, intimidation of the opposition, and risky games of  legal hi-jinx with donor money. This approach to fundraising uses divisive tactics like PETA-porn to create a mob mentality around animal issues. Impassioned people are motivated to donate money, and manipulating facts and manufacturing evidence may help achieve fundraising goals if it can sufficiently outrage your donor base.

RICO Act Lawsuit and Witness Tampering
This Summer the sins of HSUS hit home with a real vengeance when HSUS, Born Free USA and other co-defendants agreed to pay $15.75 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed against them by Feld Entertainment under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. As a result, the charity watchdog group, Charity Navigator, revoked HSUS’ mediocre 3-star rating and issued a “Donor Advisory” warning. Charity Navigator issued the warning soon after news of the HSUS settlement made the news. The animal rights behemoth lost its insurance coverage in 2010 likely putting donors on the hook for HSUS’ legal misadventures. As a co-defendant in the RICO lawsuit, the ASPCA agreed to settle for $9.3 million in late 2012.

The RICO lawsuit was filed in response to a “frivolous” Endangered Species Act (ESA) suit filed against Feld 14 years ago by HSUS and company. Court documents revealed that, “In the original ESA lawsuit, Feld Entertainment discovered the animal rights groups and their lawyers had paid over $190,000 to a former circus employee, Tom Rider, to be a ‘paid plaintiff.’ The Court also found that the animal rights groups and their attorneys ‘sought to conceal the nature, extent and purpose of the payments’ during the litigation. Their abuse of the judicial system included the issuance of a false statement under oath by Rider, assisted by his counsel, who the Court found was ‘the same attorney who was paying him’ to participate in the litigation. The Court found in addition to Rider being a ‘paid plaintiff,’ that the lawsuit was ‘frivolous and vexatious.'”

Hate-Speak Attacks on Children

Kendall-Jones-school

Kendall Jones ~ Facebook

Teenager Kendall Jones suffered an unrestrained attack via social media earlier this year. Jones, a 19 year old, American pie college student became the poster child for anti-hunting by organizations in the animal rights industry that labeled her as a “killer and a murderer.” Several months ago she posted pictures from a legal African safari in which she participated. The vitriolic response that followed included threats against her life. For a period of time, Facebook hosted a Kill Kendall Jones Page, which has now been removed.  (Initially, the site refused to remove the threatening page, saying it did not rise to the level of genuine risk or physical harm.)

“I hope she [Kendal Jones] is in the news when it is to report she has been murdered and the murderer is holding her up as a trophy. Good riddance to scum like her.” ~Fan Comment on Born Free USA Facebook Page

In an article published in the Huffington Post, Jeffery Flocken, North American Director of IFAW, castigated the teen in front of a national audience, and used the opportunity to call all hunters, “killers.” Hunting is increasing in popularity with women representing the fastest growing demographic.

Kendall is a “straight-laced” college cheerleader caught in the cross hairs of the animal rights industry to gin up moral outrage. The furor that HSUS, Born Free USA, IFAW and other anti-hunting advocates generated has resulted in threats of violence.

Last week an 11 year old boy and his family received death threats after the boy legally harvested an albino deer in Michigan.  Death threats against a child.

“Kill that f__king brat!” ~Ashley Adams, Facebook

“The little boy is being pilloried with hurtful language and even getting death threats…” ~Ruben Navarrette, CNN

Dog Fighters for Donation Dollars
In 2007 NFL quarterback Michael Vick was arrested as the kingpin of a vast dog fighting operation based out of southeast Virginia. Within 24 hours of the news breaking, HSUS rolled out a fundraising campaign inferring that HSUS was providing “care for the dogs seized.” Wayne Pacelle, HSUS CEO, later admitted to The New York Times that HSUS was not actually caring for the dogs.

Michael Vick and Wayne Pacelle team up in the wake of felony dog fighting conviction ~NBC News

Michael Vick and Wayne Pacelle team up in the wake of felony dog fighting conviction ~NBC News

After Vick’s release from his two-year prison sentence for the dog fighting conviction, Pacelle joined forces with the NFL quarterback and embarked on a public relations campaign to rehabilitate Vick’s image. Perhaps not coincidentally, HSUS received a $50,000 donation from the Philadelphia Eagles, Vick’s new team. The ideological contradictions in pursuit of donations were not lost on Pacelle’s usually adoring fans. Followers of HSUS refused to forgive Vick for torturing dogs and Pacelle was roundly criticized for his hypocrisy.

Everything to Everyone… And Ebola Too
Wading into the high profile issue of the illegal ivory trade, last year Pacelle was quoted as saying, “China is the world’s largest consumer of illegal ivory, and the U.S. is second…” This statement is patently false. The US is the second largest legal market NOT illegal; a major distinction (Martin and Stiles, 2008). According to the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, Thailand is far and away the second largest market for illegal ivory behind China/Hong Kong. The fact is, all of the Asian countries have larger illegal markets for ivory than the U.S.

“The illegal proportion of it [U.S. ivory trade], however, is much smaller than any country in Asia and most countries in Africa. The USA ivory market poses a minimal threat to elephants…” ~Martin and Stiles, 2008

Last week both HSUS and IFAW  launched fundraising campaigns playing on the Ebola scare, implying some involvement in the fight against the impacts of the deadly disease. In a classic “bait and switch” strategy, HSUS’ financial commitment to help animals in the midst of the Ebola crisis in West Africa is 0.007% of its annual budget, a whopping $12,000.  The publicity HSUS will drum up with its dramatic blog posts of sad looking chimpanzees in Ebola-stricken Africa will quite likely generate many times that amount in donations from well-intentioned people who want to help.  The vast majority of donation dollars to HSUS find their way to fat pensions and slick lobbyists, not suffering animals.

Are these really the types of activities in which groups calling themselves animal charities should involve themselves? Are HSUS and company really charities, or are they professional lobbyists? The reality of this sordid intrigue is that these animal rights organizations are actively misleading donors into charitable donations, then using the money, not to “protect” animals, but diverting funds to pension funds, legislation, litigation and propaganda campaigns to institutionalize their radical ideology. HSUS and their ilk want to shut down farmers, zoos, circuses and hunting. This is the controversial manner in which they raise the money to do it.


© Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.